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.  

By Theresa Murtha


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.