Newtown Historic District officially listed in National Register of Historic Places

News comes 15 years after initiative began to preserve historic neighborhood

Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

The Newtown Historic District officially has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the City of Sarasota has announced.

On April 19, a news release notes, the National Park Service, through the Bureau of Historic Preservation within the Florida Department of State, notified city staff of the designation.

In her letter as part of a May 3 city newsletter, Mayor Liz Alpert noted the “outstanding news,” adding that it comes 15 years after “members of the Newtown community approached the City about preserving this unique, historic neighborhood. That initial contact launched a lengthy but necessary process to fully document Newtown’s rich cultural heritage to meet the criteria established by the federal government to be listed in the National Register,” Alpert explained.

With 731 “contributing resources,” the Newtown Historic District is “the single largest historic district within Sarasota and the largest Black historic district in the state of Florida, based on that number, the release points out.
“Contributing resources” refers to the integrity, location and design of structures retained for at least 50 years, such as Galilee Cemetery and Newtown churches, the release adds.

“This is exciting news for the Newtown community,” said District 1 City Commissioner Kyle Battie in the release, which notes that he grew up in Newtown. “Being listed in the National Register of Historic Places means the important history and special character of Newtown will be preserved for future generations,” Battie added in the release. “Buildings significant to our history will not be demolished. There’s no downside for residents — no negative impact on personal property rights with this designation,” Battie pointed out.

This is the Historic Resources Survey of Newtown, produced in March 2023 by Terracon, a Sarasota consulting firm

The release does note, “The building permit process for structural modifications in the historic district will not change”: Demolition applications must be reviewed and approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Board.

The Newtown Historic District boundaries “roughly are” from Myrtle Street to the north, 19th Street to the south, the Seminole Gulf Railway tracks to the west, and U.S. 301 to the east, the release says.

“The City of Sarasota began pursuing the historic designation in April 2009 after Newtown community members expressed a strong interest in preserving the unique history of their prominently Black neighborhood,” the release explains. “A strategic, multi-prong plan was set forth to document Newtown’s history” in the effort to meet federal requirements for the community to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, the release adds.

The process included the following steps, the release notes:

  • 2009 —Establishing a Newtown area map and boundaries.
  • 2014 — Meeting with stakeholders to develop a scope of work.
  • 2015 —Establishing the Newtown Citizen Historic Task Force and

hiring a consultant to establish the Newtown Conservation Historic District. Newtown’s history was chronicled in the form of 42 recorded interviews, photographs and transcriptions, along with a 364-page published report and cultural heritage book. “The extensive documentation project became known as Newtown Alive, spearheaded by Vickie Oldham.”

One of the webpages on the Newtown Alive website focuses on the People of Newtown. That webpage points out, “Newtown is a special African American community that grew out of another community. Overtown was the first enclave or neighborhood established by African American people in Sarasota, Florida. Three institutions were most important: schools, churches and family. Most of the early African American setters and later arrivals came to Sarasota looking for a way to better their lives. They faced the challenges of racism and segregation at the onset. They worked menial jobs, but found a way to provide for their families.”

That section adds, “Clearly, an indomitable spirit emerged out of their struggle. A strong faith brought them through many challenges. Initially church services were held in homes, until sanctuaries were constructed. Children were educated in churches that doubled as places where residents exercised control over their own destiny.”

Further, it says, “The residents depended on each other for medical and social services by establishing self-help, social and benevolent organizations. … Some of the oral history interviews are ‘laugh out loud’ funny. Other accounts will make you angry and there are times when you’ll tear up.”

  • 2016 — Creating a Newtown Historic Building Preservation pilot program.
  • 2018 — Conducting a citywide survey to document resources dated 1970 or earlier, which noted more than 500 historical resources concentrated in Newtown, and creating a heritage trail with 15 historic markers placed in Newtown to designate significant points of interest recorded during the Newtown Alive process. “The Newtown African American Heritage Trail was added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail in 2019.”
  • 2020 —Approving the Newtown Conservation Historic District.
  • 2021 — Selecting a firm to conduct a survey and draft language to meet the requirements for Newtown to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

With contributing and non-contributing resources combined, the Newtown Historic District boasts more than 1,400 historic resources, the release says. “A non-contributing resource is a historic structure that has been altered,” the release explains.

“This historic designation by the federal government is significant,” said Cliff Smith, the city’s senior planner who oversees the City of Sarasota’s historic preservation program, in the release. “Getting to this point truly was a community effort,” he added in the release. “It takes time to document so many historical resources, record personal histories and present a case that an area meets the criteria for a national register designation,” he continued.

“Thank you to former and current Commissioners for getting the ball rolling years ago, Vickie Oldham for her substantial contribution and notable dedication in documenting Newtown’s history and also City Grants Coordinator Amy E. Jones for shepherding the application through the government process,” Smith added in the release.

The creation of a Newtown National Register Historic District was supported through a grant from the Underrepresented Communities grant program, which is administered by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of Interior, the release says.

Newtown Historic District webpage with frequently asked questions is available via

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