Thursday, August 22, 2019

Ice - The Early History of Punta Gorda's Ice Factories

Consolidated Ice and Fertilizer Plant on Berry and Olympia 

In the early 18th century, Spanish-Cuban fishermen discovered Charlotte Harbor to be a rich source of a variety of fish.  But the distance from the Harbor to Cuba presented a problem.  Spoilage.   The original solution was to soak the fish in saltwater, then dry and press it.  The Cuban fisherman continued to fish the waters of Charlotte Harbor off and on (somewhat disrupted by wars, the British takeover of Florida in the latter part of the 1700s, and then by the United States acquisition of Florida in 1821).  

By the later part of the 1700s they were packing their catch in salt for transport back to Havana.   By this time, they had established permanent or semi-permanent camps or “ranchos” in the Harbor.  But the nascent fishing industry was disrupted again when tensions between the U.S. and the Cubans over control of the fisheries in Charlotte Harbor led to the murder of a customs official at Useppa Island in the 1830s and ultimately to the abandonment of the fish camps.  While according to a survey by Goode after the Civil War, some camps had been re-established, it wasn’t until Isaac Trabue founded his town that fishing reemerged as a major industry  -- and the difference this time was ice.

Trabue opened his first ice factory in 1891, the only product was ice for the mullet season.  The factory located near Berry and Olympia turned out over 15 tons a day to support the early industry and was powered by steam.  But by 1895 a competitor emerged, a group of Punta Gorda business men including L.T. Blockson, James Sandlin, Charles Davis, John Farrington and Albert Dewey established the Punta Gorda Ice and Power Company.  The plant located at the corner of Tamiami Trail and Virginia turned out 25 tons daily. A sideline was the sale of electricity for homes and businesses near the factory.  It was able to produce ice cheaper than Trabue’s factory which was forced to close in 1897 once Plant removed railroad tracks west of King Street (Tamiami Trail).  Undeterred, Trabue connected with a consortium of Philadelphia investors to establish the Consolidated Manufacturing Refrigerating and Fish Company and erected in 1903 what was touted as the largest ice and freezing plant in the world.  This plant which turned out ice cubes weighing 6,000 pounds only operated for only a short while.  
Punta Gorda Ice and Power Company

The Punta Gorda Ice and Power Company used ammonia as the refrigerant. After first being compressed in a large cylinder, the expanding ammonia gas supercooled in an adjacent tank of brine. Then, when a series of steel buckets, suspended from the ceiling, each containing about 30 gallons of water were immersed in the supercooled brine, the freshwater inside the buckets would freeze into blocks of ice.

A system of ice stations was developed for collecting iced fish from the ice stations, scattered throughout Charlotte Harbor.  Then the traditional salt fisheries were abandoned. Instead, run boats would carry ice to the stations and deliver fish back to the fish houses in Punta Gorda.   Fish would be packed in bins on boxcars with alternating layers of ice for train shipment north.  (In one month during World War II when meat was rationed, the Punta Gorda Fish Company shipped almost 2 million pounds of fish north.)

In 1913 the Ice and Power Company structure was expanded.  Perry McAdow who owned the controlling interest at the time sold the company to Southern Utilities.  Ultimately it was purchased by Florida Power and Light.  


Van Itallie, Theodoric B. Triumph of Ice over Salt - the Changing Face of Commercial Fishing in Charlotte Harbor

Punta Gorda Herald, 1895, 1913 various articles

Williams, Lindsey, Our Fascinating Past, the Early Years

Peeples, Vernon, Punta Gorda and the Charlotte Harbor Area.. A Pictorial History

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The First Local Punta Gorda Bank Born 120 Years Ago Evolved into Bank of America in Punta Gorda

From Vernon Peeples Photograph Collection

The Punta Gorda Bank, Punta Gorda’s first true local bank was chartered 120 years ago in 1899, an outgrowth of an earlier branch bank of the State Bank of Fort Meade, opened in 1894 (see sketch  below of building destroyed in 1905 fire).  Actually, Punta Gorda had another branch bank even earlier in 1889, a branch of the Polk City Bank managed by S.P. Hinckley (the Hinckley-Harvey house still stands on Retta Esplanade).

