Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Getting the Mail - A Short History of Mail Delivery and Post Offices of Early Punta Gorda

In an age when messages from friends and family are instant and constant, its hard to imagine a time here when early settlers waited weeks for communications from family and friends and home delivery of mail was non-existence.  From the town’s origin until 1955, Punta Gordans had to collect their mail at the post office, making it a core part of the community in its early years. 

In the 1870s when the first homesteaders occupied the land on this side of the Peace River, they waited weeks for mail to arrive by boat.  The Howards, early residents of Solana, near where the Elks Lodge is today, had to watch for the boat that would deliver much needed packages and awaited correspondence from northern relatives.   They didn’t know which boat (The "Alice Howard" was one that carried mail and freight as well as passengers, and shuttled between Fort Myers and Cleveland, an early now defunct town northeast of Punta Gorda) would be delivering the mail and had to wade out into the river to pick it up, or cross the Peace to get their mail from neighbors across the Bay.

It wasn’t until the late 1880s when the railroad began moving towards the new settlement that a post office was established at Cleveland.  It is said that Isaac Trabue traveled to the Cleveland post office to collect mail for his new town of Trabue, which he distributed from his land office which  essentially was the town’s first unofficial post office.

Trabue Land Office now in the History Park acted as post office in 1886
In August 12, 1886 the first official post office was established at the train depot with Nannie Scott as it’s postmaster.  The depot then was located at King Street near Charlotte Avenue.  The post office was changed from Trabue to Punta Gorda on January 14, 1888.  George McLane succeeded Nannie Scott as postmaster, then, in 1890, Isaac Trabue named Robert Meacham, a black man, to
the post.

Punta Gorda Post Office 1900


From the early 1900s the post office was next-door to the east of Blount’s grocery. Originally it was very small, then enlarged in the 1920s adding more mailboxes.   Its front was on Marion Avenue backing onto Herald Court.  The Hotel Punta Gorda, across the street, maintained a mailbox at this location.   Josh Mizell served as postmaster from 1898 until 1909 when Harry Dreggors, who owned the building where the office was located, took over the post.
  
Smith Arcade 1930s Courtesy Tampa Hillsborough County Public Library System

Smith Arcade Buiding 2011
In 1926 the post office moved to the Smith arcade across the street from the current location. At the time, George Rhode had become Punta Gorda postmaster. He persuaded his friend Smith to apply for the lease of a new post office for the town. Smith built the Arcade, with a central hall with stores on each side, one of the first in-door malls, leading to the post office in the back of the building.

Other early post offices were located on the Long Dock, at Villa Franca and at Acline (a railroad stop.  In 1893 when the Florida Southern Railroad was establishing a freight and passenger onnection to New Orleans and Havana, it constructed what became known as the Long Dock near where the Isles Yacht Club is today.  A post office was established there which was supported by the Punta Gorda office with Iva Bright as postmaster. It closed after the demise of the Dock in 1898. From 1910 to 1927 there was a post office at the store at Acline.  Also, east of what is now downtown Punta Gorda Villa Franca, a settlement of Cuban cigar makers, had its own post office.

 Home delivery of mail didn’t start in Punta Gorda until 1955.


Sources include:

Lindsey Williams, Our Fascinating Past, Charlotte Harbor, the Early Years.

Vernon Peeples, Punta Gorda In the Beginning, 1865-1900.

Byron Rhode, Punta Gorda Remembered.

Diaries of Jarvis Howard

Punta Gorda Herald, 1902-1918

Tampa Tribune, 1895-1900

          

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