Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Charlotte of Charlotte Harbor - the Woman Who our Bay was Named For


Our large bay has had many names, Bay (Bahia) de Calos, Bay de Carlos,   Bay de Juan Ponce de Leon, but the one that stuck was given to it by a dutch navigator exploring for the British - Charlotte Harbor.  It was in 1775 right before the American Revolution that a British cartographer, Thomas Jeffreys, first put the name “Charlotte Harbour” on a map.  At the time King George III was on the throne and his wife, the Queen, was “Charlotte” Sophia. 

Charlotte was born on May 19, 1744. She was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles of Mecklenburg and his wife, Princess Elisabeth of Saxe-Hildburghaussen.  Mecklenburg-Strelitz was small north-German duchy that was a part of the Holy Roman Empire.   When George III became King of England’s he was 22 years old and unmarried. Needing a wife, he sought someone who could bear children and not interfere with the running of the empire.  The 17-year-old Princess Charlotte checked all the boxes partly because she had been brought up in an insignificant north German duchy, and therefore would probably have had no experience or interest in power politics or party intrigues. 


When she married George, she spoke only German,  but quickly picked up the King’s language. She bore the first of their fifteen children less than a year after their wedding. She didn’t interfere much in the politics of  Britain, but she did have influence on the King.  


Interestingly, as it has been an important element on the shores of her namesake harbor, Charlotte loved music.  A young Mozart performed at her court and she sang an aria and played the flute with him.  He named an opus for her.  She was also an amateur botanist who helped insure that species of plants brought to Britain by explorers were expanded.  The official name of the Bird of Paradise was named for her.  


After the onset of his permanent madness in 1811, George III was placed under Charlotte’s guardianship.  She could not bring herself to visit him very often, due to his erratic behavior and occasional violent reactions. While she was popular in her  early years as Queen for her patronage of education for women and care of the sick, during regency to her son, Charles, she met with growing unpopularity.  


Many other places in the U.S were named for Charlotte, including Charlottesville, Virginia  and Charlotte, North Carolina.  Statues of Queen Charlotte stand in Bloomsbury, London, and at the airport and International Trade Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.



Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Sandlin House


Referred to by the name of the man who built it, the Sandlin house is one of Punta Gorda’s most treasured historic houses located in the downtown historic district.  

The Sandlin House was built  in 1893 by early merchant, shipper and developer, and town mayor James Sandlin.  With it’s gingerbread trim and wrap-around porch, the stately house is a stunning example of an old grand Floridian house.  Situated on Retta Esplanade, the house was built near the frontage of the harbor before land had been filled to extend the depth of the parks lining the bay.  The widow’s walk at the top of the home gave Mr. Sandlin a vantage point from which he could observe vessels bringing his merchandise to a nearby dock.


Sandlin came to the area before Isaac Trabue platted the town that became Punta Gorda. He originally lived on Alligator Creek.  He and his wife, Mary Lula Seward,  had six children.  Their first, who died in infancy, was the first child born in the new city of Punta Gorda.  Another boy, their second child, Felix, died at twelve.  


In 1909, Sandlin’s daughter, 14-year-old Mary, died in a fire at the house while pressing clothes using a gasoline-powered flat iron. The gasoline spilled onto Mary, catching fire.  According to local legend,  Mary’s ghost continues to haunt the house.  


James Sandlin died in 1903.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Elections in Punta Gorda 100 Years Ago

It was the year 1920, 100 years ago, and it  was an important election year for Punta Gorda.   In addition to an election that would ultimately put Warren G. Harding in the White House, Punta Gorda faced several other major decisions of its own. It would also be the last election where Punta Gordan voted directly for its mayor.  

With much controversy beforehand as was the case in many Florida cities at the time revising charters,  city residents were voting for members of a revised City Charter Board that would reframe the governance of the City to a city commission (council)/manager form of governance.  J.N Sikes who was re-elected in 1920 as mayor would be the last elected mayor of the City.  Also of note Marian McAdow, in the year woman were first given the vote,  was elected to the Charter Board. It was the first time a woman held any position of political importance in the City.  It was said had Marian been a man she would probably have been one of our mayors. 

The first commission was composed of three members who were ultimately elected in 1921 after the charter was finalized.  These were Max Price, R.K. Seward and T. C. Crosland.  The first advisory board was also established to include H.R Dreggors, J.N. Sikes, Clay Chadwick, Paul Garrett, C.L. Fries and W. M. Whitten  This board like current ones had no voting power.  Max Price was the first Mayor to be elected by the commission.  Soon thereafter, he took the position as first City Manger of Punta Gorda and resigned his place on the commission  


by Theresa Murtha





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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Punta Gorda - An Important Link in the Creation of the Tamiami Trail Almost 100 Years Ago


On the morning of July 4, 1921, John Hagan was the first man to drive an automobile over Charlotte Harbor Bay.  He led a parade of vehicles over the new bridge that crossed the Harbor at Sand Point in Charlotte Harbor to Nesbitt Street in Punta Gorda.   

