In the early 1900s, the key was just a mangrove island too far from the small fishing village of Sarasota to attract much attention. Today, amidst lush tropical plantings, the fresh salt air and warming sun, St. Armands is an elegant circle of fine shops, from trinkets to treasures and gourmet cuisine from award-winning restaurants.
The Frenchman, Charles St. Amand (misspelled “St. Armand” on the deed), became the first resident of the key by purchasing the 132-acre tract for $21.71. Circus magnate John Ringling purchased St. Armands Key in 1917 with the vision of a circle lined with shops and a residential area. Canals were dredged, seawalls built, streets and sidewalks were laid, and in 1925, a wooden bridge to Sarasota was completed.
Sales of property boomed, but soon faded as the Depression hit hard in Florida. Unable to maintain the property, Ringling gave St. Armands to Sarasota as a gift. The dream seemed lost.
For more than twenty years, St. Armands stood still. Wood rotted and vegetation grew and covered the streets and sidewalks. The bandstand sagged, then collapsed. The dream was lost. However, in the mid-1950s, the circle slowly came alive.
Today, the shopping circle looks very much as John Ringling envisioned it, with palm-lined streets, tropical plantings, courtyards and patios and Italian statuary from his personal collection about the circle. The promise of greatness, the cosmopolitan shopping area and residential surroundings envisioned by John Ringling have indeed become a reality.