Coastal Breeze News » Coastal History Tue, 22 Jul 2014 20:59:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Joe Dickman: the hermit of Kice Island? Fri, 04 Apr 2014 03:25:41 +0000 COASTAL HISTORY
Craig Woodward

Dickmans Point 1962.

Dickmans Point

South of Marco Island is the well known Cape Romano with its famous, dilapidated dome house tilted on washed out pilings above the Gulf of Mexico. Kice Island, located north of Cape Romano and just south of Marco Island, received almost no attention until recently, when a number of pilot whales beached themselves there. Kice Island is a beautiful island, running parallel to the Gulf with a long, sandy beachfront; leaving us to wonder, how did it get its name and what can we find of its history?

Almost 100 years ago, on Sept. 27, 1915, Murray S. Kice purchased 119.4 acres of land from the U.S. Government. Mr. Kice sold real estate in Louisville, Kentucky through his business M.S. Kice & Co., and it was not long until he became Florida’s newest developer with big ideas for his island. The founders of Naples were also from Louisville, Kentucky, naming their subdivision “Naples-on-the-Gulf,” so it is probable that Kice had learned of this area from them, as he similarly called his project “Kice Island-on-the-Gulf.”

1914 M.S. Kice JR.

1914 M.S. Kice JR.

In 1893, the oldest child of Murray and Lucy Kice was born and named after his father, Murray Stancliffe Kice, Jr. Murray Jr. graduated from Purdue University in 1915 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. After graduating, he got a job with American Blower Co. in Cleveland Ohio, but at age 23 his career was interrupted when the soon-to-be Lieutenant Kice was drafted into World War I in May of 1917. He was placed into the 88th Division of the 337th Field Artillery Regiment, and in September of 1918 he was shipped out to France. Fortunately for him, the war was almost over and soon after, on Jan. 8, 1919, the Regiment came back to the U.S.

In February of 1922 Murray Kice, Jr., age 28, married Miriam Deming from Franklin, Indiana, and Murray was able to resume his engineering career with American Blower Co. The Florida real estate boom of the 1920s created the next interruption in their lives. By 1927, the Ft. Myers City Directory shows all the Kices, both Murray, Sr., age 58, his son Murray, Jr., age 35, and their wives, Lucy and Miriam, were living in Ft. Myers. In December of 1925 they had formed the corporation known as “M.S. Kice Developing Company” with Murray Sr. as president/treasurer and Murray Jr. as vice-president/secretary.

On March 5, 1926 the 119.4 acres purchased in 1915 had been surveyed and was platted. It was one of the first subdivisions of Collier County, newly created in 1923 by the State Legislature. The official plat was signed by the Kices, father and son, and witnessed by notables: Mrs. Tommie Barfield and Barron Collier’s brother, C. M. Collier, Jr., who was, at the time, the chairman of the first Collier County Board of Commissioners. It was notarized by D.W. McLeod who was the county’s first property appraiser.

About a mile long was “Gulf Beach Drive” in the new “Kice Island-on-the-Gulf” subdivision, with the “Bay Beach Drive” following a similar distance along Caxambas Bay. Running through the interior of the island, also north and south, was a long central canal appropriately named “Venice Way” with two openings out to Caxambas Bay at the north and south. They created 971 sellable lots on paper, with 143 lots on the beach. A similar number on the eastern Caxambas Bay side and 202 lots, or 20 percent of the project, would have water access via the interior Venice Way canal. Named streets included: Kentucky Ave. – reflecting the family’s home state; Hugh Ave. – a Murray family name; Deming Drive – Murray, Jr.’s wife Miriam’s maiden name – a “Barfield Drive” after J.M. and his wife Tommie who resided in the nearby Caxambas area – and interestingly, a Mound Ave. that curved around an apparent shell mound. Almost all of the lots were sized as 50 feet wide and 140-150 feet deep.

Strangely enough, while there are a number of interior roads, there is no bridge or ferry access shown. Also, there are no bridges crossing the long interior Venice Way waterway, making it difficult to drive around this large platted project.

Despite Murray S. Kice, Sr.’s expertise in real estate, tremendous development and the great optimism of his family, unforeseen forces immediately doomed their project. Within six months, in September of 1926, a hurricane nicknamed the “Great Miami Hurricane,” hit with a 60 mile wide storm spreading from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale. It carried winds recorded at 140 mph, pushed a 12-foot storm surge that rushed up the rivers and bays and slammed into South Beach. The 1926 hurricane continued west in Naples and Marco breaking windows, toppling trees and utility poles. In Everglades City water emptied from the Barron River creating an eight-foot storm surge throughout the city. Meanwhile, on Kice Island, the curve of the northern tip of the island was destroyed. Statewide, thousands were dead, and one headline read “Southeastern Florida Wiped Out.” On the east coast properties that had sold for $600,000 in 1925 were reportedly put on the market for $600 after the storm.

To make things worse, two years later in September of 1928, the “Okeechobee Hurricane” hit South Florida. The hurricane added another 10 inches of water to a lake already overfilled and pounded the area with 150 mph winds, breaching the dike that protected adjacent towns and sent four to six feet of water flooding into the streets. One in three of the residents died that night; 2,000 people gone in what was Florida’s largest tragedy. The Sept. 18 newspaper headlines read “Florida Destroyed! Florida Destroyed!” The following year on Oct. 29, 1929, Black Friday occurred, plunging the rest of the country into the Great Depression. It was the third and last strike of devastating economic impacts to the state; it would be a long time before Florida recovered.

At some point in the late 1920’s Murray Kice, Jr. and his wife Miriam left Florida and moved to Michigan to continue his career as a mechanical engineer, again rejoining American Blower Co. Meanwhile, Murray Kice, Sr. and his wife Lucy moved to Los Angeles, California where they apparently retired. In 1930 they were living in a very nice $25,000 house with a housekeeper and a nurse. Florida’s “Kice Island-on-the-Gulf” seemed all but forgotten until a man named Joe Dickman rode his motorcycle from Minster, Ohio and arrived in Los Angeles, California on his way to find his fortune in China. A chance encounter with Murray Kice, Sr., who was still at the top of his game as a real estate promoter, changed Joe Dickman’s life forever.

Joe Dickman at his place on Kice Island 1960s.