In 1915,  Hagan was an early promoter of a bridge over the bay and a road that would connect the towns of Southwest Florida ultimately to Miami on the east coast. Hagan was supported by Senator F. M. Cooper, J. E. Bowdoin, Attorney J. H. Hancock, Clay Chadwick, A. F. Dewer and H. R. Mauck and many other local civic leaders. That same year,  a  group of businessmen from Fort Myers initiated a concept to construct a road from Tampa along the winding Southwest coastline and then across the Everglades to Miami.

The highway met both political and financial roadblocks.  Conflicts over the exact route ensued as various cities vied to have the road pass through their locations.  There were two possible routes; one from Tampa to Arcadia, which was a hub of the state at the time, then southeast directly to Miami. The other route meandered along the scenic Gulf Coast to Naples, where it hooked to the east, cutting through the Everglades to the East Coast.  While in many ways the direct route made more sense, cutting across the state through Arcadia skirting the northern part of the Everglades, that route didn't have the backing or the businessmen eager to bring tourists and their money to the shores of Southwest Florida.   

It was still facing financial difficulties when a developer named Barron Collier contributed one million dollars of private funds.  Collier, of course, had his own motives.  He was the owner of extensive amounts of land at the tip of southwest Florida.  He was able to exert disproportionate influence over the selection of highway routes, county creation, and got the state to name a county after him. 

Punta Gorda won its place on the highway by agreeing to fund and build a connecting bridge over the Peace River. Various road-and-bridge tax districts were established for the purpose. Punta Gorda and Charlotte Harbor issued $200,000 worth of bonds. The bridge opened on July 4, 1921 to great fanfare.  Over 6,000 people attended the celebration and fish fry on the harbor and many cars crossed the harbor that day to christen the new bridge.  Much like the railroad when the town was first born, it was anticipated that the new road would bring economic prosperity to the city.     

 

But, despite all the efforts, construction of the trail faltered as builders tried to build a roadbed into the Everglades.  By April of 1923, many residents thought the project was doomed, until a group of 23 daring West Coast civilians with two Seminole guides decided to cross the swamps in a motorcade of one truck, seven Model T Fords, and an Elcar. These “Tamiami Trailblazers” reached Miami and affirmed the viability of finishing the trail.  The following  year the Florida State Road Department incorporated the Tamiami Trail into the Florida Highway System.  The road was officially opened in 1928.


As for the 1921 bridge over the bay, once the Tramiami Trail  was open, it became apparent that this first bridge, which was disintegrating because of the sand and sea water base of its concrete and its far too narrow width, would need to be replaced.  It was in 1931 by another bridge, the first Baron Collier Bridge.

by Theresa Murtha

Sources:

Punta Gorda Herald

Lindsay Williams, Fascinating Past.

Vernon Peeoples, Research Notes





Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Jacob Wotitzky - Punta Gorda’s First Retailer


Jacob Wotitzky was one of the most important types of pioneers; a businessman who helped improve the quality of life for hardworking settlers by providing them with needed supplies and eventually some of the “finer things in life”.  His innovative use of a schooner as a floating general store enabled him to reach then-remote homes and settlements with road access.  His work was in many ways a classic American story of the immigrant who becomes more than he could have been in “the old country”.  

Mr. Wotitzky was born October 26, 1840 in Prague, a city in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire which is now the capital of the Czech Republic.  He spent his childhood in the Austrian capital of Vienna.  His family background is unknown to modern historians but may be considered relatively comfortable because after immigrating to New York City with his parents at age 15 he spent a number of years travelling throughout the country and living in a number of the larger cities. His educational background is not known but certainly included more than basic literacy and the mathematical skills needed for business.

Jacob ended the first period of his travels in 1870 when, at the age of 30 he returned to New York City and married his cousin Rosa Frank.  This was not uncommon at the time, particularly among immigrant families who came from close-knit backgrounds.  To support his family Jacob began his business career selling general household goods from a push cart in New York, a common “start-up” practice for new merchants at the time.  The difficulty of this work in both summer and winter is difficult for the modern imagination to comprehend but was not considered unusual in the post-Civil War period.  Jacob was reportedly successful in this initial business venture, until a downturn in the economy occurred.

In the 1800's the United States experienced a “boom and bust” economy which makes today's economic downturns seem mild given that there was no social “safety net” prior to the institution of Social Security and related programs.  In 1876 one of the periodic economic “panics” occurred which caused great economic and financial distress, and Jacob was one of its casualties.  He lost his savings and was forced to leave New York City in search of other opportunities.