From Vernon Peeples, Punta Gorda and Charlotte Harbor Area.

The 1899 bank opened its doors at the northwest corner of Marion and Cross Street (now 41 south).   Perry W. McAdow, a wealthy owner of goldmines in Montana, had just relocated in Punta Gorda and needed a bank.  He constructed the one-story building and helped recapitalize the original Fort Meade branch bank, becoming the first President of the Punta Gorda local bank.  The building housed the bank on the corner with Earnest Dry Goods, the Punta Gorda Trading Company and a community social hall comprising the rest of the space.   A Charlotte County Historical Marker noting where the bank was located can be seen on 41 South before reaching Marion Avenue on the west side of the street.

In 1917 the bank’s assets were turned over to form the Punta Gorda State Bank with the wealthy cattleman, W. Luther Koon, as its first President. Originally operating in a leased building at Olympia and Nesbitt, it moved to a new building on the southwest corner of Marion and what is now North 41 in 1921.

Punta Gorda State Bank in 1931 during Barron Collier Bridge Opening Celebration. From V. Peeples Collection.

The stock market crash of 1929 hit the banking business in Punta Gorda hard.  The Punta Gorda State Bank was the only one to survive it, according to legend, by a suitcase full of cash brought to the bank by Barron Collier. 

The bank continued to grow through acquisition, and  then in 1960 was reorganized as First National Bank of Punta Gorda1.  At that time a one-story building was built on the corner of Olympia and Nesbitt to house the growing business.  In 1975, the building was remodeled and a four- story building was added, to become the tallest business building in the City. It reorganized and was renamed several times after that (First Florida Bank, Barnett Bank, Nations Bank) until in 1999 when it was merged into and began operations as Bank of American in Punta Gorda. 

1 The original First National Bank of Punta Gorda was the name of the Merchants Bank after it was federalized in 1914.  That bank went under during the Depression.  Its building though still stands on Marion Avenue and in write-ups recording it is often referred to as the “Old” First National Bank of Punta Gorda to distinguish it from the renamed Punta Gorda State Bank. 
2 The long winding history of this bank is very confusing especially given the reuse of names.  While we believe what is presented to be the accurate course of this business based on extensive research, we welcome corrections.

Sources include:

Peeples, Vernon, Punta Gorda and Charlotte Harbor Area, 1986.
                                Punta Gorda in the Beginning, 1965-1900, 2012.
Williams, Lindsey, Our Fascinating Past, 1996.
Rhode, Byron, Punta Gorda Remembered, 1988. 
Punta Gorda Herald, articles 1890-1900 in Vernon Peeples Collection.
Fort Myers Newspress, Jan. 1, 1981.
Historical Market Charlotte County, Punta Gorda Bank.
Sanborn Map, Punta Gorda, 1914.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

From St John’s to Charlotte County - Tracing the Evolution of the Charlotte Harbor Area Through Maps

Maps tell an intriguing story of how the land that is now Charlotte County evolved from the period of its being a territory of the United States into statehood and beyond.
Carey and Lea Atlas, 1822, Philadelphia. 
The map above from 1822 gives a perspective on Florida counties in early U.S. history.  In 1821, when Spain ceded Florida to the United States according to the terms of the Adams-Onis Treaty, two counties were established.  St. John’s, at the start of the Florida Territorial period, corresponded roughly with the former colonial province of East Florida. (Escambia was the other county consisting of a large section of what was the colonial province of West Florida.)  What is now Charlotte County would have been part of St. John’s until this very large county was subdivided. 

From 1833 Tanner Map of Florida 

When the 1833 Tanner map above was created, what is now Charlotte County was a part of Monroe, Alachua and Indian Reserved Territories.  An act of the Territorial Legislature established Monroe County as the 6th county in the Florida territory. The county’s boundaries then were the southern portion of Florida extended north to the south shore of Charlotte Harbor.   Alachua County was created by the Florida territorial legislature. This  county originally stretched from the border of Georgia south (later from the Suwannee River) to the north shore of Charlotte Harbor.

