Longboat Key — the way we were

Contributing Columnists

Longboat Key has a colorful history for a small island.  We know that the land was inhabited in the 1500’s by the Timucuan and Calusa Native American tribes, who hunted and enjoyed leisure expeditions just as we do today.   They have even found artifacts on Longboat that point to fish fries as an ordinary pastime hundreds of years ago.

It is believed that in 1539, Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando DeSoto visited the island in his hunt for gold and more land for Spain.  He and his scout, Juan Anesco, operated a traditional “longboat” through the pass between Longboat Key and Ana Maria Island; this is thought to be the derivation of the name Longboat Key.

The island was populated in 1891, when a Civil War veteran, Thomas Mann, settled on the north end with his adult sons.  Mann was awarded 144 acres of land through the Homestead Act of 1862, and one of his sons was granted 144 acres on the south end of LBK.  At around 1900, Mann sold his land for $500.  A few of the homes built in the early 1900’s are still standing today.

Fourteen families populated the island by 1915.  Agriculture was the main business in the early 1900’s.  Crops grown include avocado, tomato, guava and citrus fruits delivered by steamboat to the mainland.

In 1921, farming ended on the Island; that was the same year Sarasota County was formed, splitting the Island into Sarasota County on the South half, and Manatee County on the North.

In the early 1920s circus magnate John Ringling bought 2000 acres on Longboat Key.  He began construction on a Ritz-Carlton Hotel overlooking New Pass.  The Depression greatly affected Ringling’s fortune, and ended construction of the hotel.  His heirs attempted to finish the project, but the partially built structure sat untouched for 4 decades.

The town incorporated on November 14, 1955.  A popular tourist destination, some of the cottage- type resorts of that era remain and still function today.  Arvida’s land purchase and development on the South end of LBK began in the late 1950’s, and included the never completed Ritz-Carlton hotel, which was demolished in 1962.

As the island population increased over the ensuing years, leaders enforced strict land growth regulations that focused on maintaining the natural beauty of Longboat Key.

Sheldon Paley, a resident of Longboat Key for 20 years and a realtor for 13 years, is affiliated with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. Prior to moving to Longboat Key, Paley attended Ohio State University; U of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry and Harvard Medical School for 18 months for a degree in Implantation.

Joyce Paley attended Miami University, Ohio State University and graduated from Capital University with a Bachelor of Arts in English, and a Major in Professional Writing.

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