From the First to the Fourth: Party On, Sarasota

History

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY JUL 4, 2018

Today, Sarasotans celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks and barbecues, big-screen TVs and swimming pools, boatside bashes and Selby Gardens soirees, but 100 years ago the people—and the parties—looked little like they do today.

According to newspaper clippings preserved by Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota celebrated its first Fourth of July celebration in 1887, with a festival at the village dock on the end of Main Street. “People came from as far away as Pine Level and Arcadia, on horseback or in oxen-drawn wagons,” says the retrospective. And they came to party—19-century style. In attendance would also be A.B. Edwards, who would eventually serve as mayor of Sarasota from 1919 to 1921 and then spearhead efforts to create Myakka State Park.

But Edwards was only 12 at the time of this first Fourth of July celebration (and Sarasota not even incorporated), so he likely missed out on the festivities, including a greased pole contest he would later recount. Extending 12 feet out over the water and with a large prize ham waiting at the end, folks tried their best to traverse the slippery post, with many taking a swim for their trouble. Other than that, Sarasotans amused themselves with foot and horse races, watermelon seed spitting contests and “townball”—baseball played with homemade balls made from buckshot and wool socks. And everyone ate well, as a boat laden with mangoes, bananas and red Spanish pineapples sold its entire stock to ye olde partying Sarasotans.

Perhaps they partied too hard. According to the Sarasota Times in 1911, revelers returned to find Sarasota completely deserted for the occasion, as everybody had gone away for the holiday.

No such problem exists today, and those looking to celebrate can find fireworks displays, good company and good drinks everywhere from Selby Gardens and Island Beach to the Bradenton Riverwalk and beyond.

Pictured: The dock at the end of Main Street, circa 1890. Image courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources.

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