Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sports Fishing

What was said to have been the first big game fish, a silver tarpon, was taken by ordinary rod and reel in 1885 by W.H.Wood. Articles about the feat in the London Observer and Scientific American launched the new sport of big game fishing and attracted anglers from all over the world to Charlotte Harbor.

The sport not only employed hundreds of fishing guides in Southwest Florida, it also created a leisure industry that included tackle shops, hotels, and restaurants. The diversity of sport fish, habitats, great weather, and year-round fishing soon made the Charlotte Harbor area a premier fishing destination. Game fishing was popular with the wealthy from the late 1800s to the early 1900s with Frederick Remington, J.P. Morgan, and several members of the Vanderbilt family among those who came to Charlotte Harbor to enjoy the sport. 

Typical tarpon fishermen traveled to Punta Gorda by rail and then pushed on to the tarpon fishing grounds of Captiva and Boca Grande Passes. It was also noted in 1889 in Scribners Magazine that all kinds of fish could be caught off the piers in Punta Gorda. In addition to boats, piers and remnants of old bridges continued to be used for fishing. Over the years, anglers would display their larger trophy catches on Marion Avenue.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Long Dock


In 1886, after Isaac Trabue convinced the Florida Southern Railroad directors to locate its railroad down the east side of the Peace River, track was extended along what is now the linear park in Punta Gorda to beyond the original town of Trabue.  There a 4200-foot dock was constructed and for the next eleven years, it became the heart of Punta Gorda’s commerce. 

The Long Dock, located near where the Isles Yacht Club is today, extended to twelve feet of water which enabled steamships to arrive there.  The pier had a telegraph office, a post office, several fish companies, stores, and facilities. Among the seafood dealers located on the dock were A.K. Demiere, Carnes and Monk, M.M. Sullivan and Sons, and Bloxham and Lewis. In October of 1887, the steamer Hutchinson of the Morgan Line arrived at the Long Dock, and for the next nine years, every Friday Morgan Line Steamers left the dock for New Orleans, and every Saturday for Havana and Key West.

In 1897, Henry Plant, who had purchased the railroad, wanting to eliminate any competition for Tampa, removed the rails from the Long Dock and terminated his railroad near the Hotel Punta Gorda where there was only five feet of water.   The era of Punta Gorda as a seaport ended.

The Maud Street Dock


Fishermen’s Village is located on the site of the former Maud Street Dock. The dock was built in 1928 to replace the King Street Pier, home to the Punta Gorda fishing industry. The old pier had been removed to make way for the new Barron Collier bridge. 

At one time there were as many as seven companies that operated the fish packing houses on the Maud Street Dock. By the mid-1930s, three packing houses remained: the Punta Gorda Fish Company, the West Coast Fish Company, and the Rose Fishing Company.  The pier was also occupied by the Gulf Oil Company and  Matt Week’s Boat Shop.

In 1939, a fire destroyed the packing plants. John Willis, houseman for the Punta Gorda Fish Company, his wife and their three-year-old son perished in the fire. The West Coast Fish Company folded, but the Punta Gorda Fish Company continued to operate. In the mid-1940s, as the fishing industry declined further, a small crab packing plant was built on the pier, later expanding to include shrimp.

Over time the dock and remaining buildings fell into disrepair, and in 1977, the city council moved to permit its reuse as a shopping and dining attraction. In February of 1980, Fishermen’s Village opened on the site.

The Boating History of Punta Gorda


Between 1886 and 1904, the only means of travel south and west of Punta Gorda was by boat.

During the winters at the turn of the 20th century, many yachts would be seen anchored near the shores of Punta Gorda.  Naphtha cabin boats like the "Myakka" owned by Charles Dean of New England brought some of the first "snowbirds" to local waters.  Sharpie sailboats engaged in commercial fishing roamed the harbor. Perry and Marian McAdow, early wealthy residents, entertained the elite of the town on their sailing schooner, the "Roamer". 

During the nascent years of the community, paddler-wheelers carrying both freight and passengers navigated the Peace River carrying goods and travelers from Charlotte Harbor to Fort Myers, Cuba, Key West, New Orleans, and Tampa.  Steamboats such as the "Alice Howard" and the "Clara" brought the mail and passengers between Punta Gorda and Fort Myers.  Later the "St. Lucie" and "Thomas A. Edison" were among the ships that made the 76-mile run.  The Morgan Line steamers arrived at Punta Gorda from New Orleans at the Long Dock and left for Key West and Havana the same day.

Before the railroad ran to Boca Grande in 1907, steam tug boats including the "Albert F Dewey" and the "Mary Blue" hauled phosphate on barges down the Peace River.

Punta Gorda's Fishing Industry


The first Spanish fishermen sailed their smacks into Charlotte Harbor in the 17th century marking the beginnings of a commercial fishing industry. The Cuban fishermen controlled the business for over 200 years until the United States took possession of Florida in 1821 and began laying claim to its territorial waters.  

In 1886, the railroad arrived at Trabue (Punta Gorda) and an ice factory was built, and by the 1890s Punta Gorda had one of the largest commercial fishing industries in Florida.  The  businesses first operated from the “Long Dock.” In 1897,  the industry was relocated to the Railroad Dock at the foot of King Street (now U.S. 41 North) and remained there until it moved to the Maud Street Dock in 1928. 

Fish shacks, built on stilts over the water, served as ice houses as well as bunkhouses. They were serviced by “run boats” carrying fish, ice, and fishermen back and forth.  At its height, the industry caught and processed thousands of tons of fish annually.

Gradually as the commercial fishing industry spread throughout Florida, Punta Gorda’s role in it declined.  The last of the Punta Gorda fishing businesses - the Punta Gorda Fish Company - ceased operation in 1977 when the city revoked its lease on the municipal dock at Maud Street to make way for the development of Fishermen’s Village.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Theodore Roosevelt Sport Fishing in Charlotte Harbor

On March 26, 1917, a crowd of over a thousand people gathered 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 a fishing guide, Russell Coles 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.

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

Roosevelt enjoyed a week of fishing the waters of Charlotte Harbor returning to Punta Gorda on April 2, 1917,  a few days before the United States entered the First World War.  

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Isaac H. Trabue - Founder of Punta Gorda

This plaque honors Isaac H. Trabue, the founder of the town of “Trabue” which became the City of Punta Gorda.  

Trabue, born on March 25, 1829 was a lawyer, coal mine operator, Union soldier during the Civil War, and land developer.  He was married to Virginia Scarborough Taylor of Savannah, Georgia.  

Isaac Trabue purchased land south of Charlotte Harbor bay in 1883, which in 1885 was registered as the town of “Trabue”.   Isaac and Virginia came to Florida to live in January of 1886 in a cabin on the Peace River which they had purchased from James and Sarah Lanier, original settlers.

It was Isaac Trabue’s persuading the Florida Southern Railway to build a rail line to Trabue that ultimately accelerated its development with the railroad’s arrival in 1886.

Isaac Trabue’s life here was marked by ups and downs.  A major dispute resulted in the incorporation of the town and its renaming to Punta Gorda in 1887.  Nonetheless, Mr. Trabue led an active life in Punta Gorda as an attorney and community leader and left a lasting legacy.    He departed his town for the last time shortly before his death on July 16, 1907.  

We thank this visionary for founding our town and gifting us with beautiful public spaces along our waterfront.