Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Route #1 Manhatten Farms - Nokomis - Osprey - Vamo


Route #1 Bike Touring in Florida
This first bike touring route was originally posted on my Spanish Version Blog. It was completed on August 28th, 2010, the day of Saint Augustine, whose name was used 443 years before to name the first permanent European settlement in the United States. This route is 40 miles in length, around Sarasota County. The are different accounts of what Sarasota means. For example, in native languages could be a "Dance Place." Also, a tale stating that it honors Sara de Soto, daughter of the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who visited the area in the 1540s. An annual festival after her was established in 1916. On the bike, we are gonna start at a place called Manhatten Farms, where we can find an abandoned rest area along Interstate 75. Then, we'll visit inhabited places as Plantation or the city of Venice, entering by the old railroad station and following the Legacy Trail, one of the nicest greenway in the state.  Going north on this path we'll find little towns like Nokomis, Laurel, North Venice or the Oscar Scherer State Park, after which we are going to emerge at the Tamiami Trail and start moving west. In this, section we'll visit places like Vamo and Osprey or the Spanish Point Archaeological Site. After this, we are going to cross to the barrier islands of the gulf coast going south along Casey Key, known for its expensive and beautiful mansions and famous inhabitants. Finally, we'll visit Nokomis Beach, before returning to the starting point.

Old Railroad Station in Venice
Old Railroad Station in Venice

Pine forest by the Myakka River
Pine forest by the Myakka River
Korean Church in Plantation
Our starting point is exactly the exit  #191 of the I-75. It intersects the northernmost point of the County Road 777/River Road. Here, we are really close to the Myakka River. However, we don't have access to it at any moment. The rest area has been closed since the early '90s for many reasons such as prostitution and drug dealing. Also, the county never allowed the installation of a sewage system, precisely to protect the delicate environment of the river, so the land value wouldn't go up. It was built in 1985 for a price close to a million and a half dollars. Manhatten Farms is the name we can find on some maps of the area. No much history but lots of farms. From here, we'll go south on the CR 777 for almost two miles. The Myakka River is going to be on our left side, which is covered by wetlands and a pine forests composing the Sleepy Turtle Preserve. In contrast, the right side is highly developed, even though there are some vacant lots as well. When we get to Center Road, it's time to go west.

Crossing a creek on the Legacy Trail, just yards after passing the railroad station in Venice
Crossing a creek on the Legacy Trail, just yards after passing the railroad station in Venice

Entering the Legacy Trail
Entering the Legacy Trail
Arriving in Venice
Arriving in Venice

Ahead, we'll be crossing a Census Designated Place called Plantation. This area is composed basically of homes surrounded by forested spaces, golf courses and man-made lakes. Its population is about 4.200 with less than 1% living under the poverty line. When reaching Jacaranda Blvd, we'll go north. After which, it's time to go left on Venice Avenue, indeed, getting closer to the city of Venice. This area was settled around 1870 by a homesteader, Robert Roberts. The Homestead Act was passed by president Abraham Lincoln in 1862, allowing  applicants to obtain up to 160 acres of land. There were a few conditions like living on that property, building a house and farm it for not less than five years. In 1884, Roberts sold part of its acreage to Frank Higel, who started farming, fishing and a construction business. The first postmaster was Darwin Curry and the post office was located a little north of today's location. Actually in Nokomis, where we'll go after this. It was moved to Venice thanks to Bertha Palmer, widow of Potter, a wealthy tycoon who made possible the arrival of the first train to the area with the United States and West Indies Railroad and Steamship Company in 1903. According to different sources, this happened in 1911.

