Friday, February 24, 2012

Discovering Sarasota - Pinecraft

Pinecraft is a one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in Sarasota. Located on either side of Bahia Vista Street, Pinecraft lies to the east of Turtle Avenue. Most newcomers and visitors are amazed to see a large community of Mennonite and Amish out there and they take pleasure in visiting Yoder's Restaurant as well as Dutch Heritage of Troyer to relish Sarasota Amish home preparation. Bus loads of relatives, vistors and friends are brought in by the large communities of Amish in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states in the north during the winter, causing the local population to tremendously increase. This has led to the mushrooming of rental properties in Pinecraft.

The Amish snowbirds who came to Pinecraft as early as the 1920s settled here because of the warm weather and the opportunity to do farming during winter. Some of them stayed in tents and tourist camps. Some others bought land, built their own homes and went on to become permanent residents.

Pinecraft got its name from Earl and Mary Craft who platted the original 454 lots of 40 ft × 40 ft plots (the Sarasota National Tourist Camp's grounds) in 1926 and the large number of pine trees that grew in the area. They also gifted land for a public park along Phillippi Creek and earmarked land for water tank and community house. Though later in 1926 a neighboring subdivision was laid out by First National Company of Sarasota, both the subdivisions are referred to as Pinecraft now. This locality is bounded by Phillippi Creek on the north and the west, Beneva Road on the east and Forest Lakes on the south.

In the beginning, worship services were held in the homes of people. The growth of the population during the winter led to the construction of an Amish church in 1945 on Hines Avenue that remained opened throughout the year. The landmark church on Bahia Vista which conducts services for both Amish and Mennonite faithful was a bakery before it was converted into a Tourist Church.

In Pinecraft, there are over 500 homes most of which are cottages built in 1940s and 1950s. Some of these cottages are being demolished and larger houses are being built on double lots. Residences built in line with contemporary style are also available in the northern part on Phillippi Creek and Schrock Street. In fact, two houses built here on five lots by Mennonite businessmen are as big as mansions and can accommodate all their family members during the winter season. Whereas most of the old houses have been upgraded and renovated, incorporating amenities including air conditioning.

Barbara Beiler who came here in 1961, has lived in Pinecraft since 1979. She attends services at Ashton Road Mennonite Church though long way off from this place. She owns a home on Clarinda Street along with her husband and another one next door which she has rented out. She says, "I like this place and for a long period of time most people have known each other."

Many houses used to remain empty during the summer, but not any longer. Though rents are lower during the summer months, it contributes to the turnover before the arrival of the Mennonite and Amish snowbirds.

According to Beiler, the neighborhood has seen tremendous change since her arrival to this place. She recalled that that traffic used to be lean in those days when people used to come just for the winter and the place wore a rundown look and many buildings did not have heating systems because of the mild weather.

The owner of the Wagon Wheel Real Estate Milton Yoder has been living in Pinecraft for the last 43 years. Recalling those times when the streets were not paved and covered with sand, he said that the county has bought in a lot of improvements by providing water, sewer lines and street lights.

Although some "for sale" boards can be seen in the Pinecraft, most houses are sold through auction in the winter time. According to Beiler, a lot of sales happen through word-of-mouth publicity. Yoder himself conducted the auction of Yoder's Restaurant in 1981 and according to him, on a square foot basis many houses in Pinecrsaft are more expensive compared to the other Sarasota real estate. The demand is high for homes located near to the churches and shopping areas.

During the time of the housing bubble, home prices in Pinecraft fluctuated heavily as it happened all over Sarasota. However, it has stabilized now and recently a home was sold for $65,000. A few houses that cost less than $100,000 are also available for sale, though many houses are valued between $200,000 and $600,000. Beiler said that some of the families that have shifted to areas where the home prices are lower still came to Pinecraft biking and participate in the locality's social life and activities.

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