Good Day to all and Happy Birthday to my brother Louis! The annual Hibiscus Festival is coming May 5, 6, and 7 at Gilchrist Park. Visit thehibiscusfestival.com for details. Hope to see you there!
Did you know a former railroad right-of-way is one of Punta Gorda’s most popular parks? As noted in previous columns, the railroad came to Trabue (Punta Gorda) in July 1886. Built by the Florida Southern Railway, just a few years later both the railroad company and its principal bondholder declared bankruptcy, allowing Henry Plant to gain control around 1894.
Florida Southern had extended the line through town to its terminus near today’s Jamaica Way in Punta Gorda Isles. At that point, a 4,200 foot “long dock”, with tracks, was constructed to deep water allowing transfer of passengers and freight to Morgan Steamship Line ocean going vessels. However, by the late 1890’s, Henry Plant and town founder Isaac Trabue were not getting along and Plant had decided to make Tampa his primary port in Florida, Thank You Mr. Plant, so tracks were removed and the dock fell into disrepair. Not wishing to abandon his luxurious hotel on Punta Gorda’s bay front, Plant added a spur line down King Street (U. S. 41 north), a new depot across from the hotel, and a 400-foot dock to service a growing fresh fish packing industry.
Baron Collier bought and renovated the hotel in 1925, convincing city officials to construct a new “fish dock” at the foot of Maude Street, now Fishermen’s Village. The Atlantic Coast Line, then owners of the railroad, rebuilt track on the existing right-of-way to the new location. The company also built the now historic depot on Taylor Road, replacing the one on King Street. Collier and his “well to do” hotel clientele were pleased with the absence of noisy trains.
As the fishing industry declined during the 1960’s and trucks hauling freight replaced trains, the second set of tracks between Taylor and Maude Streets was also removed. That corridor became Punta Gorda’s popular linear park.
Visit Charlotte County History Collections “on-line” to view photographs of the fish and railroad docks. Select “Library Catalog”, click on “Physical Items”, then “Archive Search”. Enter the subject of your search on the “Search” line.
Train depot, railroad, and fish dock related photos can also be viewed by visiting the Punta Gorda History Center’s website. Select “Keyword Search” and enter 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 and select “History Exhibits” 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 advocate and support local history through education, initiatives, and projects in Charlotte County. 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 Center Society on-line, or call (941) 769-1270 for more information.