Jacob moved his family to Savannah, Georgia initially, and opened a general store, selling household goods, food, and clothing.  The store was successful enough to provide the funds for Jacob to invest in rice farming in South Carolina, and he moved his family to the town of Walterboro, SC.  This town is still in existence and is located about 50 miles west of Charleston.  In the 1880's the area was not hospitable to outsiders of any type, but Jacob again is reported to have prospered in this venture.  Unfortunately, malaria was still a major health problem in that area and Rosa Wotitzky suffered from it several times, and experienced several miscarriages as a result of the disease.  

In 1886 Jacob heard about plans to build a new railroad to the southwest Florida coast terminating at the town of Trabue (our town, prior to its incorporation in 1887).  Information about the healthful climate determined Jacob to move his family to the area for their health.   It was usual in that period for a man to move to a new area to establish himself while his family lived with relatives until he could send for them.  Jacob followed this practice, sending Rosa and her two surviving children to live with relatives in New York City.

Jacob opened a general store in a leased two-story building at the intersection of Marion Avenue and Sullivan Street.  He lived over the store in another common practice of the day.  His was the first general store in the town of Trabue, and it made accessible food  supplies, household products, and tools which had previously been more difficult to obtain.  The store apparently did well, but Jacob was cautious about the impact of a possible move on Rosa's health and that of the children and it was not until 1889 that he went to New York to move his family south.  Family lore has it that he rented a railroad boxcar for the move.

The next step in the development of the family's business was a significant innovation in southwest Florida retail trade.  Rosa and their son Edward took over responsibility for running the general store in town.  Jacob bought a schooner (which he named the “Mollie O” after a cousin) which he fitted out as a floating store.  With this vessel he traded among isolated coastal homes and settlements down the coast and around to what is now Miami.  This service enabled him to bring goods to homes which lacked road access, and provided the basis for a trade in alligator hides, furs, bird plumes and salt fish which he sold to wholesalers.  This seagoing retail service lasted into the 1940's under the management of Jacob's son Edward.

During the latter part of his life Jacob expanded his activities into homesteading.  He began homesteading some 60 acres on Gasparilla Island.  The laws of the time required a homesteader to improve at least three acres of his claim and live on the land for at least three months a year for the first three years of his claim. Jacob fulfilled the requirement by camping on ground which became what is now Boca Grande.

The last years of Jacob's life were filled with the everyday toil, challenges, and frustrations familiar to every small businessman.  In 1903 he died from a stroke in the apartment over his store where he had lived a bachelor's life during the three years he was establishing his business and before he brought his family to live with him.  He is buried in New York.  His son Edward took over the store (which burned down in the Great Fire of 1912 which devastated the business district) and the schooner and entered politics as the Supervisor of Registration for Charlotte County.  Edward's descendants became lawyers who are well known and respected among the County legal bar.  The family's rise from the push-cart to the court room is a familiar American story of success over the generations.  The role of Jacob Wotitzky in founding the family's fortunes on the basis of providing goods and services to those who needed and wanted them.

Mark Surrusco


Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Herald Building Once on the Corner of Marion and Taylor



Herald Building Circa 1907

Fires involving wood buildings were frequent in the early 1900s throughout the United States. In Punta Gorda one of the bigger fires at that time was a 1905 fire that destroyed an entire block in the business district on West Marion Avenue.  

Rebuilding the district took several years. One of the first buildings to be constructed was the two-story stucco building at 149 W. Marion Ave. believed to have been built in 1907.  A picture of the building in Vernon Peeples book, Punta Gorda and the "Charlotte Harbor Area - A Pictorial History," shows the building in 1907.

The building was constructed to house the Punta Gorda Herald and retail stores on the first.  A dry goods store owned by the Chadwick Brothers occupied the first floor for a time.   The newspaper moved into the second story of the building, but the large presses used to print the newspaper, made such a racket that the whole building shook. The Herald then built a little building in the alley way (Herald Court area) for the presses. 

Marion and Taylor 1921 (During Hurricane)

About 1913 the Punta Gorda Herald relocated and the second floor was leased to the Inter-County Phone Company, while the first floor housed a drug store and Cooper’s Hardware Store on the corner.  According to Byron Rhodes’ book a pool room occupied part of the space around this time. 

 

Marion and Taylor 1930s


Various businesses occupied the space over time. In the late 1920s Fred Quednau opened a luncheonette on the first floor of the building.  Fred's Quick Lunch closed around 1938 and J.T. Lawhorn's Grocery moved in. Tosie Quednau Hindman, the daughter of Fred Quednau, worked at Lawhorn's during World War II.  She also worked next door at her Uncle Bill's Bar.


