A little area history
The original Barron Collier Bridge
(Postcard from the Charlotte County History Collection)
If you’ve attended one of our history classes or a walking tour, you’ve heard us speak about Barron Collier and his influence on our area. We have a bridge named after him, he had a major stake in one of our early banks, and he bought, renovated and renamed the old Hotel Punta Gorda into the Hotel Charlotte Harbor (seen in the background of the postcard above), to name a few. But do you know why a county south of us is named after him? We thought we share a little more history about Barron Gift Collier Sr. and how his love of the southwest coast of Florida had a major impact on its development.
Collier was an advertising magnate making his fortune in New York City. He was introduced to our area when he visited a business associate on Useppa Island in the early 1900’s. He started buying up large tracts of land, especially in what is now Lee County, and eventually owned over 1.3 million acres from Tampa south and east to Palm Beach. Road building was the craze of the day and a single road was being proposed to connect Tampa with the east coast. Several options were proposed including one to make use of the Cross-State Highway to avoid the Everglades. The Tamiami Trail option connecting Tampa with Miami (the combination of both names) eventually won out largely due to Collier’s influence. In 1923 the trail was officially designated as a state project by the Florida legislation.
County governments had completed portions of the route but a stable, passable road southeast to Miami had yet to be completed. When the state ran out of money for the trail’s completion, Collier came to their aid offering to bankroll it. In exchange, state legislators agreed to carve out the bottom half of Lee County to form a new county and named it after him in 1923. They also agreed to his stipulation that the trail route be modified to pass through Ft. Myers and continue south and then southeast cutting through his namesake county. This was key to his strategy of growing southwest Florida and his holdings.
Building through the Everglades was a difficult task and he personally oversaw the project getting detailed progress reports on a regular basis. A military-style base of operations was developed at the small outpost of Everglade (later named Everglade City) and the completion of the road was considered an engineering miracle.
It is thought that Collier spent several million dollars on the project but no exact figure was ever documented. The trail was completed in 1928 opening access to hundreds of thousands of untapped acres and was a major factor in the massive increase in land value in the area during the Florida land boom years. Without his financial support, the trail might not have been completed or could have ended up crossing the state farther north connecting Arcadia and LaBelle to the east coast missing Ft. Myers and all parts south altogether. This would have concentrated growth more in the center of the state and might have led to a very different southwest Florida than the one we know today.
(Reference: “Florida Made – The 25 Most Important Figures Who Shaped the State” by George S. Lemieux & Laura E. Mize)
We’re still raising money for our Harborwalk Mural. Just $8000 to go to reach our fundraising goal.
A lot of you have already donated and we really appreciate your support!
If you haven’t and would like to, here are a few ways to do it:
- Donate online – www.puntagordamurals/donate or mail a check to PGHMS, PO BOX 510506, Punta Gorda, FL 33951.
- Become a Mural Sponsor:
Mural Sponsor Program (Individual or Business):
For a minimum donation of $2000, you or your business will be:
- Listed on the bronze engraved plaque that will adorn the Harborwalk mural
- Listed on the Harborwalk mural website page on the Mural Society website
- Honored at the Harborwalk Mural Dedication Ceremony
If interested, please contact Kelly Gaylord at 941-979-2786 for more information about this program.
All donations are appreciated and tax deductible.
The Harborwalk Mural Project
This mural will be painted on the retaining wall under the US 41 southbound bridge along the Punta Gorda Harborwalk. This walkway is used by more than 1000 walkers and bicyclists every day (2000 in season). It will capture our Charlotte Harbor marine life, past and present.
“HISTORY OF PUNTA GORDA IN ITS MURALS”
Join us as we present the history of the area as told through the murals throughout our beautiful City. Visit all 30 murals from the comfort of your Air Conditioned classroom seat while we present 450 years of history using the murals as a guide. Hear about the Mural Society and get a sneak peek of upcoming projects. Presented in 2 parts:
Monday, October 22nd 10am – Noon $18
“Part 1 – The Early Years” – from pre-Spanish Exploration to pre-WWI.
Wednesday October 24th 10am – Noon $18
“Part 2 – Post World War I” – picks up where the Part 1 leaves off continuing the story of our local history from WWI through modern day.
FGCU Renaissance Academy
Herald Center Ct, Punta Gorda
To Register call (941) 505-0130
In Our Community
Sharing a little of what’s happening with other organizations devoted to history in our area
As you may know, there are a number of history-based non-profits in our area doing lots of great work. We thought we’d highlight one from time to time to let you know what they’re up to.
This month we’re sharing an community service project that some of the ladies of the Hickory Bluff Chapter of the NSDAR (National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution) are involved with:
Angel Gowns of SW Florida is a group of volunteers who take donated wedding gowns and re-purpose them to make little angel gowns for infants that have passed away. The gowns are donated to the local NICU units and funeral homes. The gowns are made in a variety of sizes and they use trim and lace from the gowns as embellishments. They also make what is called a cocoon for the tiniest of babies.
They feel that this is a wonderful opportunity for their members to bless families at a devastating time of their lives. They take photos of the angel gowns made from each donated dress and send them to the dress donor so that they know how their loved wedding gown was used.
They take donations of wedding gowns of any age, preferably white or ivory, in any condition. They are also always looking for folks who like to sew to join the group.
If you would like to donate a gown or volunteer your sewing skills, you can contact them at Angelgownsofswfl@gmail.com.