Good Day to all! Did you know an accomplished musician played a significant part in Punta Gorda’s beginnings? Kelly B. Harvey, hailing from Indiana, was born in 1859 and apparently came to Florida in the early 1880’s. A surveyor and self-professed engineer, he worked for the new railroads and land companies investing in the southwest Florida frontier. He also evidently played a “mean” clarinet.
During his early years in Florida, he made acquaintance with John Cross, local agent for Hamilton Disston’s land company, which had purchased 4,000,000 acres in south Florida from the state for $1,000,000. That’s right, 25 cents an acre.
Cross had established the now vanished town of Liverpool just up the Peace River, opening a real estate office and shipping operation. Yes, he was English. In early 1883, he brokered the sale of John Madison Lanier’s 30 acres on the river to Isaac Trabue of Louisville, Kentucky. Wanting to establish a new town, Trabue added to his holdings and went in search of a surveyor.
Cross recommended 26-year-old Kelly Harvey, due to his familiarity with the area and the fact there were not too many qualified surveyors around. Completing the job in late 1884 and naming a street after himself in the process, Punta Gorda’s City Hall is located at the corner of West Marion Avenue and Harvey Street, Kelly recorded the Trabue town plat in early 1885. When Isaac received the bill, he refused to pay it.
Seems Isaac had instructed his cousin John Trabue, in the area at the time, to hire Harvey. Once the survey was completed, Harvey presented his bill to John who instructed him to send it to Isaac, since it was his property and town. When he did, Isaac responded that Harvey’s contract was with John and refused to pay. The resulting “hard feelings” would have a dramatic effect on the new town.
Kelly moved to Trabue shortly after its founding and continued with surveying assignments, laying out many of the area’s early subdivisions. However, Isaac didn’t appear until early 1886 when they met for the first time. Due to his surveying business and musical talent, Harvey had become well known in town, delighting folks with his clarinet performances at social events.
Not long after Trabue’s arrival, the feud still simmering, Harvey began agitating to incorporate the town and change its name. His preference, “Punta Gorda”, the name early Spanish explorers placed on the landmass jutting out from the harbor’s eastern shore, where much of Punta Gorda Isles now lies, which seems appropriate. Besides, the name was already being used for the luxurious hotel being built, Hotel Punta Gorda, and town newspaper, the Punta Gorda Beacon. More on Kelly Harvey’s Punta Gorda in my next column.
Visit Charlotte County’s website to view Kelly Harvey related photographs. 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.
July 19 column