Joe Dickman at his place on Kice Island 1960s.

By Dickman’s account, Kice convinced Joe, then around age 49, to give up his dream of going to China and, instead turned around and headed back east to Florida to settle on Kice Island. It took Joe Dickman 30 days to drive the 3,000 miles to Florida. His head was full of Kice’s promises that the family would return to develop the island and that “Joe would be in on the ground floor” of this exciting project. Joe later said that the motorcycle was in such bad shape that he sold it on arrival in order to buy a small boat to get to Kice Island. Arriving in 1929, Dickman would be the only permanent inhabitant of this island for the next 31 years. In fact, he is the only known person to have ever lived on Kice Island in recorded history.

Joe Dickman soon put in pilings and built his own house looking over the Gulf and Caxambas Pass – a two story clapboard structure elevated above the ground. However, the key to habitable life on Kice Island was an artesian well that continually flowed large amounts of fresh water. A water test done in 1970 showed the quality to be good. It is possible that the historic existence of this water source was the derivation for the name “Caxambas,” which means fresh water, a name marked on old Spanish maps. We do know that in 1925 Kice had the artesian well capped for use with a strong valve placed on the wellhead.

Dickman lived a very simple life working as a fisherman and as a guide, but mostly he collected seashells along the long beaches of Kice Island, Morgan Island south to Cape Romano and on Marco Island. He was very good at shelling, taking boxed shells by the boatload to the mainland, shipping them and selling them to seashell jewelry factories including one in Pennsylvania. It was “pretty tough work for the best shells as they had to be dug out of the mud and then cleaned” according to Dickman. In fact, he was very proud that a “Fella named Tebeau from Miami called me an emeritus of a sea shell picker.” Dr. Charlton Tebeau, was a Professor of History at U. of M. and the author of “Florida’s Last Frontier – the History of Collier County.” With the cash earned, Dickman paid for discretionary items like Nabisco ginger snap cookies and burgundy wine, which guests mentioned he served them at his home.

As expected, from someone who lived alone on an island, Dickman was very independent and reportedly could live simply on sardines, crackers and beer. For clothing he wore very little, was normally shirtless and his skin was described as “a deep brown tone and looked like leather.” Often he wore wear cut off slacks with no shoes; his feet were so tough he could walk barefoot across broken clam shells. Outside his house were what must have been smelly boxes of shells in various stages of cleaning, while inside he had a high shelf containing his lifelong collection of souvenirs.

Joe Dickman at his place on Kice Island 1960s. PHOTOS BY Dave Johnson

Joe Dickman at his place on Kice Island 1960s. PHOTOS BY Dave Johnson

Remarkably enough, Dickman never corresponded with his family in Ohio. In 1931, a group headed to California to find out where Joe ended up. On that trip was Marj Freytag, Dickman’s great niece who traveled along with her grandparents, grandfather’s brother and her parents and sister heading “to California in a Model T Ford looking for Great Uncle Joe.” She remembers crossing the desert at night with a water bag hung on the car, and because there were no roads in the desert, they followed telephone poles. In the end, Marj said: “We couldn’t find any trace of Uncle Joe,” and it devastated her family.

Dickman would later recount that while he would never again see Murray Kice, Sr., he would occasionally receive letters from him that “kept sayin’ he was comin’ and to hold on.” Dickman chuckled to an interviewer that one of Kice’s promises did come true: Joe really did “get in on the ground floor and he was still here (on Kice Island).” It is not clear if Dickman knew that in 1938, nine years after they met in California, Murray Kice, Sr. died in L.A. at age 69 and his wife Lucy died after that. Meanwhile, their son Murray Kice, Jr. continued to work as the chief engineer for American Blower in Michigan while his wife Miriam raised their sons. Murray, Jr. was an inventor and a number of patents were issued to him between the years 1937 to 1951.

Dickman operated a short-wave radio and his friends said that Joe had learned five languages from using it. He once told a reporter that he spoke seven languages, having learned English and German at home. He later related to his great niece, Marj, that during WWII, he, like many locals, was involved in watching for German boats and subs along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Dickman was uniquely qualified for this, as not only did he live directly on the beach, but he could communicate by short-wave radio.

While Dickman lived alone, he never thought of himself as a hermit. Around 1950 Dickman famously said: “Long time ago, some city folks came out and asked me if it was true there was a hermit on the island; I told them that I’d been here 20 years and had never seen one!” Dickman remained long time friends with a number of local people, including Bud Kirk, having helped him build his house that was later moved to Goodland. He was also a friend of the Otter family in Caxambas.

Artesian Well Cape Romano - Collier County Genealogy

Artesian Well Cape Romano – Collier County Genealogy

By the mid 1950s, Dickman’s family had long given him up for lost. After all, it had been 26 years since he was last seen. Remarkably, a bachelor from Dickman’s home town in Minster, Ohio, Casey Kohnen, came fishing in Florida and ran into Joe on Kice Island. He reported back to the family, but sadly some of the family had died before knowing what happened to Joe.

Shortly after 1951, the Michigan census records show that Murray Kice, Jr. had died, and his wife, Miriam was now a widow. Of the four Kice family members, who, in the 1920s, came to Florida to develop Kice Island, Miriam was the only one alive. Florida public records from 1958 show that Miriam had M.S. Kice Developing Co. put into a court ordered receivership with the court ordering the island be sold to pay investors. On September 16, 1958, a few days short of 43 continuous years of ownership by the family, Kice Island was sold for the sum of $125,000.

Almost exactly two years later Hurricane Donna forced Joe Dickman to leave a home he had lived in for 31 years on Dickman’s Point at the north tip of Kice Island. Donna hit Sept. 10, 1960 as a Category 4 hurricane. The eye crossed Goodland, and the storm destroyed Dickman’s beachfront home leaving, according to his niece Marj, only the foundation and some plumbing pipes. Across Caxambas Pass the wind gauge at the U.S. Missile Tracking Station, located where Cape Marco is now, blew out and Islanders heard later that gusts had been as high as 185 mph.

