St. Armand’s Circle is known today for being one of the most frequently visited shopping destinations in the Sarasota area with over 140 points of interest. However, there is an interesting history behind this popular modern commercial center.
Charles St. Armand was a Frenchman and the first homesteader on the island. He left Europe in 1893 and bought 132 acres of land on the key for just under $22. His last name was incorrectly spelled on the original deed as “Armand”, and the misspelled name is still used to this day. Armand spent time developing the area into a small fishing and farming spot along with a few other pioneers.
St. Amrand later sold the land for $1,500 to Augus McInnes. After that it was later resold multiple times before falling into the hands of John Ringling, who bought it in 1917. Rumor has it that Mr. Ringling won the island in a poker game!
Mr. Ringling envisioned St. Armand’s Circle as an exclusive shopping center surrounded by high-income homes. He wanted to develop area into the shape of a circle – perhaps because he loved the three-ring circus so much! He began working quickly on building a causeway that linked St. Armands Key to the mainland. Ringling famously used elephants from his circus to carry some of the building materials.
In 1927, the causeway was completed and Mr. Ringling had a band parade across it. Mr. Ringling also placed his remarkable personal collection of Roman and Greek statues around St. Armands Circle. His statues still line the walkway of the circle today along with a group of newer statues that total over 30. Some of those statues include King Neptune, Discobolus, Venus and Christopher Columbus as well as newer statues such as the Seven Virtues of Sarasota.
Many say that the island’s story can be told through these incredible works of art. One statue of a Roman general has a gaze that hypnotizes visitors who enter the Circle. Just beyond the first general, there is a second statue that depicts the same general holding grapes and pomegranates with his helmet removed. It is rumored that these statues symbolize St. Amand.
Unfortunately, the stock market crashed in 1929 and interrupted Mr. Ringling’s plans. Even though Mr. Ringling didn’t get to see all of his plans through after he passed away in 1936, he would be very satisfied with how St. Armands Circle has blossomed.
Today, there are over 140 different boutiques, art galleries and restaurants throughout St. Armands Circle. There is even a Circus Ring of Fame located in St. Armands Circle Park that honors Mr. Ringling’s circus tradition. A new member is inducted every year by the Circus Ring of Fame Foundation. In 2017, Acrobats Reggie Armor and Dora Foster were inducted along with Henry Ringling North, nephew of Mr. Ringling and vice president of the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey show from 1936-1967.
The bits and pieces of history that surround St. Armand’s Circle are a big part of what make it such a captivating place to explore and shop at. At almost every street corner, you can find a plaque or sign that tells a short story about the history of the area, but now you’ll know a thing or two about it before you arrive!