For many years the second floor of the building was vacant. In 2002 the first floor was occupied by Kountry Klub Kollectibles.   The building was badly damaged in Hurricane Charley in 2004 and torn down shortly thereafter.  Today there is a vacant lot there.




Prepared by Theresa Murtha


(From the research notes of Vernon Peeples, recollections of U.S. Cleveland as reported in an article by Ann Henderson, Herald Tribune 2002, Byron Rhode's Punta Gorda Remembered and photo collection held at the Punta Gorda History Center)

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Tosie Quednau Hindman - Growing up in the Quednau House


Henryetta "Tosie" Quednau Hindman was born in Punta Gorda on October 8, 1923 to Fred and Isabelle (McBean) Quednau, in the same house her father where her father was born (we believe near Berry on Marion Avenue). She later moved with her family and lived her life in the house her father Arthur Fred Quednau built on Goldstein Street (the house in the History Park today).  

Tosie spent her early pre-school days sailing with her parents on her father’s boat. She got her nickname because she she loved toast.  Tosie graduated from Charlotte High School and attended the Florida State University. She married Jack Hindman in 1942, with whom, she had two sons. While her children were young, Tosie worked with Lois Peeples at the IGA and Lawhorn's Grocery. She  drove a Charlotte County school bus for many years. 

She then became interested in politics and was elected as the Supervisor of Elections, serving from 1966 till her retirement in 1988.  She was famous for reading the results of elections from the courthouse steps, and conducting elaborate funeral services for the losers with tombstones.  She died in 2009 at 85.

Punta Gorda Beach and the Incredible Story of the Chadwicks of Punta Gorda and Lemon Bay




There was once a Punta Gorda Beach on the gulf. In the 1930s the Charlotte County chamber was looking for ways to draw more tourists to the area. An investor in the then Chadwick Beach now Englewood Beach wanted to sell and rent cottages on that beach to more affluent Punta Gordans. Punta Gorda Beach was born and for more that twenty years became the go-to-the-beach experience for local Punta Gordans. Day trips, group picnics and shore vacations were regularly announced in the local paper much like Facebook posts of today. Many prominent families owned cottages there.


Chadwick Beach was originally developed by the Chadwick Brothers who had substantial business interests in Punta Gorda.  In l898 Steve Chadwick came to the Lemon Bay area with his brothers, Clay and Hubbard, to buy the Dishong fish camp. Fishing in Lemon Bay was outstanding. The brothers caught more fish than they could process. So in l90l they started the Chadwick Fish Company at Punta Gorda where there was a railroad connection from which fish could be carried north.  The brothers had two large schooners, the "J.W. Booth" and the " America," and two smaller sharpies, the "Ray" and first the “Mystery” then the "Iris." The Iris built in 1919 to replace the Mystery was a 60 feet power- engine vessel with a 13 foot beam and capable of carrying 40,000 pounds. It ran fish catch from Stump Pass to their packing house in Punta Gorda, located on the city's railroad dock at the foot of King Street (now Tamiami Trail, U.S. 41 north.)



When the demands of the fish packing operation became overwhelming for his brothers, Steve (SJ) Chadwick moved to Punta Gorda to help with the packing house business.The brothers also owned a boat shed at what is now Laishley Park and a dry goods store on Marion Ave. Both Steve and Clay Chadwick became very prominent citizens of Punta Gorda Clay,  was a city councilman, and both brothers were directors of the Punta Gorda National Bank. One of Steve’s investments was the construction of the building that now houses the Celtic Ray.

 But back to Punta Gorda Beach, the Chadwick’s, in 1926, moved back to Lemon Bay and started developing the beach.  The Chadwicks built a "pavilion" on the beach which offered groceries, gasoline, dressing rooms and showers. A fee of 10-25 cents was charged for use of the dressing rooms and a wire basket in which to check street clothes. A large, open-sides second floor was a popular spot for Saturday night dances. A third flour was added later but not used.




The Chadwick’s timing was bad and the development was failing. In the 1930s and a man named Lou Woods bought the Chadwick beach plat to develop.  (He converted the pavillion to a casino. A large, open-sides second floor was added and became a popular spot for Saturday night dances. It was largely lost to a fire in 1945 and from the remnants in 1958 a restaurant was built which is now (back to its original name) the White Elephant.)




Woods tried to sell land and cottages at the beach but was failing.  He then worked the deal with Charlotte County to help sell the land if it were renamed “Punta Gorda Beach.” Other renditions say it was leased to the County. Whatever the reason, this enabled the county seat in Punta Gorda to advertise at the 1933 Chicago World Fair that it had a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The fact that the city and beach were 27 miles apart was not mentioned.




