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What was Overtown? What is The Rosemary District?

Sarasota’s Rosemary District

In the early 1890s several African American families settled in an area that was called Overtown and today is known as The Rosemary District.

The district dates back to 1885 and is located between Tenth Street to Fruitville Road (North to South) and North Tamiami Trail to Orange Street (West to East).

In 1884 Reverend Lewis Colson became the first African American to settle in Sarasota. Lewis assisted in surveying the Town of Sarasota with the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company. He donated land to have the first African American church built called the Bethlehem Baptist Church which was located at Seventh and Central Avenue where Reverend Colson was minister from 1899 to 1914. Many businesses were developed to create the community. A hotel was built in 1925 on Eight Street and Central Avenue and was named the Colson Hotel after Reverend Colson.

The historic Rosemary Cemetery established in 1886 is located at Eighth Street and Central Avenue. Reverend Lewis Colson and his wife Irene Colson are the only African Americans buried in the Rosemary Cemetery. Other prominent founding families of Sarasota buried in the cemetery are Gillespie, Browning, Burns, Higel, and Whitaker, among others.

The District was officially renamed the Rosemary District in 1994.Today the Rosemary District is being rejuvenated with condos, apartments, restaurants, a convenient store, and much more. The area is the home of the Sarasota Opera Steinwachs Artist Residence, the Arnold Simonsen Players Studio and the future home of the Sarasota Ballet School. The Rosemary District is named one of the top ten most walkable neighborhoods in Florida.


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