Housing the Historical Exhibits & Education Center managed by the Friends of Sarasota County History Center, Inc., the historic building along downtown Sarasota’s arts and culture filled waterfront, also boasts a meeting room, Florida Studies research library, and a gift shop. Exhibits on Sarasota County’s prehistoric past, up through more recent history are on display featuring many photos, quotes, timelines, and artifacts. The structure itself shows the evidence of its storied past as the city’s first library.
A brief history of the Chidsey Library Building, named to the National Register of Historic Places May 4, 2011
For twelve years, John and Ida Chidsey split their time between Bristol, Connecticut, and Sarasota, Florida. John and Ida were greatly respected in Sarasota as both were involved in the community. Ida Chidsey was known for her graciousness and her interest in philanthropic and civic activities.
John Chidsey was retired from the Veeder-Root Company in Hartford where he was president of the company’s board. In 1866, the Root Company was founded in Bristol, CT as a hinge manufacturer. The following year, the company expanded to counting and measuring devices for production, textile equipment and census taking. Almost 30 years later in 1895, Curtis Veeder, the founder of Veeder Manufacturing Company, invented a Cyclometer to record the miles traveled on a bicycle. He promoted the Cyclometer with the slogan, “It’s Nice to Know How Far You Go.” The Cyclometer’s success led to a full line of Veeder counting devices. In 1928, the Root and the Veeder Companies merged to form Veeder-Root, Incorporated of Hartford, Connecticut, the largest manufacturer of counting and computing devices in the world. Today the company continues to manufacture automated fuel tank gauges for various uses.
Through John and Ida’s financial generosity, the city of Sarasota gained its first public library. Martin Studio of Architecture designed the Chidsey Library. Thomas Reed Martin had come to Sarasota in 1911 to design a winter home in Osprey for Bertha Palmer. He stayed on, contributing much to the Mediterranean Revival architecture in Sarasota during the 1920s. On May 12, 1941, the cornerstone was laid for Sarasota’s first public library building. It was the second major structure to be built in the WPA developed Bayfront Park between what are now Sixth and 10th streets, west of North Tamiami Trail.
The library was dedicated in November 1941 at a final cost of approximately $25,000; the Chidseys contributed the bulk of the cost of the project and with the Junior Chamber of Commerce contributing about $6000 in furniture, equipment, and other supplies. At the public dedication, Reverend Francis Trowbridge Cooke of the First Congregational Church in Bristol, Connecticut, summed up the sentiment of Sarasotans when he said, “The library is an embodiment of the Chidseys’ ideals and their love of people.”
Just a couple of days prior to the library’s dedication, the American Legion selected John Chidsey as Sarasota’s Outstanding Citizen for 1941. The newspaper reported, “Mr. Chidsey has shown himself an ideal citizen, taking an active part in all our civic enterprises and contributing in a substantial way to the development of the city. Personally, a more delightful and companionable gentleman is not to found in any city. We think we voice the unanimous sentiment of the citizens of Sarasota when we state that Mr. Chidsey and his estimable wife have won the hearts and the esteem of all our people.”
The Chidseys were members of Sarasota’s Recreation Club and as such, they donated funding for the construction of a second floor for the Recreation Club at the western end of the Municipal Auditorium. That portion of the facility contained a lounge area, a recreation room, and a card room—all of which continue to be used today for clubs and meetings.
Ida Chidsey passed away in Sarasota on December 23, 1945, at the age of 81; John died a few months later at the age of 79.