For years Punta Gordans made daytrips to their beach on the gulf.  They partied at the pavillion, held barbecues on the beach, swam, boated, and fished.  Many families owned or rented bungalows for a week or month or more.  

By the 50s the Englewood area was growing and residents wanted the adjacent beach renamed to reflect its location and their community.  At the same time attempts were being made to incorporate Englewood and combine the Charlotte County and Sarasota sections. While the incorporation didn’t happen, it was agreed to change the name to what it is today Englewood Beach.  Punta Gordans agreed that a beach twenty plus miles away from its namesake didn’t make much sense. Punta Gorda Beach faded into history.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Transition of the Punta Gorda Waterfront into a Beautiful Park


Prior to 1914, the Punta Gorda shoreline of Charlotte Harbor ran in its natural state to within a few hundred feet of Retta Esplanade. Refuse washed ashore. Flooding was an issue, as was erosion. It wasn’t always pretty.

Beginning in 1912, a group of citizens led by Dr. George Stone ( a Punta Gorda Mayor) came up with the idea to build a concrete seawall along the waterfront from Taylor Street to Berry Street, fill in behind it, and create a waterfront park filled with rare and beautiful tropical plants. To finance the project, they would create and sell waterfront lots, so they promised the new park project wouldn’t cost the city taxpayers a cent.

Many laughed at the idea and told Stone it was crazy idea and couldn’t be accomplished. Undaunted, he developed a plan and presented it to the City Council, who agreed with the project, and it went forward.

The construction project was a big success. Unfortunately for the developers, neither Dr. Stone and his partners nor the city had considered Isaac Trabue’s original instructions in platting the Town of Trabue, which was to become Punta Gorda. The deed specifies that all the waterfront be designated as public parks. Title to the newly created property could not be conveyed to the interested buyers, who were intended to pay for the entire project.

After 10 years of litigation between the bank that financed the project, Dr. Stone and his fellow property investors, and the City of Punta Gorda, a settlement was reached. The City would pay the cost of building the seawall and filling the land, and thereby own it free of all encumbrances. All parties were satisfied.

Today, we all owe a debt of gratitude, both to Isaac Trabue for his thoughtfulness in creating the town of Trabue required the waterfront would be protected for use by all its citizens, and to Dr. Stone for his efforts to create a beautiful waterfront, which didn’t work out quite as he originally planned, but which resulted in our beautiful Harborwalk parks. I have to believe that both would be pleased with the result.  (J. Dodez)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Punta Gorda’s Zoo - Everglades Wildlife Park


From its earliest days as a destination, Florida promoters employed the myths and legends of Florida, such as the Fountain of Youth, to lure visitors to the state and its attractions.  After World War II this exploded with roadside attractions throughout the state.  Many of these involved wild animals – alligators, snakes, and other creatures.  Punta Gorda had its own such attraction – Everglades Wildlife Park which opened right outside the city limits (near where the Dunkin Donuts is today).



Owned by John R. Jack (who was also a county commissioner) and his wife Edna, the park was an immediate hit.   One of its major draws was a tank with manatees, one 1200 pound, 10 feet long.  Another was a deadly, bright red coral snack.  There was also a panther that pointed like a bird dog that Seminole Indian friends of Jack’s captured for the zoo. 



Elephants Little Sheba and Lulu outside the park 

 Controversies about the park arose when Jack, a former circus manager himself,  began to bring wintering circus animals to the park.  Swede Johnson, a famous animal circus trainer of the day who resided in Punta Gorda during the winter kept several of his animals at the zoo during the winter including elephants, lions and bears.  The park had been incorporated into the city by that time and an ordinance forbad such residence.  John Jack and later Edna ended up in jail for continuing to house them.  It was finally resolved after John Jack’s death.







( Photos from the Vernon Peeples collection are  a postcard from the park and newspaper clippings from the Fort Myers News-Press)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Hector House -- The Birthplace of Punta Gorda

The Hector House:  Birthplace of Punta Gorda




Punta Gorda was incorporated in October 1887 in a modest two-story commercial building located at the corner of Taylor Road and Olympia Avenue, across from the old courthouse. The two-story “Hector House”, named after owner Tom Hector, was occupied at the time by a ground floor drug store and a billiard parlor on the second floor.

The 34 founders of the town, who included Mr. Hector and Albert W. Gilchrist (a future
Florida governor) were all registered voters. The group included four African American men.
However, the group did not include Isaac Trabue, who had bought the original acreage on which the town was located, and had named the town “Trabue” after his family. Due to personal and political disputes with a number of the men meeting to incorporate the town Trabue was not permitted to vote.  
The voting members changed the town's name to the original Spanish designation of Punta Gorda (“Fat Point”), drew up a town seal and minutes of the meeting, and recorded the results of the vote to incorporate. These documents were filed in the then-county seat of Pine Level, 30 miles from Punta Gorda, by 21 of the incorporating group who walked the whole distance that night.

