At the recent SCOPE Annual celebration and Boundary Crossing Awards two local leaders were honored for their outstanding community work: Christine Jennings, CEO of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and Sandra Terry, Executive Director of the Laurel Civic Association. A number of attendees asked about the location of the Laurel Civic Association, perhaps expecting that it was in downtown Sarasota on Laurel Street…but Laurel is not downtown and it is much more than a civic association – it is one of Sarasota’s oldest communities – and stretches from the bay to I-75, between Osprey and Nokomis. First settled along the bay in the 1870’s, Laurel was the name chosen for a post office established in 1903. The community was bounded on the north by South Creek, and on the south by Shakett Creek. The intersection of Laurel Road and the Legacy Trail may be considered the commercial center of Laurel, while the Sandra Sims Terry Community Center on Collins Road represents the heart of the community. Much of the history of Laurel revolved around fishing and farming in the earliest days and timber and turpentine once the Seaboard Airline Railroad provided a reliable connection to the outside world. The combination of railroad work and the associated turpentine and timber industries provided a humble but stable economy for many families who settled and remain in this area.
As with the historic communities of Fruitville and Bee Ridge, over time Laurel came to be known more as a road than as a proud community. No wonder people asked “where is Laurel!” Shrinking the identity further, while the US Postal Services does maintain a post office in Laurel, the community is placed within the postal boundaries of neighboring Nokomis. Requests to place “Welcome to Laurel” signs in the median of US-41 (like Osprey, Nokomis and Venice) have been declined. While the community, under Sandra Terry’s leadership has worked hard to preserve the history, role and identity of Laurel – it has been an uphill battle. And so Laurel remains a best-kept secret – and yet it is in the heart of our county, between the beaches and the pine flat-woods, between Osprey and Nokomis, between Sarasota and Venice. A place where residents pull together to reduce crime, improve health, inspire learning and embrace community. That’s where Laurel is!