"The Military School with a Winter Home in Sunny Florida"
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During Florida's Boom Period, 1922-1928, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) purchased 30,000 acres in Venice, believing it was a sound investment where "rail, trail, and water meet." They hired renowned city planner John Nolen to design Venice. Construction soared, but land sales soon slowed and eventually halted. The BLE pulled out in 1928, and as a result of the economic bust and the Great Depression, Venice became a veritable ghost town.
West Point graduate Robert T. P. Allen established the Kentucky Military Institute (KMI) near Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1845. In 1906, KMI established a Florida winter campus in Eau Gallie, near Melbourne, to improve the cadets' health and academic performance by reducing sick leave through Florida's available year-round recreation. In 1932, Colonel Charles B. Richmond selected Venice as its new winter campus as the previous one had burned. KMI initially rented and later bought the San Marco Hotel (today's Venice Centre Mall), the Hotel Venice (now a retirement center), and the Annex between the two to provide housing for the faculty and cadets, as well as classrooms, kitchen, dining hall, offices, and infirmary.
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On January 5, 1933, 1500 people welcomed the first KMI contingent of students, faculty, and staff. Venice soon benefitted from the infusion of funds spent by the newcomers and their visiting families and friends; one report stated, "The school breathed new life into the discouraged city." The colorful and inspiring Sunday dress parades, held on the parade grounds (today's Centennial Park and municipal parking lot), quickly became a favorite attraction for residents and tourists; for the cadets it was "testing time" as they were inspected and graded. The cadet band and the Kentucky Rifles, a precision drill platoon, also participated. The Sweetheart Parade, held close to Valentine's Day, honored five local young ladies, each sponsored by one of the five cadet corps. Athletic competitions, such as track meets, were held on the parade grounds, too. In 1970 the Venice campus closed, and KMI sold its Kentucky properties in 1973. Decreased enrollment, higher operating costs, and anti-war sentiments during the Vietnam War contributed to the school's closure. Venice, however, has never forgotten the cadets and their important role in the city's history.