The Town of Longboat Key turned 58 on Nov. 13, 2013. But the island of Longboat Key has a rich history that predates the formation of the town.
Longboat Key has been a tourist destination for hundreds — if not thousands — of years. Its earliest tourists were Calusa and Timucan Indians who lived on the mainland east of the island but traveled to the island to enjoy many of the same attractions that visitors treasure today: the beaches and bountiful seafood harvest.
Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto led an expedition in 1538 to Florida in search of gold. His scout and treasurer, Juan Anasco, explored the area and is said to be the first white man to set foot on Longboat Key.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Longboat Key got its first permanent residents. In 1888, Thomas Mann, a Confederate soldier and carpenter by trade, moved his family to a thatched hut he built somewhere on the north end of the Key. In 1891, Mann was awarded 144.47 acres in what is now the Longbeach Village neighborhood, as part of the Homestead Act of 1862.
Communities developed in the early 1900s at the north end of the island and mid-Key, where an agricultural community of approximately 18 families flourished.
The Mistletoe steamship transported visitors between the island and the mainland and also shipped produce from farmer Byron Corey’s dock, known as Corey’s Landing. A hurricane in October 1921 destroyed island farming activity and most existing homes. But a storm could not wipe out island life. Throughout the next 30 years, families continued to move to Longboat Key, and on Nov. 13, 1955, residents voted 186-13 to incorporate as a town.
Arvida Corp. changed the course of the island’s history in 1959, when it bought waterfront property on the south end of Longboat and its surrounding keys for $13.5 million. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the company developed plans for condominiums and golf courses that would give the Key its current character today.
Today, Longboat Key is home to a year-round population of 7,000 and draws as many as 22,000 at the peak of season, usually considered to be Easter weekend. Just like Longboat Key’s original tourists, residents and visitors alike enjoy the beaches and weather — but today’s islanders also cherish the many recreational and cultural amenities, along with shops and restaurants located both on and off the island.
Centuries after Calusa and Timucan Indians became Longboat Key’s earliest tourists, the island remains a tourist destination. Need proof? Longboat Key was voted the No. 2 North American island travel destination in the Condé Nast Traveler 2010 Readers’ Choice Survey. But Longboaters who enjoy warm weather, pristine beaches and many local offerings did not need a survey to tell them that their beloved island is a top-notch destination.
Longboat Key is most likely named for the longboats that Spaniards used once they reached landfall. According to local legend, explorer Juan Anasco believed the Indians were hostile when he and his companions reached land on the island and fled, leaving their longboat in the bayou.
The pirate Jean La Fitte was shipwrecked in 1821 on or near Longboat Key for several months.
Longboat Key has not been hit directly by a hurricane since 1947.
President George W. Bush stayed on Longboat Key on Sept. 10, 2001, the night before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Longboat Key offers a plethora of outdoor activities — from biking, rollerblading and even recumbent biking up and down Gulf of Mexico Drive to a variety of watersports performed on our turquoise waters of Sarasota Bay and Gulf of Mexico.
Sarasota Sailing Squadron anchors the Key to the south in the area known as City Island. Drive past Mote Marine Aquarium all the way to the water’s edge and you will be greeted with a line of sailboats, along with an unforgettable view of the downtown Sarasota skyline. The squadron grew out of the youth sailing program at Sarasota Yacht Club in the late 1930s, but was disbanded during World War II. It was reorganized under the auspices of the YMCA in 1946 and obtained its own charter in 1947. Today, more than 800 families sail at the squadron, which is open seven days a week. Not only does the facility host many regattas a year, including the Labor Day Regatta, it also allows visiting sailors to dock for $20 a night during non-regatta days.
The squadron is also the launch site for a different kind of race, the Sarasota SUP race series. SUP stands for stand-up paddleboarding, which requires only a longboard, a paddle and a healthy dose of balance. Some SUP yoga teachers lead yogis-turned-water-sports-lovers in gentle moves while balancing on a SUP board in the waters off Longboat or Lido keys.
Other outdoor activities for the area include kayaking through the mangroves, yoga on the beach, tennis, golf, boating and fishing. Call the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce at 941-383-2466 for details.
For more information, visit the Town of Longboat Key at LongboatKey.org (http://www.longboatkey.org/)
Longboat Key became a town in 1955, but the island’s history goes back much further. In the early 1990s, the town teamed up with the Longboat Key Historical Society to create seven markers that detail Key history.
