by Todd Tracy
What do Labor Day, Pioneers Days and Volunteers have in common? A lot more than you would suspect, and each year Englewood celebrates all three.
Labor Day was originally established in the late 1800’s on May 1, known as Loyalty, Law or May Day in Europe to commemorate the hard-earned establishment of an eight-hour “workers” day. In 1894, Labor Day was adopted as a United States federal holiday and, President Grover Cleveland, changed the date to the first Monday in September to avoid celebrating some of the early socialist influences behind the labor movement.
As published on the www.EnglewoodPioneerDays.com web site, Jo Cortes, in 1956, expanded the federal holiday with a concept she called Pioneer Days. Like today, the celebration was intended to stimulate commerce and honor what was coined as “…the founding of Englewood…”, which was considered the date of our town’s first platted neighborhood. Most of us know the above story in one form or another so I’d like to take a different look at what we celebrate and why.
My great grandfather, James Elliott Bartlett (JE), like the Andersons, Aingers, Buchans, Biorseths, Goffs, Gottfrieds, Johansens, Chadwicks, Tates and so many others, was a Pioneer of Englewood. JE was one of the largest landowners in our area per Diana Harris, who authored “Englewood Lives” and has written about Englewood’s history for decades. It was estimated that JE owned about 40,000 acres, which later became known as Manasota Key, Casperson Beach, Overbrook Gardens, Englewood, and Alameda Isles. He also owned lands, hotels, and homesteads in several other Florida communities.
I never knew JE personally, but I spent a lot of years with his wife, Nellie, and some of their offspring, including two daughters, Leah Lasbury and Lois Tracy. Both ladies were well-known and successful community members. JE was indeed a pioneering member of our community and a good man, but I can only remember a small handful of socially benevolent stories about him.
Other pioneers would include the Goff family, credited with establishing Dearborn Street, which was cleared to accommodate his oxen cart. The Buchans built a store and a landing pier to support their commercial enterprises. The Nichols brothers, the “Founders of Englewood”, platted land to sell as lemon groves. The Chadwick’s built a toll bridge connecting their barrier island investments to the mainland, charging 50 cents per trip. The Biorseth family captured and propagated bees for their honey business. The Kluge family were considered pioneers because they followed their affiliation with the Woodmere Lumber Company of Englewood.
Like my great-grandfather, our celebrated pioneers were all good people, but their motivations and contributions to Englewood were probably not as benevolent as we fondly believe. More than likely they were attracted to cheap land, with little to no regulations, so they could build homes, provide for, and prosper their families. This is not meant to be disrespectful, but a more realistic glimpse of our town’s founding families. These families most likely never dreamed their individual contributions, even combined, would pioneer Englewood.
Now to the point. I believe our volunteers, clubs, groups, organizations, and entrepreneurs are the current pioneers of Englewood. Why? Because they run the organizations that literally hold this town together by feeding, entertaining, and educating us all. Combined they bless us with events like our Chili Cook Off, the Lemon Bay Fest, the Rotary and OEVA Art Festivals, Earth Day, Fireworks, Bike Night, wine walks, FAME, Waterfest, etc. One of my favorite events as a participant, volunteer and attendee over the years, is our Englewood Pioneer Days. This event is hosted and governed strictly with volunteers.
Our current pioneers work tens of thousands of hours annually supporting Englewood by investing in the Dearborn Street business area, collecting and preserving our history, delivering meals to home-bound, caring for our veterans, building houses for those in need, supporting the arts, running farmers markets, rescuing animals, planting community gardens or just walking each morning picking up after some thoughtless litterer. The list of businesses, organizations, and volunteers is too long to list but we all know who they are and most of us, in one form or another, are one of them. To all of us, I say thank you for your pioneering spirit!
To learn more or share your community ideas and opinions, please join us this fall as the Old Englewood Village Associations (OEVA) kicks off their town hall meetings, on the Plaza property when permitted. Until then, you can reach us thru the website, www.OldeEnglewood.com.