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Most of what is now Rosemary District was Sarasota's first documented African-American community — known as Overtown until the 1990s. The southern boundary of Overtown is cited as either today's 4th Street or 5th Street; the other boundaries match Rosemary District's.


The name generally associated with the initial settlement of Overtown is Lewis Colson. This formerly enslaved man arrived in Sarasota in 1884 and, as assistant to engineer/surveyor Richard E. Paulson, drove the first stake in the ground in 1885 to plat the original town of Sarasota. In 1897, Colson helped establish Sarasota's first African-American church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, by selling a plot of land at Central Avenue and 7th Street to church trustees for one dollar. Construction of the church was completed in 1899 and the building used until 1973 when the congregation moved to its current location closer to Newtown. In 1910, Colson led a group of families to establish a community near their church.


By 1920, Overtown was a thriving community. Its population grew as African-Americans moved to Sarasota for jobs in the hotel and construction industries. Its business community grew to provide goods and services that were otherwise only available to white Sarasotans. Consequently, Overtown had a variety of single family homes, commercial buildings, churches, schools and social clubhouses — many built in the mid-1920s. Some of them still remain; the most notable are shown below.


Also included below are two historically-designated Rosemary District buildings in the area south of Overtown.


In 2002, Overtown was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • A copy of the Nomination Form is here.

  • A brochure of Overtown Treasures published by Newtown Alive is here.


513 Central Avenue

formerly Payne Chapel AME Church

built 1926


1419 5th Street

formerly Ace Theater

built 1925


851 Central Avenue

Rosemary Cemetery      (video)

built 1886


501–513 Kumquat Court

Appleby Building

built 1925


1373–1385 5th Street

Hood Building

built 1925


800–830 Central Avenue

Rosemary Court

1917, 1928 & 1936


308 Cocoanut Avenue

Dr. Halton Residence

built 1910


1225 Fruitville Road

J. B. Turner House

built 1912


1570 Boulevard of the Arts

BOTA Center

built 1957


1435 7th Street

formerly Leonard Reid house

built 1924

Relocating to Newtown to become Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition headquarters

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