With his home destroyed, Dickman moved for a while to Caxambas and lived near Otter Mound in the abandoned Barfield house, and then moved into the Ideal Fish Camp in Caxambas. In 1960, Marj Freytag and her husband Albert, made their first visit to the fish camp where “Uncle Joe invited us to stay with him in one of the fishing cabins,” but Marj said, “In the cabins there were just boards for a bunk and the stench of rotting shells was overwhelming. We declined his gracious invitation.” While living there, Belinda Ellington remembers Dickman as having “built sawhorses with planks across them and would put his shells out to cure.” She said that Mr. Joe was very sweet to her, and described him as the “nicest man she met when her family moved to Marco Island.”

cbn kice 4-4-14Joe Dickman predicted that a hurricane would wash away Kice Island, having observed over the 31 years of living there that the island was “building up slower on one side then it was washing away on the other side.” He was correct. By 1966, the original northern tip of the island was gone and much of the western side had eroded to the point where most of the proposed “Venice Way” canal was now in the Gulf of Mexico; hundreds of platted lots had became submerged and disappeared.

Marj Freytag and her husband Albert made an effort to visit her Uncle Joe every year from 1960 until his death from cancer on Jan. 12, 1971 at age 90. He was buried at the Marco Cemetery. Today, Kice Island is owned by the State of Florida, but the north tip is still referred to as “Dickman’s Point” in his honor.

I want to thank Marj Freytag for our conversations and sharing with me her many memories as well as newspaper articles about her great uncle Joe; thank Dave Johnson for sharing his father’s photos of Joe Dickman and the Dickman home; and Belinda Ellington who shared with me her memories of Joe Dickman’s kindness to her and her family.

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The Star of the Everglades Its Journey From the 1920s to Today Part 2 Fri, 07 Feb 2014 16:26:51 +0000 COASTAL HISTORY
Craig Woodward

Jim Martin at the helm of the Star of the Everglades (c. 1972).

Jim Martin at the helm of the Star of the Everglades (c. 1972).

In our last issue, the history of the original vessel, the Star (of the Everglades), operated by the Lopez family from Lopez River and Chokoloskee was covered, including its use in hosting several U.S. Presidents, its being part of the classic local film “Wind Across the Everglades,” and its key role in opening up sports fishing for tourists in the Ten Thousand Islands. That boat was retired and replaced by a new vessel, a beautiful yacht with a colorful history. After finishing its service in charter fishing, the new boat was owned and lived on by a number of local residents, who retain great memories of this fabulous yacht which, like the previous one, was aptly named the Star.

In the early 1960s, the original Star left Everglades City for the last time and later returned as the new Star, a vessel still two decks high but now 65 feet long with a beam of 22 feet, a double-planked wood hull, 70 net tons and with a shallow draft drawing only three feet of water. It was ideal for taking sportsmen to the Broad, Lostman’s and Shark rivers. The new vessel had three private staterooms, with two beds, two showers and a full bathtub, a teak-paneled main salon with a fireplace and a bar — perfect for three couples. This Star, unlike the previous one, was air conditioned, had television, a cocktail lounge, a card room and a sundeck for wives who did not care to fish. The brochure of the time said: “In addition to the prized tarpon, commonly ranging up to 100 pounds of fighting dynamite, there are a great variety of other fish to be found; most commonly being the snook and redfish.” Dinner served on board was either fresh fish, stone crabs or steaks and lobster, and also included and served on the large table in the main salon was a full course breakfast and a light lunch. The new 1962 Star brochure said it did not take trips less than four days out of season and suggested a five-day minimum. The advertised price was $280 a day total during season for a party of four and excluded drinks and tackle.

The new Star of the Everglades was a custom-built luxury vessel, completed in 1927 for former Governor of Ohio James M. Cox, who at the time was the owner of the Cox newspaper chain which included the “Miami Daily News.” The vessel had been used in the Miami area to entertain Cox’s business clients and rich friends until around 1961 when Capt. Jim Thompson and his wife Rosina purchased it for their Everglades adventures. Thompson could tow behind the Star up to three small boats with various outboards having horsepower up to 40 hp, giving anglers access into the small creeks and backwater bays while the Star remained anchored at the mouths of the large rivers that drained from the Everglades.

In late 1970, Jim Martin of Marco Island spotted the Star in dry dock at the Turner Boat yard in Naples. It had been pulled for caulking and other maintenance work on the wooden hull. He liked the old style of the boat, saw an opportunity to buy a boat he could live on, and quickly negotiated with Jim Thompson for the purchase. Capt. Jim Thompson had lost interest in the excursion fishing business after his wife Rosina died, and he ended up selling the Star to Jim Martin for $7,500. They made one last trip to Everglades City to offload Thompson’s personal items and the guide boats; the trip back to Naples, according to Martin, was a very emotional trip for Jim Thompson, who had grown much attached to the Star. In a way, many others’ lives would be impacted by this vessel.

The Star sunk near the Goodland Bridge before being salvaged. (c. 1982).

The Star sunk near the Goodland Bridge before being salvaged. (c. 1982).

Martin docked the Star in Naples at Boat Haven, paying dockage of $20 a month and mooring it adjacent to U.S. 41’s Gordon River Bridge. It was in a location that was too shallow for most boats, but the Star, drawing only three feet, could use it. For two years, Jim Martin lived on the boat and would rent rooms out for extra income. He worked at the Marco Beach Hotel, and about once a month, friends would join him on party trips to Little Marco Pass (now Hurricane Pass), all pitching in on fuel. But, even with fuel being 20 cents a gallon, the twin Chryslers 135 hp inboards were gas hogs and expensive to run. The vessel was not easy to operate and required three to four people to get it under way. The boat was also two floors high making it susceptible to winds and, compounding the problem was the weight of the upstairs main lounge made of dark wood of cypress and mahogany, and under the seats, it carried 600-plus pounds of water storage in large copper tanks making the boat a little top-heavy.

Like Jim Webb, who has kept old brochures and photos of the Star, Jim Martin also has sentimental feelings about the Star, and retained numerous photos as well as his documents. Martin examined the official documentation — “Certificate of Enrollment for a U.S. Licensed Yacht” — from the U.S. Treasury Dept., and discovered that the vessel had been built in 1927 in Holly Hill, FL, south of Jacksonville. Martin decided to investigate and drove to north Florida looking at areas on the Halifax River. He found the location of the old boatyard and discovered that the builder was none other than William (Bill) McCoy — whose reputation later coined the phrase “The Real McCoy.” McCoy and his brothers had a great reputation building expensive speedboats and yachts for millionaires like Andrew Carnegie and the Vanderbilts, and, of course, also for the former Ohio Governor Cox for whom the Star was originally built.