Bike Path over the Tamiami Trail
Bike Path over the Tamiami Trail
Roberts Bay
Roberts Bay
Legacy Trail
Legacy Trail
In 1925, a renowned orthopedic surgeon named Fred Albee bought 2.900 acres and proposed to build a new city, as he had done before also in Nokomis. He hired the firm of designers of John Nolen. However, months later, he received an offer for the land by the Locomotive Engineers Brotherhood and sold it. This time, George Fuller was the man who made it possible. The planners were Walker & Gillete, from New York and the new city was dedicated the next year. It was named after the fabulous Italian metropolis because of its common features. The canals, flooded areas and other similarities. At the same time, companies like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus started coming here during the winter. In 1942, during the second world war, an air base was established as well as in many other locations statewide. Today, 21.000 residents call Venice home. Back on our bicycle, we are going to advance three miles and a half to the Railroad Station used by the famous Seaboard Air Line Railroad. Now, we'll go right on the Legacy Trail, using the same path the trains used until May 1st, 1971. The West Coast Champion, coming from Boston and New York, stopped on this rusty tracks for the last time.

Cicloturismo en Florida
Views of Roberts Bay

Old caboose
The lumber industry today
The lumber industry today
Inside the building, we can see how the station was back in the day, including part of the original track. At the northern end, an old caboose with the Seaboard Air Line logo is the local historical society office. On our way, now completely segregated from traffic, we are going through the back of businesses, many of which were here in the first years of the city. The old rocks and logs that supported the tracks are visible sometimes, as well as sections that were never removed. First, we are going to cross a little bridge over Roberts Bay, where this pioneer settled, just before the postmaster Curry. Then, we'll see Dona Bay. Between both bays, there is a small peninsula known today as the town of Nokomis. It was originally called Horse and Chaise because some trees resembled this image, according to the fishermen who sailed this water. In 1888, it was renamed Currytown and then Venice. However, Bertha Honore Palmer forced them to move south. Resigned, the locals chose Nokomis from the classic tale written by  Henry W. Longfellow, “The Song of Hiawatha.”

Along the Legacy Trail
Along the Legacy Trail
Morning Glory/Ipomoea purpurea
Morning Glory/Ipomoea purpurea
Historic references on the trail
Historic references on the trail
Besides the fishing industry, the old pine lands were used for logging and turpentine. Many mills employed mainly African American labor and prisoners. Some of the buildings that we'll see include the old Ice Plant, which produced about 20 tons daily. It was then delivered in all of the area to keep the food refrigerated. Our next stop is the village of Laurel and North Venice, another CDP that was first settled by African Americans who worked for the McKeithan Still but today 96% of its population is white. This area was given to them by the widow Palmer and has 8.400 residents. Bertha Palmer had 80.000 acres in the region, including the next area we are going to see after passing under the bridge that carries SR 681. This is the Oscar Scherer State Park. It was established in 1956 after the passing of Elsa Scherer Burrows, owner of the South Creek Ranch. She donated  the land to the state and the place was named after her father, one of the first settlers who came here in 1872. Another donor for the preserve was Lee Wetherington.

Jefferson Aleman
Dona Bay

Spanish Point
Spanish Point
Old Osprey Schooley
Old Osprey School
In this environment we can find a superb variety of animals such as snakes, otters, bobcats, alligators, deer, rabbits, raccoons, foxes or eagles, among dozens of species of birds. The vegetation is composed by pine forests, wetlands, mangroves and scrubs, the sandy ecosystem so threatened all over the Sunshine State.  In the lake Osprey and the South Creek, its brackish waters host either salt and freshwater fish. At the end of this natural preserve, we are back in the civilization. New developments and golf courses surrounded by homes and roads laid in unusual patterns. When we reach the Central Sarasota Parkway, its time to leave behind the Legacy Trail and go west. In a mile and a half, we'll go south on the Tamiami Trail/US 41. Now, we'll go through the town of Vamo, with 5.300 souls. This place is by the edge of the Intracoastal Waterway, the waterway located between the mainland and the barrier islands on both east and west coast. These islands have been altered or created by developers in order to build for generations.

