Settlers began arriving in this region in the 1860s after the US Congress passed the Homestead act, offering 160 acres of federal land free to each homesteading family. In 1867, John and Eliza Webb, and five children, were the first to avail themselves of this offer, settling in the Osprey area. The next year, Jesse and Rebecca Knight selected land on the south side of Dona Bay for themselves and some of their fifteen offspring. In 1871, Robert Roberts settled on the south side of the bay now bearing his name. Frank Higel came in 1881, and three years later bought some property from Roberts. The John S. Blackburns settled in the Osprey area in 1881.
At that time, the locale south of Roberts Bay was known as "Horse and Chaise" because of a growth of pines and palms on the shore which resembled a horse and buggy to those passing along the coast on boats. During the process of selecting a name for the proposed post office for the current Nokomis area, "Venice" was submitted by Frank Higel since he was reminded of the same-named town in Italy. This post office was established on July 3, 1888 south of Shackett Creek and west of current Albee Farm Road. Darwin O’Curry served as the first Postmaster.
In 1910, Bertha Honore Palmer of Chicago acquired 140,000 acres in the southern part of what was then Manatee County. She used her influence to have the railroad extended from Fruitville Junction to her property south of Roberts Bay. The rail terminus was called Venice. She then had the Venice post office transferred to this rail terminus. Citizens of the original Venice then chose Nokomis as a new name for their post office.
Dr. Fred Albee, a New York bone specialist, and his wife Luella, arrived in 1916. He purchased vast acreage from the Palmer family-owned Sarasota-Venice Company and commissioned famous planner John Nolen to formulate designs for the development of Nokomis, and later for Venice.
A four-story lumber mill was erected in 1918 by Herman Kluge in the area of Manasota. The surrounding grounds held 1,500 homes, a church, a commissary, machine shops, and a railroad yard. It was renamed Woodmere in 1921. Fire destroyed the sawmill and the property was abandoned in 1930.
In 1925, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) purchased more than 50,000 acres south of Roberts Bay from Dr. Albee and began building their city, implementing a revised Nolen Plan for its development. Venice was incorporated as a city by the Florida Legislature in 1927, and Ned Worthington was appointed the first mayor.
By then there were numerous businesses, paved streets, and residences. The Tamiami Trail was completed in 1928, passing through Venice on its way from Tampa to Miami.
The Florida boom ended, and the BLE ceased development in 1929; Venice "became a ghost town." Venice-Nokomis High School, located on Nippino Trail, where Nokomis Community Park is now, graduated its first class, eight students, in 1930.
A revitalization began in 1932 when the Kentucky Military Institute of Lyndon, Kentucky, selected Venice as its winter headquarters. They purchased the Venice and San Marco Hotels to use for classrooms and housing for the more than 300 students and their faculty. All were transported between their primary campus and Venice by train, arriving in early January and departing the beginning of April. KMI discontinued use of the Venice campus in 1970. Final Seaboard Coast Line passenger train service occurred in 1971.
In 1933, Dr. Albee purchased the Park View Hotel to convert into the Florida Medical Center, a private general hospital. Due to its rapid growth, it was converted into a volunteer hospital with a charter permitting it to be a post-graduate medical teaching institution.
The Venice Jetties were constructed and a channel dredged between them in 1937. The Intracoastal Waterway was dug much later, in the 1960s, with final dedication held in 1967.
A U.S. Army Air Base was created as a training center in 1942 by the federal government, with the entrance located on San Marco Drive. Service groups, units responsible for airplane maintenance and supply, were the primary occupants of the facility. Fighter Squadrons were tranferred to the base for training of combat pilots and ground crew. An Army Band was organized on location. The Florida Medical Center was taken over by the Army Medical Corps and renovated for use as a military hospital. The base ceased all operations in November 1945.
A medical facility, originally chartered as South Sarasota County Memorial Hospital, was established in the Worrell Apartments on The Rialto. It opened in December 1951 with fourteen beds. After its dedication in February 1952, the name was changed to Venice Memorial Hospital. In 1962, when the name was shortened to Venice Hospital, its capacity had grown to 70 beds. By 1979, several additions to the building had created space for a total of 285 beds.
Development of South Venice began in 1952 with the marketing of 19,000 platted lots. There was a minimum two-lot purchase, with each 40’ x 100’ lot priced at $200. The New York City development firm of W & A Construction Company began building in July 1953, and the first residents moved into their homes in October. By mid-1954, the majority of the lots had been sold.
All of these events, as well as the Nolen Plan, have shaped the Venice of today. Contributing to the charm of the community is the preservation and continuation of the Northern Italian style of architecture in the city’s historic center. As Venice moves toward the future, it will continue to evolve and preserve its heritage.