During Prohibition, McCoy changed careers and ran whiskey from offshore boats into the eastern seaboard. On a usual trip, it was said he would make $300,000 profit! His profits ended on Nov. 23, 1923, when a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter intercepted McCoy’s vessel in international waters, outside the three-mile U.S. limit. After shooting 4-inch shells over his hull, McCoy surrendered, saying on capture: “I have no tale of woe to tell you. I was outside the three-mile limit, selling whisky, and good whisky, to anyone and everyone who wanted to buy.” He pleaded guilty, served nine months in jail and was soon out and back in the boat business. The phrase “The Real McCoy” originated because he refused to water down his liquor or sell moonshine like his competitors who, in their attempt to gain credibility, would claim their product was also “The Real McCoy.” As a result of McCoy’s capture, the U.S. changed its territorial limit from three miles to 12 miles.

William (Bill) McCoy — “the Real McCoy” — high-end yacht builder and 1920s bootlegger. SUBMITTED PHOTO

William (Bill) McCoy — “the Real McCoy” — high-end yacht builder and 1920s bootlegger. SUBMITTED PHOTO

By about 1972, Martin decided to sell the Star, one of his bigger concerns being what to do in the event of a hurricane. Heavy winds and waves would cause the boat to crash against the seawall or even into the adjacent bridge, so his plan was to sink it in place to stabilize it. Back in 1960, during the infamous Hurricane Donna, Capt. Jim Thompson had run the Star up into the backwaters of the Ten Thousand Islands and tied it off on mangroves — an option not available in Naples. Martin had several buyers interested in the Star, including one who wanted to operate it as a floating restaurant in Old Marco, but in the end, Jim Lowe purchased it.

Henry Lowe of Marco Island, brother of Jim Lowe, remembers when his brother owned the Star and lived on it with his wife and daughter: “When both Jim and I owned part of Marco River Marina (now Rose Marina), we each lived on a boat moored there. My family was in the Big Dipper, and Jim and his family was in the Star. Compared to the Star, the Big Dipper I owned was like a crude barge. The Star was fabulous, and clearly made by a craftsman. The details could not be found today. It had brass throughout. Cypress walls inside and the ‘knees,’ which support the deck from below, were not prefabricated, but were chosen from the best part of the tree where the wood would have naturally bent and was cut and crafted to be part of this elegant vessel.” Henry said that it had been a dream of both brothers to live on boats, and they both owned theirs for about two years before selling them. Jim Lowe, being in the marina business, kept the boat maintained and the engines running. He took his family and the Star down to the Florida Keys on vacations.

The next owner was Fred Von Langen, who played the organ while his wife played the drums and piano. They worked as entertainers at the Old Marco Inn, and also sold Amway products. His dream was also to live on a boat; so upon purchase from Lowe, Von Langen, his wife and two sons — ages 12 and 14 —moved aboard and lived on the Star while it was moored at the Marco River Marina. From all accounts the Star, a high maintenance, old vessel started to show its age and to go into disrepair. He reportedly replaced the old gas engines with diesel engines; they were not run much, and it did not take very long for it to deteriorate.

Joe Torre, who worked at the time at O’Sheas Restaurant in Old Marco, purchased the Star from Von Langen with plans to move it to Remuda Ranch (the current Port of the Islands) and live with his wife, her son, Dave, and two daughters aboard. As Torre could only get one engine on the Star to operate, he arranged for it to be towed south by both a ski boat (Torre had owned and operated a ski School) and a house boat toward the Faka Union Canal. The single engine soon quit, and on the trip down, Dave Torre reported that the ski boat pulling the Star capsized with the Star ending up in the mangroves. The Coast Guard came to the rescue and towed the Star to its new berth by the marina/restaurant at Remuda Ranch adjacent to the bridge at U.S. 41.

From a brochure for the Star when it was used to fish out of Everglades City (c. 1960s). PHOTO BY JIM WEBB

From a brochure for the Star when it was used to fish out of Everglades City (c. 1960s). PHOTO BY JIM WEBB

Joe Torre’s brother helped restore the Star above the water line, but below it, there were major problems; neither engine worked, and the old wooden hull was leaking. Dave Torre says that in the three years he lived on the boat, while attending middle school in Everglades City School, the boat continued to take on water. In order to keep it afloat, they ran the bilge pumps day and night, and when the pumps quit, the floor became “quite soggy” to walk on. In the mid-1970s, Remuda Ranch was having financial problems, and often the electric would go off for non-payment. In addition to the Star’s 10-kw diesel generator to power the a/c, Joe Torre would try to connect the Star to a shore generator to keep the bilge pumps running. Dave says ironically that “at the time we were actually living on a sinking boat, with its lights constantly going on and off. Strangely, it was sort of a reflection of what was happening next door at (the ill-fated) Remuda Ranch.”

While they did have divers dive the boat to try to make underwater repairs, nothing short of pulling the boat would stop the leaking. Torre said that with its failed engines and with no boat travel lift big enough or near enough to pull a vessel this size, there seemed to be little hope. The previous owner, Jim Martin, would later say he believed that the problem was in the caulking of the wood in the hull, especially in the area near the tunnel drive where the prop wash had, over time, slowly eroded away the caulking, causing inevitable leaking. Joe Torre managed to get the boat towed to the O’Sheas restaurant on Marco where it was docked for a couple of years, and his family continued to live on it while he worked at the restaurant.

By around 1980, the Torre family sold the boat to Billy Oliver of Goodland, as Oliver recalls, for the price of $8,000. Oliver had it towed to Goodland by a crab boat, and, like others before him, planned to live on it. He remembers the boat as being beautiful and also being quite a “party boat.” Oliver said for a while it was moored behind a house near Stan’s, but, instead of using the normal bilge pumps to keep the boat afloat, Oliver switched to using a larger sump pump in order to try to keep up with the amount of water coming in.

