October 24 - 30, 2011

October 24 - 30, 2011
John Hamilton Gillespie Celebration Week

The week-long party
celebrating the Father of Sarasota…and golf was a big success! From O'Leary's Kick-off Party, Jeff LaHurd's New Book, Jacobites Bagpipers, Trolley Tours, Kiwanis Golf Tournament, and Hartman Gallery Photography Exhibition, to the Palm Avenue Street Party, The Macallan VIP Scotch Tasting, Lunch in Rosemary Cemetery, and Walking Tour of the Gillespie Park Neighborhood - every special event was a wonderful way to honor Sarasota's history.

Friday, July 29, 2011

John Hamilton Gillespie and The Episcopal Church

John Hamilton Gillespie in 1889
By Dr. Carl R. Stockton, church historian

 Of all the legacies left by the remarkable Scotsman John Hamilton Gillespie, his most enduring was, by his own reckoning, the founding of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota. This is acknowledged in a commemorative bronze plaque at the base of three flagpoles on the west grounds facing Gulf Stream Avenue, and copied on the inside wall at the left of the entrance doors:
A founder of this parish,
For many years lay reader
Devoted to its services
Ordained a deacon on 3 December, 1922…
Servant of God

Although a member of the [Presbyterian] Church of Scotland, Gillespie was familiar with The Book of Common Prayer of the Scottish Episcopal Church before he arrived in Sarasota. He was well aware that the first American bishop had been consecrated by Scottish bishops, and that the American church had modeled its first official prayer book after the Scottish revision. He had read the Episcopal service for an Anglican colonist who died in 1887, and from his arrival, he met regularly with a small group of Episcopalians in the Grable community building on Main Street. He sought permission from his father officially to become an Episcopalian, and after tutelage from the Vicar of Christ Church in Bradentown, he was confirmed by The Bishop of Florida, The Right Reverend E. G. Weed, in 1888. The photo above shows Gillespie vested in surplice and cassock with mortarboard which was appropriate liturgical dress for an Episcopal Lay Reader in 1889.

He quickly became a leader of the nascent church in Sarasota, and was appointed Lay Reader by succeeding bishops for several years. The Episcopalians had met in his house, and he donated land from his large yard to build their first, very basic building. Through his nurturing leadership, the church in 1904 became officially recognized as a mission in the Missionary Jurisdiction of Southern Florida by the Bishop, the Right Reverend William Crane Gray.

Gillespie was married to Blanche McDaniel in the newly consecrated church in 1905. Although absent for many intermittent years, Gillespie retained an active leadership role in the church to the end of his life. He was a delegate to Diocesan convention on many occasions and was well known throughout Florida as a devoted churchman and considered a prominent leader. The highlight of his long service to the church came in 1922, when he was ordained a Deacon in the Episcopal Church by The Right Reverend Cameron Mann. He had been prepared for ordination by the Rector of Redeemer, the Reverend Francis B. Nash, for whom he had been an assistant until his death in 1923.

Looking back at its origins in its centennial year, The Church of the Redeemer renewed its recognition of Gillespie as its principal founder, named its renovated parish hall after him, and established the John Hamilton Gillespie Society to honor his legacy and promote continuing ministries of the Church.

Sources: Oral interviews with Gillespie’s nephew, Charles Swain, in 2003; miscellaneous Gillespie papers in the Church of the Redeemer archives, and chiefly the well documented monograph, John Hamilton Gillespie by Lillian Burns, published by the Sarasota Historical Society.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gillespie Led Drive for Golf in Sarasota

ED: Today's post is from the website Sarasota History Alive! by Mark D. Smith, former County Archivist

Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
The game of golf came to Sarasota when Colonel John Hamilton Gillespie arrived in 1886. Nobody in the small village of Sarasota knew what Gillespie was doing when in May 1886 he built a practice course consisting of two greens and one long fairway.

