Monday, January 25, 2021

Punta Gorda’s First Tourist Attraction - The Hotel Punta Gorda


The first suggestion of the Charlotte Harbor area as a tourist destination appeared in a booklet written by George Barbour in 1869.  Barbour lauding the beauty of the harbor said that at some point a winter resort needed to be established in the southern part of Florida and that Charlotte Harbor presented an ideal location for it.  It wasn't until years later that Barbour's vision was realized.  Isaac Trabue in 1885 persuaded the Florida Southern Railway to bring the railroad to his town by giving them the land to build a grand hotel on Charlotte Harbor.  

The Hotel Punta Gorda first welcomed guests for the 1888 winter season and Punta Gorda became a tourist destination.  Luxurious for the time, it was a three-storied structure with a central tower that extended higher.  Advertisements for the resort proclaimed that the hotel had gas, electric bells, steam heat, and open fireplaces.   News articles touted the magnificent grounds and fishing and sailing from the dock.  Situated on the harbor, the hotel had a large promenade, verandas with yellow roses climbing the railings, and 135 rooms, each with views of the bay.  Palm trees adorned the grounds to provide a tropical ambiance. Appealing to the wealthy, the hotel attracted guests that included  W.K. Vanderbilt, John Wanamaker, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Mellon. 

The hotel had its ups and downs and by 1924 it was acquired by Barron Collier and Cornelius Vanderbilt and the name was changed to the Hotel Charlotte Harbor.  The investors remodeled the hotel in 1927 adding a central tower and top floor ballroom. This stately hotel also had its economic problems and by the 1950s was again renamed the Charlotte Harbor Spa.  On the night of August 14, 1959, the hotel was destroyed in a fire leaving a void in Punta Gorda's tourism industry.  Other than the Municipal Trailer Park which accommodated winter visitors from 1925 to the 1980s,  it wasn't until 1980 that a tourism magnet of the hotel's scope was constructed.    Fishermen’s Village opened on the old Maud Street Dock that year and reignited the tourism industry in the area.    

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