After a couple of years, Collier County red tagged the boat (for being in a residential area), so Oliver moved the Star to under the Goodland bridge. For a few days, Oliver had to leave to go to New York, and said, with sadness, that while he was gone, the Star sank and ended up sitting on the bottom. Meanwhile, before he returned, some kids had broken into it and tossed stuff into the water and did general damage. Oliver lost a lot of his photos and documents when the Star sank. For $5,000, he sold the wood, life rings, wooden knees and other nautical parts of the yacht to Ray Bozicnik. Then, after being stripped, the boat was donated to the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department, which used it for training as it burned off the topsides down to the waterline.

Reclaimed wood from the Star of the Everglades at the Little Bar in Goodland. Note the handcrafted wood knees that once supported an upper deck.

Reclaimed wood from the Star of the Everglades at the Little Bar in Goodland. Note the handcrafted wood knees that once supported an upper deck.

By 1982, the Star was gone, and its wood and other items purchased from it, under the creative direction of owner “Papa Ray” Bozicnik, were incorporated into his restaurant, the Little Bar in Goodland. Bozicnik had collected numerous antiques over many years while owning and operating restaurants in the Chicago area. The restaurant is today full of recovered wood doors, old pieces of a 1924 pipe organ, stained glass panels, an 1880 mantel and much more.

His son Ray remembers helping his father salvage the wood, door knobs, life ring and other items from the sunken vessel. From the Star, Papa Ray, with design help from his son built an entirely separate room — the “boat room” in the rear of the restaurant. That room, like the Star, is also air conditioned, paneled in the original rich woods, and its ceiling beams are supported by the almost century-old wood knees handcrafted by the Real McCoy’s craftsmen. It is a wonderful place to sit, drink cocktails or fine wine, eat great food, and immerse oneself into a classic era of another time.

I want to again thank Jim Webb for his memories of the Lopez family and the many brochures of the Star he has saved, Jim Martin for his vast knowledge of the history of the Star and the photos he shared, Henry Lowe for the information he shared about his brother Jim’s ownership of the Star, as well as Dave Torre for originally contacting me inquiring about the vessel he once called home, Alvin Lederer for the use of his photos, and to Billy Oliver and Ray Bozicnik for their information on the conclusion of this story.

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The Star of the Everglades Its Journey From the 1920s to Today Fri, 24 Jan 2014 18:42:50 +0000 COASTAL HISTORY
Craig Woodward

B1-CBN-1-24-14-2Mention the vessel Star of the Everglades to local, long-time residents, and it brings a big smile to their faces. Soon, they are flooded with memories of this fabulous boat which was aptly named the Star. Not only was the Star a luxury cruise boat for its day, but it also opened up the Ten Thousand Islands to world-class fishing. Digging into the vessel’s history, one quickly hears stories. Its first owner made money in the bird feather, or plume, trade in the late 1800s. The boat’s builder was extremely wealthy, becoming famous by running whiskey during Prohibition. The Star played a role in a classic 1958 film made in the Everglades, and several U.S. presidents had been on it. Of course, there are many twists and turns to every journey, and it turns out that there were actually two vessels named the Star

The first and original Star (the “of the Everglades” was added later) was owned by Gregorio Lopez, who was born in 1848 and is the great-grandfather of Jim Webb, a third-generation owner of the local hardware store in Everglades City. The Lopez family moved to Southwest Florida in 1873 from Spain when Gregorio left to gain economic freedom. The family settled along a very remote river located southeast of Chokoloskee Island — later named the Lopez River. The Lopez home site, like most pioneer settlements in the Ten Thousand Islands, was built on an old Indian shell mound. Today, it is one of the first campsites on the Wilderness Waterway, which winds its way for 99 miles south of Chokoloskee through the Everglades National Park to the town of Flamingo on the southernmost tip of mainline Southwest Florida, Cape Sable. A tabby mortar rainwater cistern built by Gregorio Lopez in the 1890s is located on the old homestead; the family wrote an inscription into it that reads “child Lopes born April 20, 1892.” Those who have camped at this spot say that Mr. Lopez picked the most beautiful location for his home with an awesome view over the river.

Around the end of the 19th century, Gregorio had a financially rewarding career as a plume hunter, moving on to become an alligator hunter when plume hunting became illegal. He saw the start of the tourist industry in Southwest Florida and purchased the first yacht, Star, to take fishermen south from Everglade (the future Everglades City) down to the mouth of the Shark River in the Ten Thousand Islands for sport fishing. It is not clear when the first Star was purchased, but most likely, Lopez seized the opportunity around the time of the birth of Collier County in 1923, when the southernmost of Barron G. Collier’s chain of hotels — the Rod and Gun Club and the Everglades Inn —
began bringing in eager fisherman arriving weekly on a steamship line that Collier operated.

The original Star of the Everglades (c. 1950s) owned by the Lopez family of Chokoloskee and filmed in the movie Wind Across the Everglades. PhotoS by Jim Webb

The original Star of the Everglades (c. 1950s) owned by the Lopez family of Chokoloskee and filmed in the movie Wind Across the Everglades. PhotoS by Jim Webb

The Lopez River was not the only waterway named by Gregorio Lopez in the late 1800s. He named Plate Creek after having dropped a plate in the water, and he chose the name Onion Key for an island just inside the mouth of the Shark River simply because he ate his last onion there. Onion Key was another Indian shell mound. Its big claim to fame occurred during Florida’s 1920’s land boom when the Tropical Florida Development Corporation acquired an interest in three square miles of land, or 1,920 acres, and in 1925, drew out a subdivision of 8,933 lots, naming their project “Poinciana” and marketing it widely as “The Coming Miami of the Gulf.” It was almost impossible to travel to the project so most of their sales were by advertising this “new Miami.” They were truly selling mangrove swamp land. The “development” died after the 1926 hurricane wiped out Onion Key which killed the Florida’s 1920s land boom.

Gregorio, Sr., and his Florida born wife, Lovie, (from a local family, the Daniels) raised three boys — Gregorio, Jr. (known as “Grady”), Alphonso and Joseph (Jim Webb’s grandfather) — and a daughter, Ida Mae. Passport records showed that in 1918 Gregorio, Sr., listed his occupation as a farmer, and he left the U.S. for health reasons to go to Honduras, which was then Spanish-owned. Gregorio’s sons stepped in and followed in their dad’s footsteps all becoming fishing guides, as were some of Gregorio’s grandsons. Gregorio, Sr., died at age 84 on August 4, 1932, and is buried at the Lopez cemetery on Chokoloskee Island.

