Good Day to all! Did you know the homes of several early Punta Gorda residents are still standing and two were saved by moving them?
Augustus C. Freeman, from Jasper County in north central Georgia southeast of Atlanta, moved to Punta Gorda in 1889. He’d been a farmer, but after a short stint with the Central Georgia Railroad, came south to work for the Florida Southern Railway. It wasn’t long before A. C. became a prominent member of the community, opening a mercantile business, while also growing oranges and pineapples.
Freeman soon became active in politics, serving the new city in many capacities, including mayor in 1900. Apparently, early in his term, some townsfolk believed he was being too soft on “blind tigers”, establishments serving illegal alcohol. Coming to his defense, the Punta Gorda Herald noted during the first eleven months of 1901, there had been more than 150 arrests, with over $1,000 in fines levied, around $60,000 today.
Freeman bought property on East Marion Avenue at the corner of Booth Street from Albert Gilchrist and built his home in 1903. He sold it in 1912 after serving two terms as DeSoto County Sheriff and living in Arcadia. Remember, Charlotte County was not created from a portion of DeSoto County until 1921.
In 1985, fearful that commercial development would lead to the home’s destruction, a community effort headed by the Medical Center Foundation, led to the home’s movement to a location on Hargreaves Street. Following Hurricane Charley in August 2004, the Freeman House was donated to the City and in January 2006 moved to its current location at the corner of West Retta Esplanade and Cross Street (U. S. 41 south). Unfortunately, the building has suffered water damage and is not in use at this time. Thankfully, though, the City has obtained funds for repairs and preservation of this important part of Punta Gorda’s history!
Benjamin Price was a Philadelphia architect in his 60’s when he came to Punta Gorda with his wife Mary around 1914. They purchased two cottages next to one another at 111 Gilchrist Street, then Benjamin designed and had built, a large common room connecting them. Price’s livelihood was designing churches and then selling the plans by mail-order to locations across the country. The First Methodist Church on West Marion Avenue is based on one of his designs.
Benjamin’s son Max Charles, also an architect, moved to town in 1918 to partner with his Dad. Max, Punta Gorda’s first city manager, was serving as mayor when Charlotte County came into being with Punta Gorda as the county seat.
He was also instrumental in forming the Punta Gorda Commercial Club around the same time, serving as secretary. In 1926, with the Florida land boom in full swing, the club changed its name to the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce. Not long afterward, with the land boom’s collapse and in 1929, the stock market crash, the chamber became inactive. However, that is certainly no longer the case today!
Again, due to proposed development and through community effort, the Price House was saved and moved to the Punta Gorda Historical Society’s History Park on Shreve Street in February 2005. Isaac Trabue’s real estate office, a cigar cottage, and the Quednau home are also important historic buildings preserved at the History Park. Benjamin died in 1922 and Max in 1948. Both are interred at Indian Springs Cemetery.
Visit Charlotte County’s website to view photographs of A. C. Freeman and his home as well as the Price home. Select “Community Services”, then “Libraries and History”. Click on “Physical Items”, then “Archive Search”. Enter the subject of your search on the “Search” line. Photographs can also be viewed on the Punta Gorda History Center’s website. Select “Online Collection”, then “Keyword Search” and enter the search criteria.
Check out History Services’ yearlong project, “Telling Your Stories: History in the Parks”. It began in January 2021 with placement of the first interpretive sign “Charlotte Harbor Spa” at South County Regional Park. The last was dedicated December 15, 2021 at Centennial Park featuring Florida postcards. All dedicated signs can be viewed at online library resources. Select “Programs and Services”, then “History Services” and “Virtual Programs”.
Visit the same site to access recently released oral histories featuring 40 local folks. Select “History Services” and scroll down, or phone 941-629-7278, to find out what history related programs and videos are available.
“Did You Know” appears, typically, every other Wednesday, courtesy of this newspaper and the Charlotte County Historical Society. The Society’s mission is to help promote and preserve Charlotte County’s rich history. We are also always looking for volunteers and interested individuals to serve as board members. If you believe our area’s history is as important as we do, please visit Charlotte County Historical Society on-line at https://cchistoricalsociety.com/, or call 941- 769-1270 for more information.
November 8 column