The Club was founded in 1986 in Sarasota, Florida as an ethnic group for those interested in Scottish culture and history. The Club has also created the Caledonian Club Foundation to support cultural and educational institutions and programs, including historic preservation and restoration.
Because Sarasota was first settled by Scots, the community looks to the Caledonian Club when conducting Scottish events. The Club was instrumental in bringing to Sarasota the Opera House from Dunfermline, Scotland, which is now the main stage of the Asolo State Theater; created and maintains the Scottish Display at Sarasota’s International Airport; assisted with the renovation of Sarasota’s own Opera House, which was designed and built by noted Scot, A. B. Edwards, in 1925 and created the Caledonian Club Endowed Scottish Collection at Sarasota’s Selby Library which now has over 900 volumes, including the almost-complete works of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, among others. In participating with the community in these projects, Club members have generously given over $100,000 through the Caledonian Club’s foundation.
The Club has approximately 180 members in the Sarasota, Venice and Bradenton, Florida areas. Members also live as far away as North Carolina, Australia, Canada and Scotland. Many of its members are active on boards and committees of organizations in the communities in which they live.
The Club initiated the cooperation of the four Scottish groups in the greater Sarasota area to put on the annual Tartan Day celebration, held each April the 6th throughout the United States. The Club also gives financial and personnel support to the Scottish Games held each Winter in Sarasota.
SARASOTA’S FIRST BRAVEHEARTS
By Sandy Gardiner
It was 123 years ago when the first Scottish settlers arrived in Sarasota from Glasgow after an epic journey across the Atlantic, overland Florida by train and then by boat down the Gulf. It took these Bravehearts almost a month to make the journey of almost 4,500 miles as they traversed the choppy seas and then through mosquito-ridden swamps to what they thought would be paradise only to find no homes awaited their arrival and an unusually harsh winter was upon them. These hardy individuals, 67 in all, set sail from Glasgow on the 1,359 berth SS Furnessia in 1885, en route to what they thought was 40 acres of land for each and a town lot for which they paid 100 pounds each. In addition they purchased their passage and embarked with gold coins to exchange for American gold on arrival in the new world. The only account of the actual journey was documented by James Browning, who wrote about it 47 years after landing as a youth of 19. As he said in his record, recounting the trip “taxed his memory to the limit”.
The SS Furnessia was the largest ship in the Anchor Line fleet, “a vessel so large that the chief steward told us we would never be tossed about by the seas,” he recalled. It was Nov. 25, 1885, when the ship sailed from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, down the River Clyde and then across the Irish Sea to Mobile Bay on the north coast of Ireland where “mail and a half dozen nice-looking Irish girls” were picked up before anchor was again weighed. In a few short hours, he noted, “the bright emerald green of the fields was gone as the last of land disappeared in a haze. The sea turned nasty with waves coming across the main deck and many were sick from the heaving. “To watch the gathering of those mighty seas, to see it pilking up, impelled by a fury almost intelligent when it erects its stormy head and breaks into foam, these are sights that are worth all the anxiety and peril they have cost.” After many days on the high seas, the ship eventually reached Newfoundland where the engine developed a problem and took three days to repair. Now in northern Canada, cold weather set in and few ventured from their cabins as gale force winds pounded the ship. The journey resumed and finally, on Dec. 10th the Furnessia dropped anchor in sight of the Brooklyn Bridge. All aboard were quarantined until smallpox inoculations had been given. Eventually the settlers were put ashore at a house at the corner of Warner and Bleeker streets in New York, where they had rooms to sleep at the Continental Hotel. After several days waiting for their next transport, they boarded another steamer of the Mallory Line that would take them to Fernandina, Florida. The accommodations, he said, “were just tolerable.” The journey down the Atlantic was pleasant with the passengers “shucking their coats and vests as they reached ‘the tropics.’” On landing the colonists were directed to the train for Cedar Key on the Gulf coast which, they were told, would leave in about four or five hours. When it did chug off, even later, it turned out to be a rocky ride in small, uncomfortable cars, on the narrow gauge railroad. As Browning remembered: “Sometimes the train would stop at a little settlement where a few store stop at a little settlement where a few stores with platforms on front would be seen with slouchy men sitting whittling and chewing tobacco.” At the various stops, the ladies would pick up cabbage palmetto leaves that they hung around the train. “It helped pass the time and gave the flies another place to roost except one’s face.” They reached Gainesville when the sun was setting. The hotel was not big enough to hold them all so some of the local families provided rooms. In the morning they returned to the train. “The people must have thought us a strange crowd, with hob-nailed shoes, heavy clothing, derby hats, our faces Sun-burned and weather beaten after our sea voyage.” The trip continued through cypress swamps and woods where the cattle “were half-starved, long-horned tickey looking creatures.” At Cedar Key, they stayed in the Swanee Hotel, “a building that looked like an old fort put up during the Seminole Indian war.” While here word came from Sarasota that they had to stay put until a dock had been built there for them to land. “We passed away two weeks becoming more and more acclimated and wearing lighter clothing but we could not get used to the mosquitoes, cheese cloth hung over the beds at night being the only escape.” A steamer, the Governor Safford, was chartered but it was small and the accommodations were bad. “Our greatest hardship was after dark, poor little kerosene lamps giving only a faint light and nowhere to rest except the floor.” They sailed all night and in the morning passed a new town called Sutherland and late in the afternoon reached Sarasota and the temporary wharf where they were met by those who had gone ahead to build the landing dock. It was Dec. 23, 1885, and the start of a new adventure. The Scots were now in the new world and had a town to build which eventually would become the city of Sarasota. We remember them every Tartan Day in April.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sandy Gardiner is a Caledonian Club member. Born in Glasgow he has worked as a sportswriter for the Scottish Daily Record and as an editor at The Glasgow Evening Times. He immigrated to Canada to join The Ottawa Journal as an editor eventually becoming its managing editor. In 1980 he moved to British Airways in Toronto as director of media and government relations in Canada. In 1986 he transferred to New York as the airline’s senior vice president of communications for The Americas. In 1999 he set up The Gardiner Consultancy, a reputation management and media relations company specializing in travel, tourism and hospitality, which is still active today.
SARASOTA’S FIRST BRAVEHEARTS was originally printed in The Thistle News Letter December 08 18841_111008 5 11/24 Newsletter 2008