Capt. Grady Lopez with his daughter, Rosina Thompson.

Capt. Grady Lopez with his daughter, Rosina Thompson.

An early Collier County fishing brochure mentions that the fabulous Shark River Cruiser, the Star of the Everglades, then operated by Grady (Gregorio Lopez, Jr.), was 40 feet long and could take parties of four or five. The vessel had its own cook, and in 1949, cost $55 per day with one guide (Grady). It pulled a small boat behind it; however, if one chose to have a second guide and a second small boat, the price increased by $20. At the time, there was plenty of competition, as the guide pamphlet shows 29 other captains guiding out of Everglades City in small boats ranging from 18 feet to larger Cabin Cruisers (many made locally and known as Chokoloskee Cruisers) ranging in size from 28 feet with two bunks to 34 feet with four bunks.

Grady Lopez was selected to take Franklin Delano Roosevelt fishing out of Everglades City; FDR being one of five U.S. presidents to have visited Everglades City. In 1947, President Harry Truman was in Everglades City for the opening of the Everglades National Park, and he was entertained on the Star. After the airport in Everglades opened in 1947, not only could “fresh bait” be flown to the Star, but the brochure also said that if one had “pressing business problems, arrangements can be made to fly to and from the fishing grounds by charter service.”

In 1949, Collier County’s seat of government, Everglades City, was described as: “… fishermen are drawn (to it) from every state in the Union by persistent reports of superlative fishing every month in the year. In Everglades, the official weighing station in front of the Rod and Gun Club is the center of attraction every afternoon at 5 when the fleet comes in. There you see the evidence, the prize-winning fish, the tournament-winning fish, the world’s record fish, all caught on an Everglades boat with an Everglades guide. It is from the Everglades that most of the fabulous Shark River cruisers set out, an adventure comparable to an expedition into Africa bringing back impressive trophies and motion pictures of the greatest moments in anyone’s life.” It was in the early 1950s when President Dwight Eisenhower came to Everglades to fish and also was on the Star.

Grady turned over the ownership and operation of the Star to his daughter, Rosina, and her husband, Jim Thompson. By the 1950s, fishing guides left the Rod and Gun at 8 AM and were back at 5 PM, except for the Shark River cruisers which were gone for several days or up to a week or so. Jim Webb was a cabin boy in the original Star in 1957. His job was to clean up and make the beds. He laid out food, and like the rest of the crew and the guides, slept on the top deck when the vessel overnighted down in the Ten Thousand Islands. The guests slept below in private cabins. Also located on that first level were the galley, dining area and bathrooms. The first Star did not have air conditioning and ran only in the winters.

In the most famous movie made in Collier County — the 1958 “Wind Across the Everglades” starring Christopher Plummer, Burl Ives, Peter Falk and Gypsy Rose Lee — there is a scene of a July 4 celebration filmed on the beach at Marco Island. As the Star travels just off of Marco’s beach, its decks are full of women who are, shall we say, of “dubious character.” They are seen smiling and waving at the townspeople with their families as they party on the beach and set off firecrackers. Trouble brews when a few of the local men on the beach are directly acknowledged by these women calling out to them from the Star. Immediately, the men get concerned looks and questions from their wives as to how they know these women!

‘Star of the Everglades’ painted by retired Collier County Deputy J.B. Singletary. Photo by Jim Webb

‘Star of the Everglades’ painted by retired Collier County Deputy J.B. Singletary. Photo by Jim Webb

In the early 1960s, the Star left Everglades City for the last time, and later returned as the new Star, a 65-foot-long, plush, richly-appointed yacht built in 1927 and purchased by the Lopez family to upgrade the experience for those wealthy enough to charter it for long trips down to the remote rivers of the lower Ten Thousand Islands. This Star would have an equally interesting journey. It moved to Naples for a few years. Then was lived aboard on Marco, moved to Remuda Ranch (now Port of the Islands) and came back to Marco Island to its final resting place in Goodland. To be continued…

I want to thank Jim Webb for his memories of the Lopez family and the many photos and brochures of the Star he has saved. I also will be thanking many others who contributed to this story, but will save the details until the next issue.

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Mystery at Hideaway Beach Wed, 23 Oct 2013 13:24:49 +0000 COASTAL HISTORY
Craig Woodward

Alligator specimen captured alive by A.W. Dimock in 1906 in the Ten Thousand Islands and tied inside his skiff. IMAGE 46709 AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY LIBRARY

Alligator specimen captured alive by A.W. Dimock in 1906 in the Ten Thousand Islands and tied inside his skiff. IMAGE 46709 AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY LIBRARY

In September of 2010 the Marco Island Police Department received a concerned phone call saying that someone had discovered a number of large bones near the shore during a very low tide at Hideaway Beach. Sergeant Hector Diaz, who responded to the call, could see that the bones were projecting from what appeared to be an old wooden barrel – the remains of which were adjacent to the bones, making it appear the body had once been placed inside the barrel. Gene Erjavec, a Marco Islander who has worked on many local archaeological digs was called in to help identify the bones. He concluded that “It appeared to be a whole alligator stuffed in an old wooden barrel with an unusual stone found in the barrel, similar to a ballast stone. The barrel looked as if it had been buried in the sand for decades perhaps over a century.”

So numerous questions arise: Why would an alligator be placed inside a wooden barrel and when did this happen? Also, how did both the barrel and the alligator end up in the Gulf of Mexico to be eventually buried along a Marco beach? Lastly, why is there a single stone, looking like a ballast stone, found in the barrel?

While it is perhaps impossible to know what really happened, let’s explore some possibilities: First, and obviously, the animal found, an alligator, was not uncommon. After all, Marco Island is just west of the Big Cypress and the Everglades. In fact, after George Storter, Jr. established his trading post in 1892 in what is now known as Everglades City, he reported having traded for and sold 100,000 alligator skins in a six week period. He acquired them from locals as well as the Seminole Indians, with his principal market being bulk purchasers for northern markets. Ten years before that, it was reported that it was not uncommon for hunters to have taken a thousand of the reptiles from just one small lake in the Big Cypress. By 1898 it was reported that “the principal dealer on the west coast of Florida bought three or four hundred hides daily from about fifty hunters and kept a schooner running to Key West with hides and returning with cargos of salt, ammunition and grub. The price paid alligator hunters for hides varies from one dollar for those measuring seven feet, or over, down to ten cents for such as measure less than four feet in length.” The cargos of salt, ammunition and grub brought back to our area were used to restock the alligator hunters so that they could continue to hunt, skin and cure more hides.