From 1839 Map of Florida with Counties 

By 1834, the southern part of Alachua had become Hillsborough County, and at that time, the Charlotte Harbor area was then divided between Hillsborough and Monroe Counties with Mosquito County (for a brief time Leigh Read) to the east.  

From 1849 Map of Florida 

By the time of statehood, in 1845, all of the Charlotte Harbor area (which is now Charlotte County was in Hillsborough County.  At statehood, the population of the entire county of Hillsborough was only 836, not including soldiers or Native Americans.

In 1855, Manatee County was created out of Hillsborough and the Charlotte Harbor area became and stayed part of that county until DeSoto county was created in 1887.  At the time of Punta Gorda’s birth, the city was part of Manatee County, and very soon thereafter was included in DeSoto County, until Charlotte County was established in 1921.   Before it was subdivided into five separate counties, DeSoto had over 24,000 in population and contained over 3200 square miles, whereas the new Charlotte County had only 832 square miles and was less than 4,000 people in population. 

Map of DeSoto County 1890

Compiled by Theresa Murtha from the Maps and Research of Vernon Peeples and the Exploring Florida website.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Luna the White Owl had twin in Punta Gorda 100 years ago.

Luna the leucistic screech owl courtesy Peace River  Wildlife Center

Luna, the leucistic screech owl ambassador for the Peace River Wildlife Center, isn’t the first white owl to be seen in Punta Gorda. As reported in the April 2, 1914 edition of the Punta Gorda Herald a white owl was found in the store yesterday.”  It was placed in a wire basket covered by an old coat to keep the light out during the day. Many people stopped by the store to view this odd looking owl.

“Yesterday” happened to be the first of April and some who were skeptical did not take advantage of the opportunity to view the peculiar exhibit, expecting it to be an April Fool’s Day prank.

The white owl was released from the cage at night-fall despite the fact that someone had suggested having Mr. Kinsel, the taxidermist, fix it up for a place in a local museum. 

We can now imagine Luna as part of a 105 year long line of Punta Gorda leucistic owls.

By Marge Hall, PGHC Researcher and Docent 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Florida during the Revolution

After two centuries of Spanish rule, the British took control of Florida in 1763.  Spain lost Florida to the English in exchange for Havana and Manila, which had been occupied by the British.

The British separated the territory called Florida into two colonies, East Florida, with its capital in St. Augustine, and West Florida, with its capital in Pensacola. East Florida consisted of what is the modern boundary of the state, east of the Apalachicola River. West Florida included the modern Panhandle of Florida, as well as parts of what are now Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

In an attempt to bring settlers to East Florida, the British offered land grants to settlers who would come to farm and also defend the new British territory.  Many British brought enslaved Africans  with them to work the farms.

At the time of the American revolution the British had 33 entities in the Americas they considered colonies, including the 13 that were part of the rebellion.  Most of them were in the Caribbean and approximately sixty percent of their military were stationed there to protect their sugar interests extremely important in the global economy of the time.

Florida was fiercely defended by the British during the Revolution as a stronghold against the perceived sedition of the colonies north and concern of rebellion spreading into the Caribbean.  The East Florida colonists who had only recently been given lands were very loyal to the Crown when the  war broke out.  They also invited loyalists from the northern colonists to relocate in East Florida.

George Washington was well aware of Florida’s  strategic significance.  He authorized five separate invasions of East Florida between 1776 and 1780.  During a series of battles from 1779 to 1781, Spain was able to recapture West Florida from the British.  When the American Revolution ended in 1783, England losing interest in the colony returned East Florida to the Spanish to keep control of Gibraltar.
 Charlotte Harbour indicated on 1775 Map. 

It is said that Charlotte Harbor got its name from the British, renaming what was Carlos Baie to Charlotte Harbour for the wife of King George the 3rd.

Florida became a United States Territory in 1821, and was named a state in 1845.

