Market snapshot: River Forest in Sarasota



Well hidden behind strip malls on the south Tamiami Trail, and directly across from Rooms To Go, the community of River Forest is all but unknown to most Sarasota visitors and residents. Yet it has an interesting history and a charm all its own.





During the 1920s and early ’30s, before the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the area was wilderness, and bootleggers would make their way through the jungle to unload the cargo that rumrunners brought by skiff up Phillippi Creek from the Gulf of Mexico.

riv1In 1940, retired U.S. Congressman Edward Wason built a winter estate there. The eight-term representative from New Hampshire had come to Sarasota as a snowbird in 1935. When he died just a year after moving in, his wife, Susan, remained in residence there.

In 1959, in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article, she recalled how the place “was virtually hacked from the wilderness.” The only way was to reach it was from a dirt road that led from Fiesta Groves on U.S. 41. (Today, the tree-canopied lane extends from the end of Wason Road to the house on the creek.)

“It was an almost-impassable road, and I well remember the time when the car with five women got stuck in the mire,” she said. “In order to afford traction for the wheels, we first tried placing cement bags underneath them, and when that didn’t work we even took off our dresses and placed them under the wheels. . . . We finally had to walk to U.S 41. . . . I don’t know what they thought, as we certainly were a funny-looking crowd with stockings out at the knees.”

Wason also remembered the abundance of wildlife, including snakes, horned owls, squirrels, eagles and alligators, as well as about 300 majestic oak trees and many pines.

By the late 1950s, various parcels of the estate had been sold to make room for the rapidly developing subdivision of River Forest. Many of the 86 houses in the community — Florida ranch-style homes — date back to that time and the early 1960s. In later years, a number of them along Phillippi Creek and Wason Bayou were torn down and replaced with bigger houses.

In 1959, Wason sold her home to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cutler, who in 1937 had established a foreign car agency, Cutler Motors, with a showroom on the North Trail. They handled the British Motor Corp. line and also owned the franchises to sell Porsches and Jaguars. The real estate transaction was handled by A.E. Edwards, an early Sarasota settler and the city’s first mayor.

The Cutlers added a boat dock and swimming pool. By then the one-story home sat on only an acre and a half of land, but its 300 feet of waterfront overlook Phillippi Creek at one of the neighborhood’s most scenic spots.

The current owners, Bob and Ann Des Rochers, had lived in Harbor Acres and knew about the place because they used to take their children to a nearby scouting camp. Purchasing the house in 1991, they enlarged and restored it in 1998, replacing plumbing and electric, putting on a new metal roof, and refurbishing the hickory floors, two fireplaces, vaulted ceilings and screened porches.

Now empty-nesters, they have decided to sell the property. Marcia Salkin of Michael Saunders & Co. is the listing agent. “The property is just magical. You feel like you’re someplace special,” she says. “It’s a little gem of a neighborhood.”

She also likes River Forest for its “quiet, peacefulness and convenience. You can take your boat and be out in Sarasota Bay in seconds,” she explains. “It’s close to downtown Sarasota and the beaches, and getting to Interstate 75 is quick, too.”

There are other amenities. The Landings shopping center and the Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar and The Table — both within walking distance — are close enough to be considered neighborhood stores and restaurants.

Residents are a combination of retirees, working professionals and families. “Some have lived there for 30 to 40 years,” Salkin says.

In the past 12 months, there have been seven real estate transactions, ranging in price from $142,500 to $455,000.

According to Zillow, four homes are on the market, all of them waterfront properties.

Salkin’s listing at 2300 Wason Road is priced at $1.5 million.

The others are listed at $1 million, $1,261,000 and $520,000.

Last modified: January 9, 2015
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.