At the time, the most efficient way to harvest alligators quickly was at night using a method called “Fire-hunting.” It was described as being so deadly, “that after a hunter has swept the surface of a river with his light it is scarcely worthwhile to look for alligators in that stream (again).” This method was described by A.W. Dimock, a retired New York stockbroker who travelled extensively in Southwest Florida: “Fire-hunting for alligators is a business, is butchery—bloody and revolting.” Yet he also describes his first nighttime adventure at fire-hunting as all “romance and thrill.”

As Dimock directed the lantern mounted on his forehead at an alligator in a small lake, the boat’s pilot moved the boat closer to the dull red reflected gleam from the gator’s eyes, when they got closer they could determine the size of the animal from the distance between his eyes, and Dimock was advised to wait until he could hold his gun so near the alligator’s head that the “bullet smashed his skull.” After that night Dimock says he never fire-hunted with anything other than a camera. Dimock wrote in his book “Florida Enchantments,” published in 1908, that: “The fire-hunter has so nearly wiped out the saurian inhabitants of the rivers and lakes of the coast that their pursuit no longer affords him a living.”

On Marco Island just south from Hideaway Beach, where the alligator and barrel were found, is Clam Bay; years ago it was described as being full of alligators (the bay is east of the current South Seas Condominiums). This bay once flushed out into the Gulf of Mexico through Clam Slough which cut through today’s beachfront, just south of the current Tigertail Beach. A. W. Dimock mentions one evening in 1908 when a Marco boy was told that a small “colony” of five alligators had been seen at Clam Slough: “I’ll go down to-night and git ‘em, said he.” Dimock describes that later on that moonless night the boy sculled a leaky little canoe out the Big Marco Pass and down the beach to Clam Slough where he killed the five gators. The next day the boy was seen at the Marco store swapping the five hides for three dollars worth of ammunition, tobacco and grits.

Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) bones found on Hideaway Beach in an old barrel. Bones cleaned and numbered by Craighead Laboratory. Alligator is missing its head, tail, feet and other small bones. DR. EDWARD SAEKS AND CRAIG R. WOODWARD

Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) bones found on Hideaway Beach in an old barrel. Bones cleaned and numbered by Craighead Laboratory. Alligator is missing its head, tail, feet and other small bones. DR. EDWARD SAEKS AND CRAIG R. WOODWARD

But with alligator hides so valuable, why go to the trouble of catching a live one? Around the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was money to be made in capturing wild animals in Southwest Florida and transporting them to northern zoos and aquariums for exhibits. In fact, between 1904 and 1913 A.W. Dimock and his son, Julian, captured a number of local animals and sent them north to New York zoos. They reported having captured a bear, manatees, a dozen pelicans, crocodiles, alligators and other local animals.

The procedure to catch an alligator alive is described as using a “tiny harpoon, stopped down so it could only penetrate an inch beyond the bard and inflict but a trifling wound. We put a little strain on the harpoon line, the purpose of which was to enable us to follow the creature until we could get a rope around his nose. After a few hours of captivity almost anything could be done with the reptile… (but) these alligators often played possum with us and allowed themselves to be tied in a skiff without a kick….(we) were always on the lookout for a chance (for them) to make trouble and once when we were quietly sailing down a river, towing a skiff in which we had tied a ‘gator, the creature thought we had forgotten him and breaking one of the lines which held him, bit a piece out of the skiff, capsized it and rolled over and over with it in the water.”

Another method to capture a live alligator was described by A. W. Dimock; “no ‘gator, large or small, can resist a peculiar call that resembles the grunt of a pig.” In 1906, a local Florida Cracker near the Broad River in the Ten Thousand Islands, demonstrated to the Dimocks this grunting technique to get alligators to surface.

Remains of Wooden Barrel found partially submerged along Hideaway Beach along with a small rock looking like a ballast stone found inside. PHOTO By GENE ERJAVEC

Remains of Wooden Barrel found partially submerged along Hideaway Beach along with a small rock looking like a ballast stone found inside. PHOTO By GENE ERJAVEC

What about the “ballast” stone found at Hideaway Beach? It is not a native south Florida rock and one is left wondering if there were more stones that had been used to weigh the bottom of the barrel down to perhaps offset the thrashing of the alligator (?); or perhaps there was only one stone that someone had used to throw it at the gator while in the barrel? We do know from the bone structure of the gator that it is estimated to have been approximately five feet long. The head, tail, feet and some other parts of the anatomy were missing when the remains were found at Hideaway Beach.

Of this mystery the one fact we can clearly establish with some reliability is how the barrel and gator got to where it was found. That is, the barrel with the alligator trapped inside must have washed off the deck of a boat to have ended up completely buried along Hideaway’s beachfront.

While A.W. Dimock was a writer, his son, Julian, was an excellent photographer and he took literally thousands of photos of Southwest Florida wildlife, as well as some of the animals they captured for transport to northern zoos. Fortunately for us, the Dimocks also wrote and illustrated a number of books and magazine articles about their experiences in Florida. During the time they were in Southwest Florida they used Old Marco as their headquarters and ventured down through the 10,000 Islands as well as inland toward Henderson Creek, Immokalee and Deep Lake.

The Marco Island Historical Society has been fortunate to reach an agreement with the American Museum of Natural History in New York to exhibit some of the Dimock photos taken in Southwest Florida in the early 1900s, and this new photo exhibit will be shown at the Marco Island Historical Museum from January 2 to March 29 of 2014, in conjunction with a new book coming out regarding the Dimocks’ travels and adventures in our area, entitled “Enchantments” by Jerald T. Milanich and Nina J. Root. The Everglades Society for Historical Preservation contributed to the upgrading of the local photographs in this new book.

So as we speculate about the recent find from Hideaway Beach, we are left glimpsing into a moment in time when Florida creatures were strange and unique, and a time that while the vast majority of alligators were discarded in the wild after being skinned; only a few were kept alive to be transported north for an eager public to view at exhibitions.

I thank Hector Diaz, Gene Erjavec, and Dr. Edward Saeks, for their contributions of information for this article.