Roger Smith, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Florida
Exploring Florida, Short History of Florida

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Early Punta Gorda Swimming Pools

Giant swimming pools are not a novel lure to this area of Florida. The earliest one was built by Punta Gorda’s founder at the early dawn of the town –  between the late 1880s, early 1890s. Punta Gorda's first swimming pool was constructed by Isaac H. Trabue at 30 feet X 60 feet and 5 feet deep. It was located in a 1. 5 acre park located in block number 49, which was between Olympia and Virginia and Chasteen and Berry.

Filled with sulphur water, the pool was advertised as a fountain of youth by the company selling land here. The Florida Commercial Company, the real estate arm of the Florida Southern Railway, called it “the most delightful bath in the world.”

The bathers in the photo are from left to right:

William Ogden

Frank Q. Brown of the Florida Southern Railroad

Frank Cooper (State Senator)

Col. Isaac H. Trabue

Albert W. Gilchrist

S. F. J. Trabue, (first County Judge of Charlotte County and nephew of founder)

From Burgettt Brothers Collection 
Another huge swimming pool was constructed in the 1920s. After Barron Collier bought the Hotel Punta Gorda (renaming it the Hotel Charlotte Harbor).  He extended the property by dredging a yacht basin on the Charlotte Harbor side of the hotel. On the reclaimed land, he constructed a swimming pool along with his tennis courts and a beach front. Late at night and in the off-season local Punta Gorda kids would go swimming in the hotel pool.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Punta Gorda a Pineapple Capital before Hawaii

It may surprise most living here today that pineapples were once grown in and nationally marketed from Punta Gorda long before they were a major crop in Hawaii.  The earliest settlers to southern Florida found the fruit under cultivation and reported on it as early as 1881 (Barthoff and Boggess brochure), and used the potential of earnings from pineapple growing to lure settlers to the Charlotte Harbor area.  It was possibly one of the draws for Isaac Trabue’s purchase of 30 acres of land he’d never seen south of Charlotte Harbor Bay.  Trabue also ended up setting aside a block in the town in created to grow the fruit to fund an annual chess tournament. 

Many of Punta Gorda’s early residents also invested in pineapples including Albert Gilchrist, Kelly B. Harvey, and Perry McAdow.  Sometime in the late 1890s a company was established for pineries east of town in Solona.  It’s annual report in 1904 listed Perry McAdow as President and Charles Davis as General Manager. A new breed of pineapple, the Cayenne, a very large variety with smooth skin, was introduced there.     Over 2200 crates of pineapples had been shipped the previous year from the Pineapple Center.   A 1896 newspaper article indicated that “the finest pineapples were grown here at great profits.” 

There were ten families living and working the pineapple farms at the Solona-based center.  In addition, the company offered planting and cultivation of pineapples for investment to non-residents.  Some of these were locals like Ed Wotitzky, who owned a retail and shipping business and John Jack.  Others were northerners.  One William Whitten, who became a Charlotte County Commissioner and built the first bridge over Charlotte Harbor,  moved to his Solona Pinery in Punta Gorda in 1902.

In 1914 a new corporation was found to seek financial investors. T.C. Crosland, founder of the West Coast Fish Company,  was the President.  B.A. Wachob and C.G. Brown, major pineapple growers, were among the Board Members.  The corporation offered stock to fund the growing of the plant, which took two years to bear fruit. 

At its peak, Punta Gorda’s pineapple production was the largest in the nation and the industry was second to commercial fishing as Punta Gorda’s principal business.  But in 1917 a disastrous freeze hit the area and wiped out the pineries, and by then it was cheaper to grow the plant in Cuba. Also, unfortunately for Punta Gorda’s industry, around the same time, James Drummond Dole had established the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.  He bought the entire island of Lanai and made it into the largest pineapple plantation in the world. 

The era of the Punta Gorda pineapple was over. 

Sources: Lindsey Williams, Our Fascinating Past; Tampa Tribune, Sept 17, 1988; Clippings and Source Documents Vernon Peeples Collection, PGHC; Tampa Tribute, August 24, 1904.