This feat is credited to Mrs. Potter Palmer who, in 1910, required that the railroad be extended from Sarasota to Venice as a prerequisite to her purchase of more than 60,000 acres of land. This land included one and one half miles of gulf frontage, which is now Venice Beach. Mrs. Potter Palmer had personally specified where the extension was to terminate. A.B. Edwards, the real estate broker who facilitated the purchase for Mrs. Potter Palmer, drew a straight pencil mark on the county map, indicating where the line was to be built. In 1911, the railroad line was extended along the mark that Mr. Edwards had drawn. As much as 85 percent of the right-of-way was donated by Joseph H. Lord and Associates, making the line one of the lowest cost per mile extensions ever built.
The original ticket office was a freight car located at Tampa Street and Nokomis Avenue, where passengers were waited on by the first ticket agent, J.H. Turbeville. The railroad had tremendous impact because previously, people had to travel twenty miles to Sarasota for essential supplies either by a long mule team ride on the sandy and rutted dirt road, or by boat. At that time there were no schools, churches or stores in this area. It was not until 1916 that the first nine-foot wide paved road between Sarasota and Venice was built.
In 1925, The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (North America’s oldest rail labor union) selected the area that would become the City Of Venice as their retirement site. Their selection was based on the outstanding gulf front property and the existence of the railroad line, necessary to bring in the supplies that they needed to develop the city. The railroad would again become an important factor in the growth and prosperity of the area when, in 1960, Venice became the winter headquarters for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Although passenger service was discontinued in 1971 and the depot fell into disrepair, the railroad is responsible for the initial growth of the area and the resulting look and feel of Historic Downtown Venice. Even the depot itself has the Italian Renaissance Architecture, developed by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Built in 1926 and 1927, the depot was listed in 1989 with the National Register of Historic Places and the Florida Master Site File of Historic Structures. In the mid 1970s and 1980s, the last two remaining depots in the City of Sarasota were demolished. The Historic Venice Train Depot is the last one still standing in all of Sarasota County. An acquisition program has been ongoing since 1992, complicated by more than one owner being involved in the negotiations.
After the above article was first published, the Historic Train Depot underwent a complete restoration. The following updated information has been supplied by Betty Intagliata, president of the Venice Area Historical Society.
Sarasota County purchased the Venice Train Depot site in 1999 and began the renovation process. Originally, the Venice Train Depot was built in 1927 at a cost of $47,500. The restoration of the Venice Train Depot ran $2.3 million and was funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Florida Department of Transportation and local funds from Sarasota County and the City of Venice.
Many dedicated individuals went to great lengths to ensure that the depot was restored to its original condition. The renovated depot was dedicated by Sarasota County officials on October 24, 2003. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers’ executive committee returned to Venice in March 2004 to rededicate the train depot, which the company had originally built and dedicated in March 1927.
Today, the train depot is operated by Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department, and it is a transfer station for the Sarasota County Area Transit bus system, better known as SCAT. The Venice Area Historical Society created a Depot Docent program in November 2003 and currently gives tours of the Historic Train Depot every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., November to May. You can stop by anytime to stroll the exterior grounds of the depot, or call 941-412-0151 for guided group tour reservations.
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