Adopt An Island

Bird Key

To say that Bird Key was once considerably smaller than it is today is to say the least. In his book Gulf Coast Chronicles: Remembering Sarasota’s Past (The History Press: 2005), Sarasota author and historian Jeff La Hurd provides an account of Bird Key, some 50 years before development would forever alter this small spit of land just offshore from downtown Sarasota.

“The tiny island was only fourteen acres in those days and barely broke the surface of the water,” La Hurd writes. “But it was stunningly beautiful. Filled with palm trees, brightly colored seashells, and the myriad of birds that flocked there for food and rest.” Clearly, Bird Key was as desirable then as it is now.

“Then” was the year 1910. Mrs. Davie Lindsay Worcester, a wealthy visitor from Cincinnati, came to Sarasota hoping to recover from a serious illness by basking in Southwest Florida’s gently therapeutic climate. A philanthropist of great heart and substance, Mrs. Worcester traveled by boat with six friends on her first outing to Bird Key; which, as yet, was unconnected to the Sarasota mainland. The beauty she encountered upon arrival prompted her to pen one of the most rhapsodic descriptions of Sarasota’s beauty ever consigned to paper. In a letter to her husband Thomas, she described her maiden visit to the island thusly:

“I felt that my heart would burst on that shell-bestrewn shore. With thousands of palms soaring toward the clouds; at our feet the Gulf of Mexico washing up, restless, to our toe tips, and (shells) scattered, scattered everywhere…all beautiful toys, as it were; not given stingily or grudgingly but five, ten feet deep, perhaps; scattered like beautiful flowers so far as color and form was concerned, on that white sand until you felt you could not tell the dear Father enough how grateful you were.”

A few sentences later she added how much she longed for Thomas to share her joy at discovering Bird Key, then added,

“This is what I want for my old age…Oh! Words cannot paint the scene, imagination cannot conceive of such grandeur.”

Thomas Worcester, who was devoted to his wife and quite naturally concerned about her frail health, was so moved by her description that he purchased Bird Key from the State of Florida and set out to grant Davie her wish. Sand was dredged from the bottom of Sarasota Bay to increase the key’s size and elevation and to accommodate New Edzell Castle, the Worcester’s Bird Key mansion; much of it designed by Davie and so named in honor of the family’s ancestral home in Scotland.

The mansion—which took nearly three years to complete at a cost of one hundred thousand dollars—was sumptuously furnished and outfitted with such unheard of amenities as electric lighting. But alas, Davie Worcester never regained her health. On October 14, 1912 she died on Bird Key before the home on her adopted island was finished. In what was surely a bittersweet moment for her grieving husband, it was finally ready for occupancy in 1914.

John Ringling was next to adopt Bird Key, purchasing it from Worcester in the early 1920’s. Ringling connected Bird Key to the mainland in advance of developing the property with the strong possibility that President Warren Harding would occupy New Edzell Castle as his winter White House—thus generating a great deal of publicity for the project. Unfortunately Harding’s death in California during a presidential cross-country tour derailed the plan; and Ringling’s sister, Ida Ringling North, moved in and lived in the castle until she passed away in 1950.

In the late 1950’s, the Arvida Corporation—headed by the legendary Arthur Vining Davis—bought the holdings of John Ringling and began in earnest to develop Bird Key and other parts of Sarasota. Through a massive dredge-and-fill operation, Bird Key was enlarged to accommodate 291 waterfront lots, 220 interior lots; and was ultimately transformed into the premier Sarasota address it remains today.

Unfortunately, New Edzell Castle was inconsistent with Arvida’s plans for modern-day development on the key; and was eventually razed; sadly, after no major effort to preserve it was ever mounted. The new community’s showcase amenity, a $250,000 Bahamian-style yacht club was built where Mrs. Worcester’s dream house once stood. In 1959, Arvida opened the Bird Key Yacht Club for the “benefit, amusement, recreation, and entertainment of its members and their guests.” Nine years later the members elected their first Board of Governors and the club became an independent entity. Since then, it has seen numerous upgrades and renovations, is constantly improving its facilities and services; and is a principal centerpiece of the island’s waterfront lifestyle.

To see for yourself just how beautiful and filled with possibilities the waterfront lifestyle on Bird Key can be, agents of Michael Saunders & Company are pleased to host an extensive tour of open houses this Sunday, May 23rd, from 1:00 until 4:00 p.m. Priced as low as $549,900—up to $ 4.1 million—there has never been a more opportune time to adopt the Bird Key lifestyle as your own.

  • User Gravatar Peggy Horlander
    May 26th, 2010

    Loved this article, fascinating, romantic and educational. I am sure when I drive by Bird Key, I will always think of Davie Worcester.

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