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.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Trabue Plat and Waterfront Parks


In 1885 Isaac Trabue registered the land that he had purchased and platted in 1884 in Manatee County as the town of "Trabue." In 1887, it would become Punta Gorda.   He named some twenty streets in the new town after relatives, including Retta Esplanade after his sister - Henrietta,  Virginia and Taylor after his wife,  Elizabeth for his mother,  and Marion after another sister.  

The streets were planned to align with the Charlotte Harbor waterfront, rather than run strictly north and south.  At the end of the streets on the harbor were waterfront parks.  Trabue felt that a shoreline of waterfront parks along Charlotte Harbor would be irresistible to snowbound northerners.  They were originally each named after a street that led to them.

Despite Trabue's stipulation, over the years attempts were made,  some successful, to commercialize the park land.  Harvey Park, for instance, on which Perry and Marion McAdow received city permission to build their mansion became the site of an inn, later a hotel and restaurant.  But for the most part, the waterfront parks remained as lovely respites along Charlotte Harbor.  In the 1950s some of the parks, from Harvey to Berry Street, were combined and renamed Gilchrist Park.  

Thanks to Isaac Trabue and his vision we have the beautiful waterfront parks that we now enjoy.  

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Sallie Jones or "Miss Sallie" as She was Called

Did you ever wonder about the woman for whom Sallie Jones Elementary School was named?   

Born in 1895 Sallie Jones was a descendant of Florida pioneer families.  Her grandfather was killed in a Civil War battle in Tennessee fighting for the Confederacy.  Her father, a tax accessor for Polk County died young in 1898.  Her mother's family, the Koons, were pioneer settlers who traveled from Lake City to Fort Meade by Oxcart where they wrestled a living from the undeveloped country.  

In 1901. Sallie came, as a little girl, to Punta Gorda from Barstow with her mother and three brothers following the death of her step-father, Charles Jennings, from malaria. Her widowed mother, Elizabeth Koon Jones,  moved with her three sons and Sallie to Punta Gorda to be near her brother, cattle baron, W. Luther Koon, who had a large home at Charlotte and Sullivan (later moved and still standing at 360 West McKenzie).  The Jones Brothers were to run a meat market on Marion Avenue when they became adults.  

Sallie started her education at Punta Gorda's first formal schoolhouse on Goldstein Street. Then, after finishing high school, at the time on Taylor Street, she attained a teaching certificate and started her long career in a one-teacher school in Chokoloskee, then Pine Island.  Ultimately she moved back to Punta Gorda,  first teaching lower grades. then on to Charlotte High School shortly after it opened in 1926.

Always determined to obtain a college degree, during the summer months, she attended Flordia State College, the University of Florida at Gainesville, and Florida Southern College, where she obtained her degree.  Tragically, the love of her life was killed in an automobile accident, and Miss Sallie, as she was called, never married. She devoted her life to the education of children.

In 1936, Miss Sallie was elected County Superintendent of Schools, the first woman to hold that position in the state of Florida. She was interested in the progress of public school education, not only locally, but throughout the state of Florida, and the nation. Among her achievements was the start of the school lunch program in Florida.  She also served as President of the Southwest Teachers Association and on many state educational boards. 

When a new elementary school was being erected in Punta Gorda, it was decided to name it in honor of Miss Sallie. She died in 1960 a few years after the Sallie Jones Elementary School opened its doors.

(From information in the archives and library of the Punta Gorda History Center.  For more information on our local history visit the Center at 512 E. Grace Street or on the web

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Woman Who Could Have Been Mayor - Marian Mcadow

The woman credited with being the mother of Punta Gorda’s tropical ambiance, Marian Ann Tyrrel  McAdow,  spent most of her adult life here.  She was born Marian Wild at Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island, Lake Erie, Ohio on September 29, 1869.  When she was a few weeks old, her father, overwrought with ten other siblings to care for, gave his baby daughter to a neighboring couple, Allen Terrell and his wife, who with their new child, moved to Escanaba, Michigan.  

Marian had a life-long passion for horticulture, which she developed at the early age of five.  But it was a chance meeting that enabled her to share it with Florida. While working as a school teacher in Chicago, she met Perry McAdow, the owner of the most productive gold mine in Montana history.  They were married on  October 2, 1897.  He was to give her the opportunity to transform an area of Florida into a tropical paradise.  

Soon after they were wed, Perry brought his pretty, young bride, 31 years his junior, to Punta Gorda where he was to become a prominent citizen, owner of one of the town’s earliest banks and a major influence on Punta Gorda’s development.  He built for their home a huge mansion on filled-in submerged land right on Charlotte Harbor bay. (where the PG Waterfront hotel and Hurricane Charley’s is today).  

Dismayed when she and Perry arrived in Punta Gorda by the lack of what she expected - a tropical jungle with swaying palm trees and other flowering plants, she set about to change that. She traveled to Europe, India, and the Caribbean talking  to leading authorities on tropical landscapes and bringing seeds and plants to start her own beautiful garden and to help beautify Punta Gorda overall.  Not only was she responsible for planting what is now the huge banyan on Retta Esplanade  and the nearby jacaranda that flames red in May, she also drove the planting of the royal palms  along Marion Avenue, though it’s said she would have preferred oaks draped with Spanish moss.  

Known to thousands of readers of the Florida Grower as the “Ornamental Lady”, she influenced through her articles the creation of a tropical paradise throughout South Florida.  Determined to turn as much of South Florida as she could into a blooming paradise, she and friend Sadie Farmington, drove around in her automobile distributing the seeds of beautiful plants.  She also rewarded school children who helped with her mission. 

Perhaps overshadowed by her horticultural  achievements and recognition for being a prominent hostess, with her many dinner parties and yacht excursions, was her civic  involvement and active role as a business woman.  She took over the running of much of Perry’s business affairs after he died in 1918.  It was said that had she not been a woman she would have probably been a Punta Gorda mayor.  She was chair of the Board that developed a revised city charter and recommended to be the first  city manager.  She was also appointed by the Governor to the school board, a role she declined. She was a philanthropist who donated to many local causes and helped raise money for the high school and other community projects.  

Marion also found time for the arts.  She’s was the music director for the Episcopal Church, a good photographer and an accomplished artist.  Many homes at the time had her paintings on their walls, although unfortunately none can be located today.  Her photograph collection was lost in a fire.   

In addition to Punta Gorda, Marion spent time at her home, RyxHaven, in the North Carolina Mountains.  She died September 16, 1950 in Casey Key, Florida.  

(As a footnote and sad commentary on women’s history, while there are many excellent pictures of Perry McAdow up until a few weeks ago only a few not very good photos of Marian could be found.  Fortunately, a writer documenting the history of RyxHaven had  a much better, younger portrait and shared it with us).

Picture Courtesy of Lawrence Newman  and Susan Speight