Tom Hector was elected the first City Clerk of the new town and a member of the City
Council. He passed away two years later, in 1889 but the pool hall he owned served as the City Council's meeting chambers for many years. Over time the building's condition
deteriorated badly due to termites and rot. In 1988 the Punta Gorda Historical Society planned
to obtain Hector House from the developer who owned it. The developer was willing to donate
the building to anyone who would move it from the Taylor and Olympia site.

The Historical Society (at the time Old Punta Gorda, Inc.) planned to move the building to a new location on public land, renovate the structure and preserve it as a historical site. Although the developer remained willing and funds were raised for the renovation it proved impossible to find an architect or inspector willing to certify that the building would not collapse if it was moved. The structure was just too weak.

Ultimately, the Hector House was torn down. A city park at Olympia and Taylor with a plaque detailing the role of Hector House in the founding of Punta Gorda now marks the site of the building. 

.. Mark Surrusco









Sunday, May 3, 2020

The First Sacred Heart Church


On Sunday, January 5, 1930 while light streamed through its windows onto the altar and the violin solo of Harry Goldstein played, the first Sacred Heart Church sanctuary was dedicated. Largely funded by members of the Fort Myers Catholic Church through loans and donations including a prominent Catholic, Richmond Dean, who wintered in Fort Myers, the church was only 50 x 50 feet.

Bishop Barry of St. Augustine presided over the dedication with the assistance of other priests including Father Carroll who was the rector in Arcadia and also in charge of the new church in Punta Gorda.  

The small church served as the parish church until 1964 when it was replaced by a larger church, mostly destroyed in 2004 by Hurricane Charley.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Gilchrist Bridge


The Gilchrist Bridge was built over Charlotte Harbor Bay in 1976 and opened to southbound traffic on August 31 of that year.  In the aerial you can see the old Charlotte County Memorial auditorium to the right of the bridge being constructed with its parking lot right in the harbor next to the bridge. In the left,  you can see the first Holiday Inn built there in 1967 (now the PG Waterfront Hotel).  Further to the right past the old event center was the Howard Johnson.

The bridge was built to alleviate the congestion on the old Barron Collier bridge which at times could back up for hours. When the new bridge was built the Barron Collier bridge became northbound only.   That bridge was later replaced in 1983.

The bridge was named for Governor Albert W, Gilchrist, a pioneer Punta Gorda’s who became a governor of. Florida.  Albert W. Gilchrist was not the only name considered for the southbound bridge at the time of its construction. Also on the running were Juan Ponce de Leon was suggested as well as Phil Laishley, a former Punta Gorda mayor. "Bicentennial Bridge" was another suggested name due to the bridge opening in 1976.

The plan had been for dignitaries to parade across the bridge at 7 a.m. on August 31, but some locals anxious to be the first to cross removed the barricades and cars starting streaming across before dawn.
More on the history of Punta Gorda’s bridges.







Monday, April 27, 2020

Charlotte Harbor named By the British





In 1763, France, Britain, and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris to end the French and Indian War. As part of the treaty, France gave up almost all of its land in North America and Spain gave up Florida. During the French and Indian War, Britain had captured Havana, Spain's busiest port. In exchange for Havana, the Spanish traded Florida to Britain.


The section of the Jeffreys map of Florida from 1775 right before the American Revolution shows the Charlotte Harbor area at the time the British owned Florida. It was right before the Revolution that the British ( Bernard Romans, the map maker) who gave our harbor its name "Charlotte Harbor" renamed from Carlos Bay. Charlotte was the name of the Queen at the time, George the Third's wife.


The British did not rule Florida for long. The colonies north of Florida began a war known as the American Revolution. Most of the war took place far north of Florida, and Florida sided with the British suffering occasional raids. In 1779, Spain took advantage of Britain's preoccupation with the colonies and invaded West Florida. By 1781, Britain lost West Florida to Spain. And by the end of the Revolution, Spain had regained the rest of Florida.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

First Presbyterian Church of Punta Gorda -- 125 Years Young


The First Presbyterian Church of Punta Gorda now sits on Airport Road across from the current location of the Masonic Lodge of Punta Gorda.  Ironically, it was in the original masonic hall in downtown Punta Gorda that the church was organized on October 13, 1895.  This year  the congregation will celebrate its 125th anniversary.  



Construction of the first church building began in December of 1900 on Harvey Street across from where the City Hall now stands on land purchased from Isaac Trabue.  It was dedicated on April 14, 1901 with Clarence H. Ferran as the first minister.  


