Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Peace among the Trees at Water's Edge

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Peace among the Trees at Water's Edge

Article excerpt

Well hidden behind strip malls on the south Tamiami Trail, and directly across from Rooms To Go, the community of River Forest is all but unknown to most Sarasota visitors and residents. Yet it has an interesting history and a charm all its own.

During the 1920s and early '30s, before the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the area was wilderness, and bootleggers would make their way through the jungle to unload the cargo that rumrunners brought by skiff up Phillippi Creek from the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1940, retired U.S. Congressman Edward Wason built a winter estate there. The eight-term representative from New Hampshire had come to Sarasota as a snowbird in 1935. When he died just a year after moving in, his wife, Susan, remained in residence there.

In 1959, in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article, she recalled how the place "was virtually hacked from the wilderness." The only way was to reach it was from a dirt road that led from Fiesta Groves on U.S. 41. (Today, the tree-canopied lane extends from the end of Wason Road to the house on the creek.)

"It was an almost-impassable road, and I well remember the time when the car with five women got stuck in the mire," she said. "In order to afford traction for the wheels, we first tried placing cement bags underneath them, and when that didn't work we even took off our dresses and placed them under the wheels. ... We finally had to walk to U.S 41. ... I don't know what they thought, as we certainly were a funny-looking crowd with stockings out at the knees."

Wason also remembered the abundance of wildlife, including snakes, horned owls, squirrels, eagles and alligators, as well as about 300 majestic oak trees and many pines.

By the late 1950s, various parcels of the estate had been sold to make room for the rapidly developing subdivision of River Forest. Many of the 86 houses in the community -- Florida ranch-style homes - - date back to that time and the early 1960s. In later years, a number of them along Phillippi Creek and Wason Bayou were torn down and replaced with bigger houses.

In 1959, Wason sold her home to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cutler, who in 1937 had established a foreign car agency, Cutler Motors, with a showroom on the North Trail. …

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