Old railroad trestle on the Legacy Trail, along Oscar Scherer State Park
Old railroad trestle on the Legacy Trail, along Oscar Scherer State Park
Osprey
Osprey
House in Casey Key
Really close, we'll find another community, Osprey, with 4.100 residents. Its name comes from its namesake bird and the lake located on the west side. Here we can see the first schoolhouse, in use from 1927 to 1976. The land was sold by the Webb family for $10 dollars. However, the cost of this building was close to $20.000. It was the Era of the housing market crash on 1926. By 1933, many residents had left the area and most of the schools closed due to lack of funding. This one remained open thanks to the effort of parents and teachers. After WWII was the last school in the whole county to be remodeled and it wasn't until 1959 when finally had AC and heat. From 1976 and 1989 was used as a training center for teachers. Five years later, was added to the national register of historic places. Today is the Visitor Center of Spanish Point, an archaeological site that surrounds the residence of Bertha H. Palmer. This was her estate "The Oaks," and had its own electric plant and water supply. Before this, between the years 3000 BC and 1000 AD, the area was inhabited by paleoindians. It is one of the best preserved sites in Florida according to Ripley P. and Adelaide K. Bullen, who worked on the Mound of shells by the Little Sarasota Bay. This was a ceremonial and burial site. Today, a visitor can explore the museum, the amazing Walk and Sunken Garden, the Webb Packing House and the Butterfly Garden.

Casey Key
Casey Key

Mansions in Casey Key
Mansions in Casey Key
Mansions in Casey Key
Casey Key Rd
We'll keep going south and then we'll make a right turn on Blackburn Point Road, in our way to the barrier islands. We'll cross the Dryman Bay, over an old swing bridge, which only can be crossed by one vehicle at a time. On the other side, the landscape is really different. The island is Casey Key, one of the most affluent spots in the country. The narrow street goes between the intracoastal waterway and the Gulf of Mexico. That is Casey Key Road, which offers an exhibit of mansions. Their prices starts around $1,000,000. The ones for sale, are managed by Sotheby’s International Realty, related to the auction powerhouse of the same name. This place is home to celebrities and going down this quiet and winding road, surrounded by palm trees and the shade of the buildings with styles that go from Moorish, Mediterranean and Classic, is an absolute experience. Also, during this four miles, there are many private beaches and incredible luxury yachts. After this, we'll reach Nokomis Beach, a popular spot to find fossils. In fact, this area around Venice is considered the Prehistoric Shark Tooth World Capital.

The beach at Nokomis Beach
The beach at Nokomis Beach
Nokomis Beach
Nokomis Beach
Private Beach
Private Beach
From this point we'll go east on Albee Road, crossing a drawbridge back to the continent. Here we'll be at Laurel, once again in the urban area. Once we reach the Tamiami Trail, it's time to turn right. There we'll go parallel to the Legacy Trail, crossing Dona Bay, Nokomis, Roberts Bay and finally Venice. On Venice Avenue, we'll advance directly to River Road, finishing this first bike touring experience at the same spot where we started, the old and creepy abandoned rest area in Manhatten Farms, along the Myakka River. Most of the roads have bicycle lanes but not all. Sometimes it's recommended to use sidewalks, using caution and respect for pedestrians and signage, obviously. As a biographical note, Bertha Honore Palmer married Boston magnate Potter Palmer, 23 years her senior. She widowed in 1902 at 53, inheriting a fortune of eight millions and was startled when she saw an advertisement about Florida in a newspaper. When she came here, she bought 360 square kms of land, establishing her famous ranch Meadow Sweet Pastures. Then, she introduced new techniques and advances in breeding and working the plantations, developments that prove really useful for the future of the Sunshine State in general. She was also an ambassador of this territory, attracting tourists and investors from the northern states. After her death in 1918, the ranch became the amazing Myakka River State Park.

Bridge on the Blackburn Point Road over Dryman Bay
Bridge on the Blackburn Point Road over Dryman Bay


Seaboard Air Line Railroad logo
Seaboard Air Line Railroad logo
Inside the station
Inside the station
One of the bays