For sixty years, the old wood-frame church building served the community, surviving at least two major hurricanes in 1921 and 1926, when almost all buildings in Punta Gorda sustained damage. Then on September 10, 1960 Hurricane Donna hurled into the city and ripped the steeple from the church and damaged the building beyond repair. A year later a new modern church was built at the same location on Harvey.  



Then on Sunday, August 7, 2005 long time members of the church took their seats in folded chairs in the parking lot of the 2nd church sanctuary of the church for the last time before that building was also demolished.  A year before on August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley left the building in such a state, it couldn't be repaired to satisfy code requirements.







Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Merchant's Bank of Punta Gorda


The Merchant's Bank of Punta Gorda opened on April 9, 1912. The following summary of the history of bank  located in the beautiful brick building on Marion Avenue, right across the street from the site of the old Hotel Charlotte Harbor, comes from the Historic Register application submitted in late 1990. The Serendipity Salon and Spa now occupies the building.
"The Old First National Bank Building, at 133 West Marion Avenue, is located in the downtown commercial area of Punta Gorda, Florida. Constructed circa 1912, it is a two story, masonry Neoclassical commercial building.
The bank was state chartered in 1912 under the name of Merchants Bank of Punta Gorda. It was the second bank to open in Punta Gorda, preceded only by the Punta Gorda Bank. In 1914, it switched to a federal charter and became the First National Bank of Punta Gorda, By 1927, it was the most prosperous of the three banks located In the city.
The collapse of the Florida Land Boom in 1926 deflated land values and set off a state-wide financial crisis. In 1929, all three banks located in Punta Gorda failed. Throughout the state that year, a total of 9 federally chartered banks and 43 state char-tared banks closed- The Old First National Bank of Punta Gorda did not reopen.
The bank building is significant for its role in the development of commercial business in Punta Gorda, During the 1920s, Punta Gorda, like other areas of Florida, underwent a period of rapid growth. Tourism, fishing, and agriculture were major sources of income for the local population. The Old First National Bank was a leader in meeting the financial needs of the local business community.
Today, the Old First National Bank Building is the oldest existing bank building in Charlotte County. In addition, it is one of the few commercial buildings in Punta Gorda which retains its historic integrity.
Compiled by Jim Dodez (For  "This Day in Punta Gorda History" Series)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

This Week in Punta Gorda History - Teddy Roosevelt Comes to Town


It was over one hundred years ago this week, a few days before America entered the first World War. A crowd of over a thousand people gathereed to enthusiastically welcome the former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to Punta Gorda. He had come to conquer the “devil fish”.

Roosevelt had been enticed to Punta Gorda through an article written by fishing guide, Russell Cole of Danville, Virginia, who dramatically described in a magazine the catching of a manta ray weighing three tons. Roosevelt immediately got in touch with Coles - he had to conquer this fish.

Coles arranged for Captain Jack J. McCann and crew and the launch, E.C. Knight, to take Roosevelt and himself on a fishing expedition to what was then considered the leading sports fishing area of Florida.

While in Punta Gorda for his fishing trip, Roosevelt stayed at the Seminole Hotel in the downtown, where the Sunloft Building is today.  He rode through town waving at  people standing along Marion Avenue.   A young girl, Belle McBean (later Quednau), furnished the former President with a kodak camera to snap pictures of his trip and the fish he caught.  He later sent her a brand new kodak with a thank you letter. 

On their first day of fishing , Roosevelt succeeded in harpooning  two “devil fish”, one of small size and the other a huge creature  measuring over twelve feet across. The latter nearly capsized their boat. While here they also explored the surrounding waters, spending one complete day  inspecting the bird rookeries near Matlacha. Captain McCann was their guide and transported the party between Punta Gorda and the inlets and passes of this area.  

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Martha Susanna Sandlin Morgan - a True Punta Gorda Pioneer Woman

Martha Suzanna Sandlin Morgan Pioneer Business Woman 1860-1946

It was James L. Sandlin, an early pioneer and former City Councilman and Mayor of Punta Gorda, that brought his 25-year old sister, Martha Suzanna to the nascent town of Trabue in early 1886. It was there that she was introduced to and soon married Sandlin’s business partner, James M. Morgan, a cattleman and owner of citrus, lumber and shipping businesses. It was a marriage arranged to cement the Morgan-Sandlin partnership.

One of Punta Gorda’s true pioneer women, Martha, after the early death of her husband, hired an architect to design and build a large, turreted house on Retta Esplanade (near the end of Sullivan Street) to raise their seven children: Frances, J. Henry, Jesse, Maude, Mary, Kate and Violet. All the while she continued to oversee her deceased husband’s large, local enterprise with the help of her children and grandchildren whom she engaged in the various businesses. She continued to do so until her death in 1946.

