Pineapples in Sarasota: A History

Downtown Sarasota’s New Year’s tradition is to drop a giant pineapple at the stroke of midnight. Huh? Pineapples? Sarasota doesn’t have pineapples, does it?

Jan Thornburg's photo of the pineapple Sarasota drops for New Year's Eve

Well we did.

Yes, pineapples were once grown as a cash crop in Sarasota. William Whitaker, who homesteaded here in 1843, teamed up in the 1870’s or 1880’s with Charles Abbe, the postmaster of Sara Sota, as we see in this newspaper clipping:

Prof. C.E.Abbe and Wm. Whitaker growing pineapples in Sarasota

Bet you thought pineapples were native to Hawaii. Easy mistake to make. Here’s what Diana Harris, Englewood historian, wrote about that:

open quoteHawaii is so closely associated with pineapples that one might presume pineapples were indigenous to Hawaii, that they traveled from there to the West Indies and Florida.

Actually, the opposite is true. Surprisingly enough, it is recorded that pups, slips and suckers from pineapple plants were shipped from Florida to Hawaii in 1885, thus starting pineapple growing in Hawaii. In 1901, Jim Dole started what is now a world-famous operation, Dole Pineapple.” Read the whole article including why pineapples are no longer grown locally except in our gardens as a novelty.

Here’s the Historical Society’s nod to pineapple growing:

Pineapples in Sarasota, at the Historical Society of Sarasota County, 12th St & Tamiami Trail, in Pioneer Park

And of course there’s Pineapple Avenue. But then again, there’s Orange and Lemon and Cocoanut and even Osprey Avenue, and you don’t see a giant bird being dropped on New Year’s Eve, do you?

Turns out, the pineapple drop has nothing to do with our county history, and everything to do with developers….

open quoteSince 2000, downtown Sarasota has welcomed in the New Year with a free special event … known for dropping a bright, decorative pineapple at midnight—much like how New York City drops an apple.

There’s just one mystery—why is a pineapple used?

About 10 years ago, a development was planned for downtown called Pineapple Square. Part of the development was retail stores along Lemon Avenue and Main Street. This includes the current stores there such as Blue MercuryEileen Fischer, and Sur La Table.

“As part of the marketing for the development, attractive pineapple-shaped light fixtures were installed along the exterior of the stores,” says Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the City of Sarasota.

Also part of the plan was the use of a large, lighted pineapple right beside the Pineapple Square development to welcome the new year. and even though some parts of the plan never fully blossomed, the use of the lighted pineapple stuck around, becoming the new beacon for our massive New Year’s Eve block party.”

And yup, developers were and are a much more lucrative cash crop in Sarasota County.

Pineapples are a part of Sarasota county heritage
And now that we’ve whetted your appetite, how about a light modern Pineapple Upside Down Cake?

Fresh Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Highly recommended by the Historical Society of Sarasota County.

Sources Visit Sarasota , Jan Thornburg, The Englewood Sun and here’s the recipe.

5 thoughts on “Pineapples in Sarasota: A History

  1. Kate – beautiful message….hope you are having fun with this….we are having fun reading your messages.

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