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Siesta Key History


Virtually uninhabited since settlers came to Florida, Siesta Key is a relatively new community. In the 16th century, the peninsula which would become the 22nd largest and 3rd most populous state in America, was home only to a few native Indian tribes. In 1513, Europeans began to explore the land. But, it wasn't until the early part of the 20th century, Siesta Key even became home to some daring families. At the time, it was completely unrecognizable from today. In fact, it's a wonderful transformation. And, it all started in earnest when one ambitious entrepreneur opened a fertilizer plant in about 1848.

Siesta Key History


Today, four districts comprise Siesta Key: Siesta Beach, Crescent Beach, Turtle Beach, and Siesta Key Village. But this certainly wasn't always the case. Home to just a few fisherman families, with plenty of mosquitoes and snakes to contend, its dense vegetation, wildcats, boars, and sand fleas made it all but uninhabitable. In fact, the only way to get supplies from the mainland was by boat, across Sarasota Bay. Therefore, it's no surprise only the most hardy and handy of families could call this island home.

Clam Island, Little Sarasota Island, or Sarasota Key?


Over the many years, Siesta Key has donned many names. Once, it was known as Clam Island. Later, the barrier island became known as Little Sarasota Island and then Sarasota Key. Finally, in the 1920's, the name Siesta Key emerged, being the favorite name on maps of the day. At the time, the population of the barrier island was quite small. Today, approximately 6,560+ residents call Siesta Key home. It's also a part of the larger Bradenton–Sarasota–Venice Metropolitan Statistical Area, which boasts a population exceeding 720,040 people. And, that's a huge leap, considering where it's most ardent supporter found it in the early 1900's.

Siesta Key and Mr. Harry L. Higel


If you've visited the area or lived around it, you might have encountered Higel Avenue. That's the namesake of Harry Higel, born in Philadelphia in 1867, a transplant who arrived in Venice, Florida in 1884, with his parents. In 1902, Higel relocated to the newly formed city of Sarasota, Florida.


“Although he is now largely forgotten, except as the name on the Higel Avenue street sign, Harry L. Higel was one of the most important people in Sarasota's early growth and development. Higel, known during his life as Sarasota's ‘indefatigable booster,’ was a progressive dynamo pushing Sarasota toward its future as a desirable destination for wealthy snowbirds, equal to his contemporaries John Hamilton Gillespie, Owen Burns and the Ringling brothers,” the Herald Tribune recounts.


Purchasing a dock from the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company, Higel staked his claim in what was then known as Little Sarasota Key. The docking venture eventually failed because of insufficient infrastructure. But, he served on the city council, served as mayor, and was integral in forming the Sarasota Yacht Club. Financial turbulence followed. But in 1915, Higel built the Higelhurt Hotel on Big Pass. He promoted the barrier island as “A Place to Rest and Have Peace and Comfort."


Just nine years prior, Captain Roberts and his wife converted their home to a hotel, the Siesta Inn or Roberts' Inn. It attracted the Hollywood elite and only a year after the hotel conversion, Roberts took the island another step forward. Along with partners, Capt. Roberts formed the Siesta Land Company. It was at this time Siesta Key got its modern name. Sadly, in 1921, Harry Higel was murdered and a scandal over his alleged killer ensued.


But that tragedy didn't stop the island from growing. At just 3.5 square miles, Siesta Key proved irresistible to Sarasota School of Architecture architects Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph in the 1940's and 1950's. The two built a number of homes and the island's population grew to about 300 residents.


The famous bridge from the mainland fostered much of this growth. In 1917, the Army Corp of Engineers built the first bridge to the barrier island. Later in 1927, Stickney Point became connected. With ease of transport between the island and the mainland, Siesta Key began to truly flourish. Today, it's home to a number of restaurants, homes, and more. It's charm remains intact and it's why Siesta Key continues to delight thousands of tourists every year. More historical information can be found at the Friends of the Sarasota County History Center.


For more information about living in Siesta Key, Florida and the local real estate market, whether you are buying or selling, please do not hesitate to contact us. We serve the whole, two-county, Sarasota and Manatee area, and are happy to be of assistance to you. We have helped buyers and sellers for many years to find and market homes throughout Sarasota County, within the city, and across the area. Go ahead, and contact us today to get started.