Martha owned all the lands that surround Alligator Creek, the location of her cattle ranch, orange groves saw mill, and storage facility for the Morgan Sandlin Shipping Company that ran ships up and down the coast of Florida to bring materials and goods to Punta Gorda.

She was instrumental in donating three acres on the west side of Taylor Road at the Alligator Creek Bridge for use as a dam site, which helped accommodate the city’s need for a water supply, and a park. Martha also was instrumental in the donation of land for the community’s cemetery on Alligator Creek, “Indian Springs,” and helped with funding the building of the First Baptist Church, where the Sandlin and Morgan families were among the first worshippers.

Her work effort and dedication to the community contributed greatly to the development of Punta Gorda.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Story of the Ice Made at Berry Street



In around 1891 the enterprising founder of our town, Isaac Trabue, saw another way to help fund his retirement.  He opened the first Ice Factory designed to enable the delivery of fish north.  It was a steam-based plant located near Virginia between Berry and Shreve St.  The Florida Southern Railway ran through the area and onward west to the Long Dock which was located off the land where the Isles Yacht Club is today.  When you walk along the linear park in Punta Gorda, you are essentially on the beds where the railroad once ran. 

The plant turned out about 15 tons of ice a day, but only during the fishing season. Ice was slid down a shute to fishing boats that unloaded their catch over ice onto wagons where it was hauled back to the factory.  There it was packed onto box cars (on a railroad spur) for shipment on the Florida Southern Railway heading north from the Long Dock.  

Unfortunately for Trabue in 1895, a group of local businessmen organized another company, the Punta Gorda Ice and Power Company, that would be open all year, produce more ice per day, and be most importantly priced cheaper.  Townspeople thought that Trabue’s price for ice was exorbitant.  To make matters worse for Trabue’s plant, Henry Plant had fully acquired the Florida Southern in 1897 and his main business interests were in Tampa.  He pulled up the track leading to the long dock leaving Trabue’s plant stranded.

Not to be undone, in 1902 working with a group of investors from Philadelphia, Trabue opened with them the Consolidated Ice Manufacturing, Refrigeration and Fish Company with the intent of furnishing cheaper ice to the fish industry and then manufacturing fertilizer from trash fish.   The large plant was built in 1902 (looks as though from photographs that the remnants of the earlier plant were likely incorporated into the larger structure).  Then at the harbor near Berry a fertilizer building was constructed to process the fish for fertilizer.

This company failed to go into production and the building was abandoned and eventually torn down by the city after a small boy was killed by a timber that fell from the remains.  Remains of pilings on which the fertilizer plant rested can still be viewed near the Boat Club clubhouse on the bay. ( See earlier post about those remnants)

~Theresa Murtha

Sources:
Peeples, Vernon, Punta Gorda and the Charlotte Harbor Area
Williams, Lindsey, Out Fascinating Past
Maps and Photographs from the Vernon Peeples Collection, Punta Gorda History Center






Monday, February 17, 2020

Remnants of the Past Near the Punta Gorda Boat Club Clubhouse - Connection to the Consolidated Ice Plant


Research into one piece of history often leads to branches of  another piece.  And so it was in researching the history of the Punta Gorda Boat Clubhouse on the bay off Retta Esplanade.


If you wander into what is designated Shreve Park and meander to the back left of the Boat Club Clubhouse, you will discover large blocks of coquina-covered blocks.


We learned through research in newspapers, books and discussion with locals who were here in the 1950s that the blocks are remnants from the pilings where there was a fertilizer plant that stood here years ago.



The fertlizer plant was built on the bay in conjuction with the construction of the Consolidated Ice, Manufacturing, Refrigerated and Fish Company 3 blocks inland on Berry.  The Ice Building and the fertilizer plant were supposed to have worked together. Fertilizer was to be produced from fish remains.

Constructed in 1903 the ice factory was purported to be the second largest one in the country.  It containted three 150-ton ice machines and an electric light plan.  The ice was made from an artesian well nearby.  It had the capacity to freeze 50 tons of fish daily.  Unfortunately, it only opened for a very short while.


Recently a remnant from that plant was moved from where it was found to the linear park.  A sign was placed there commemorating it that will be dedicated this coming Thursday.




Research by Theresa Murtha

Sources:
Pearse, Eleanor, Florida's Vanishing Era
Peeples, Vernon, Punta Gorda and the Charlotte Harbor Area
Vernon Peeples Collection Photographs and Documents, Punta Gorda History Center
Punta Gorda Herald, 1902-1903
Discussions with Frank Desguin and Gussie Baker