So, get on your bicycle, strap on your rollerblades or hop in your car
and take a trip back in time.
Overlook Park: Drive north on New Pass Bridge and make a sharp left before the Chart House restaurant and you’ll see Marker No. 1, located at the site where John Ringling began to build his Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1926. Ringling never completed the hotel, which became known as the “Ghost Hotel,” that stood empty for nearly 40 years.
2162 Gulf of Mexico Drive: Before Longboat Key became a vacation paradise, the island was home to a small vibrant farming community. In the early 1900s, near where Marker No. 2 stands today, approximately 18 families grew a variety of fruits and shipped them from Key pioneer and farmer Byron Corey’s dock. Farming came to an end after an October 1921 hurricane.
3960 Gulf of Mexico Drive: On a sunny day, you are practically guaranteed to see boaters enjoying the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Marker No. 3 details the historic role of boats on the island. Timucan and Calusa Indians came by canoe to the Key, and during the 1500s, Spanish ships were common sights. In 1539, Hernando De Soto landed just north of the Key on the Manatee River with 600 men.
4250 Gulf of Mexico: Today, Longboat Key’s beaches are serene. But as Marker No. 4 describes, that was not the case during World War II. Fighter pilots assigned to the 717th base unit at Sarasota Army Airfield skimmed across Sarasota Bay for training exercises, shooting at silhouettes of German tanks.
4800 Gulf of Mexico Drive: Today’s residents and visitors plan their schedules around the plethora of fun-filled area events. But during World War II, residents planned their schedules around the military drills that resulted in a mid-Key portion of Gulf of Mexico Drive being blocked off, as described on Marker No. 5.
Opposite 631 Broadway in the Longbeach Village: In 1888, Civil War veteran Thomas Mann became Longboat Key’s first permanent resident when he built a thatched hut somewhere in what is now the Village, where Marker No. 6 is located. Later, around 1915, nearly a dozen homes were built throughout the Village using a distinctive concrete mix that allows the majority to survive today, although many have undergone major alterations.
Further down Broadway, north of the present dock: Before the 1921 hurricane, a town dock stood near the location where Marker No. 7 stands today. Large ships transported tourists and fishing parties to the dock from Tampa and then continued on to Corey’s dock to carry vegetables to mainland Sarasota.
Historic Longbeach Village
Something happens when you drive into this neighborhood. As soon as you turn onto Broadway off of Gulf of Mexico Drive, your foot automatically switches to the brake pedal to be in accordance with the feeling this area radiates.
Although a slower, dream-like pace of life is evident, this is a dream sequence where anything can happen. On any given day, a peacock could stroll by or your neighbor could throw the bash-of-the-century that people are still talking about years later.
Tucked away on the north end of Longboat Key lies historic Longbeach Village. Known in its earliest days as a transient fishing village, the neighborhood is now drawing more year-round residents.
The draw seems to be not only its historical links to the Key and Florida but also its ability to be dynamic. Houses dating to the 1920s are intermingled with new, more contemporary constructions.
Driving down Broadway, the main “strip” of the neighborhood, one can see the water and docks waiting at the other end. Circling around on Bay Drive, you can drive past the local kayaker or fisherman docking for the day — or bringing in his fresh catch. Across the street, the Gulf of Mexico laps onto Whitney Beach.
Fifty people were present at the first meeting of The Village Civic Association May 7, 1986. And those 50 people decided on their name, Longbeach Village Association, based on the old village of Longbeach’s post office, which stood within the confines of their neighborhood.
To date, there are about 175 registered members of The Village Association, and not all of these members actually live in The Village. Anyone who has an interest is invited to join.
With regular potluck dinners and social, holiday-themed parties, this group both lives and socializes together.
The residents also take advantage of each other’s talents and have formed conversational French groups, a play group for dogs and regular softball games.
Still, keeping to oneself is not difficult, with places to retreat to such as the beach or the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, a Division of Ringling College of Art and Design.
The animals that are in abundance in this neighborhood can certainly not be forgotten: ibis, wild parrots, tortoises and egrets. And then, of course, there are the peacocks, whose beginnings are a mystery. There is lore of the peacocks being gifts from a few town commissioners, yet there is also the version that they were freed from cages and made their way to The Village. Either way, over the years they have multiplied into a flock whose members love to flaunt their colorful plumage up and down the streets. And one thing is for certain — the peackcocks are never shy when it comes to photo opportunities.