This miniature course was located on present day Main Street. Gillespie practiced there daily for many years. In 1905, he laid out a nine-hole golf course on a 110-acre tract east of his old practice course and built a clubhouse. He maintained the course at his own expense until he sold the course to Owen Burns in 1910.

John Hamilton Gillespie never stopped in his campaign to promote the game of golf.

Gillespie continued to help support and take care of the course because upkeep of a golf course can be quite an undertaking. In December 1913, Gillespie came up with the idea of organizing a golf club to help with expenses. On December 13, 1913, a meeting was held at the Sarasota Yacht and Automobile Club to organize the Sarasota Golf Club. Gillespie stated that maintaining a golf course without support from residents, as well as from visitors, is difficult. The group agreed to pay $10 per person to become charter members, and the money would go toward the upkeep of the course. The course's owner, Owen Burns, would also allow members to play for free, with the use of the clubhouse, as long as they made necessary repairs to the windmill and the lavatories in the clubhouse.

The first members of the club read like a who's who of prominent early Sarasotans. Some of these members were early politicians Hugh Browning, Harry Higel, and of course, John Hamilton Gillespie, physicians Jack and Joseph Halton, landowners Owen Burns, Ralph Caples, Honore Palmer and J.H. Lord. The club drew up rules for the organization and by-laws for playing golf on the course. To play golf for the winter season cost $10. For those who did not want to commit to an entire season, the fee structure was $5 for one month, $2 for one week and 50 cents for one day. Although Gillespie encouraged everyone to play, the course was rarely crowded.

Gillespie never stopped in his campaign to promote the game of golf. In a 1921 newspaper article, he wrote about how golf barely existed in the state at the turn of the 20th century. He said that "there was no East Coast golf in Florida then, the Jacksonville Country Club being in its infancy, and, to the credit for making golf well and favorably known in Florida and in the southern state. Tampa for a long time did not take to the game, although Mr. Plant spent considerable money on an endeavor to foster the game. It was not until Bellaire became famous as a golf course that Tampa woke up and took notice."

Gillespie continued to play on his course until his death in 1923. Although he knew that the game would grow in popularity, it was not until the Florida Land Boom of the mid-1920s that it became a popular sport in Sarasota. Two new 18-hole courses were built in Sarasota during the boom and Gillespie's old course was sold in 1924 for development and no trace of it remain today.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Scotland and Sarasota: World's Apart

125 years ago, Sarasota was quite a contrast to John Hamilton Gillespie's home town of Moffat, Scotland. It must have been difficult to say the least, coming from a refined and thriving European town and settling in Florida's rustic pioneer colony. When 33 year old Gillespie and his wife Mary arrived in Tampa for the last leg of their transatlantic journey they even had a hard time finding anyone who knew where Sarasota was. He finally arranged steamer passage to Manatee and from there came to Sarasota by way of horse and buggy.

Moffat, Scotland
Moffat, Scotland - High Street

Moffat, Scotland - Well Street
Gillespie wasted no time in putting into place the infrastructure required of a bona fide town. Schooners arrived bringing building material and workers. The streets were grubbed and cleared. The Sarasota House, a two story boarding house, was built at Five Points and housed the influx of workers who also lived on boats, in tents and other temporary shelters while the community began to take shape.

Sarasota, Florida
Sarasota, Florida - Downtown 1887

Sarasota, Florida - Main Street and Pineapple Avenue looking south, 1909

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sarasota Bayfront in 1887

In 1887 John Hamilton Gillespie and the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company built the DeSoto Hotel, Sarasota's first rooming house, which was later renamed the Belle Haven Inn.

The picture below was taken from the De Soto Hotel, looking northwest toward Cedar Point, known today as Golden Gate Point. Note that the downtown seawall had not yet been built.

Vintage postcard thanks to William Hartman Gallery, 48 South Palm Avenue, Sarasota, FL
The DeSoto Hotel on the Sarasota bayfront in 1887


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