Good Day to all! Hope everyone had a fun and safe July 4th. Thanks to all participating in and observing the 32nd Freedom Swim. Check out the Society’s new website at https://cchistoricalsociety.com/.
Did you know that for about 15 years early in the 20th century, the Punta Gorda area was a principal supplier of the nation’s pineapples? Some of the first settlers, John Bartholf and Francis Boggess of Charlotte Harbor, and Nathan Decoster upriver at his settlement of Harborview, were early promoters of the area’s ability to grow profitable tropical fruits. Town founder Isaac Trabue even set aside a portion of his holdings to grow them, with two-thirds of any profit realized dedicated to the winner of his annual chess tournament held the second Monday of December.
The pineapple is a “new world” fruit and member of the bromeliad family. Early investors in the business were Perry and Marian McAdow. After moving to Punta Gorda around 1896, they affiliated with a group of leading business men, formed the Solana Pineries Company and planted east of town. The company cultivated just five acres in 1903, but produced over 2,000 crates of pineapples, with a net profit of almost $2,700, a goodly sum at the time and approximately $100,000 in today’s dollars.
Another northern investor, William Whitten, had visited the area and moved to Punta Gorda permanently in 1902 when his plantings began to produce. In March 1909, he subdivided about 250 acres east of town into 14 “lots” of various sizes, naming the plat Pineapple Centre. Appropriate, since by then it had become the center of the area’s pineapple production. In fact, the Florida Southern Railway built a depot and loading dock there.
Whitten built a magnificent home, Cedar Oaks, on Florida Street near its intersection with Railway Avenue, now LaVilla Road. Still standing today, his great-granddaughter resided there until recently. Pineapple Centre is located south of East Marion Avenue (old U.S. 17) and Riverside Drive, generally around the U.S. 17, Florida Street overpass and Interstate 75 interchange.
A disastrous freeze in early 1917 dealt the industry a severe blow from which it never recovered. Attempts were made, but by then a smaller, hardier pineapple variety was being grown much cheaper in Cuba.
Visit Charlotte County’s website to view photographs of William Whitten and pineapples growing in a shade house. 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 5 column