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Unknown Islands & Marco’s Geological Growth Sat, 06 Apr 2013 04:20:53 +0000 By Craig Woodward

So, have you been to Karina Island or Pelican Island? Even readers who are very familiar with the Marco Island area and the adjacent 10,000 Islands may ask “Where?” to that question. But even more amazing, for some local residents the answer is not only “Yes,” but that they currently live there. Many others have actually been there often without realizing it!

Tigertail Beach and Lagoon with the former Pelican Island now incorporated into Marco Island and almost invisible lying north of South Seas condominiums and extending into the western part of Hideaway Beach.

Tigertail Beach and Lagoon with the former Pelican Island now incorporated into Marco Island and almost invisible lying north of South Seas condominiums and extending into the western part of Hideaway Beach.

We need to travel back in time 120 years to 1893 and take a peek at a U.S. Coast and Geodetic Nautical Chart of that era to help answer the question.

First a little background may help. When I was growing up on Marco in the late 1960’s, my Boy Scout troop would often camp on the “north beach,” which was located on what is now known as Hideaway Beach. In those days the north beach faced the Gulf of Mexico with the landward side of the beach bordered by a large strand of tall Australian pine trees. Our troop would arrive with our tents and gear via pickup truck, driving up a dirt road which was west of the current Spinnaker Drive. We set up camp on the beach above the high water line and close to the pine trees – but never under the trees as the mosquitoes were intense and would swarm in an area with no breeze. We often swam out into the Gulf a few hundred feet over deep water to a place where we could actually stand; an underwater sandbar which was covered with sand dollars. They could easily be picked up with one’s toes and brought to the surface and were all live creatures: some large, others very small, all brown and furry. While some beach goers were into filling buckets with them and killing them with bleach for their shell collections, we Scouts kept them alive and tossed them in a Florida version of skipping stones.

It was not very long ago, in fact in the 1970’s, that this sandbar arose from the sea and became its own island known as “Sand Dollar Island.” Later, in the 1980s, it was big news when it attached itself to the main beach in the area, which was just north of South Seas Condominiums, and then continued to grow and curve around the north beach creating an inland lagoon where previously we had once swam across deep water. Looking at a current aerial map one can see that this new huge beach, now part of Tigertail Beach, added greatly to the westward protrusion of the north end of Marco’s unique crescent shaped beach.


Sand Dollar Island is only the most recent example of how Marco Island has widened over a mile to the west from its original historic beachfront located along the current Bald Eagle Drive. Sandbars rose up, connected, created trapped lagoons behind them, mangroves and vegetation grew and filled the lagoons, and the entire process repeated itself generation after generation as the Island grew wider and wider. An excellent book, “Naples Waterfront: Changes in Time,” by Todd T. Turrell provides 1952 aerials of Marco and includes transparent overlays showing the current platted lots and their locations over the historic topography. One can find their own or friends’ properties and see how Deltona carefully designed the Island to locate as many streets and lots as possible in the areas of beach ridges, and constructed the canals and waterways in the areas which had been former lagoons.

So that brings us back to “Pelican Island” – a name lost to history. However, if you carefully examine the attached 1893 coastal chart, you will find it. A narrow spit of land, on the north end of the beach looking very similar to the future Sand Dollar Island: attached to the main beach at the south end of the spit, and also with a lagoon on its east side. Examining a little closer the 1893 Coastal Chart you can see that the lagoon adjacent to Pelican Island exits north into Big Marco Pass.

South of this area, years before Clam Bay was created in a similar fashion by a sandbar that arose and formed the beach ridge that the South Seas Condominiums are now built on. Unlike so many other trapped lagoons that grew over with mangroves, Clam Bay escaped that fate because of the tidal flow via Clam Slough which went through Marco’s beach (“slough” being another name for a “pass” which is not always navigable).

When the first permanent settler of Marco Island, W. T. Collier (the father of Capt. Collier, the builder of the Old Marco Inn), arrived on the Island, he settled his family in the area of Hideaway Beach and built a small bridge over Clam Slough in the 1870’s. A hundred years later in the early 1970’s, one walking the beach would still have been forced to forge a deep pass cutting through the beach where Clam Slough exited into the Gulf. It was actually quite dangerous to wade across if the tide was high as the flowing water moved rapidly and was deep. However, nature was slowly closing this pass. In fact, but for the Corps of Engineers granting Deltona’s permit for the Collier Bay area in 1976, Clam Bay would have followed Marco’s natural geologic history and become a trapped lagoon, later to fill up and be a swamp covered with mangroves. To avoid this fate, Deltona built the flat bridge on North Collier Blvd. and another bridge at Hernando Dr. to flush Clam Bay with tidal flow to keep the Bay from stagnating.

The Island claimed by Shipp’s Landing on July 4, 1998. Jim and Karen O’Donnell with their daughters Kelly and Trish.

The Island claimed by Shipp’s Landing on July 4, 1998. Jim and Karen O’Donnell with their daughters Kelly and Trish.

So, back to our original question – where is the Pelican Island of the late 1800’s? Clearly, over time it lost its name as the former island became part of the main beach, widened, became more stable and turned into beachfront. Today the south end of the former Pelican Island is the original Tigertail beach located on the eastern side of the current lagoon; Spinnaker Drive is located in the center while the north end of Pelican Island is Waterside Drive in the Hideaway Beach subdivision.

And where is the former lagoon shown in the coastal chart of 1893? It clearly became a trapped lagoon as the pass flushing north into the Big Marco River closed off. Later the south parts of it were dredged to create the waterways east of the Tigertail Beach’s parking lot and waterways east of Spinnaker Drive in the Blackmore Street area. To the north, the 1893 lagoon still remains in its natural state as a remnant leaving inland ponds full of mangroves and vegetation between Waterside Drive and Hideaway Circle.

What of Karina Island? Again, if we look at the map, you will see a very small island located in the middle of the Caxambas Pass. This pass has been very dynamic over the years and sand has shifted in and out creating sandbars and small islands. Many who are familiar with the pass know that there is currently a small sandbar in the pass due south of Shipp’s Landing which, until last year, was an island with a bird and turtle nesting site, but was over-washed after a tropical storm. This unnamed island also previously appeared after the Shipp’s Landing Condominiums were first built. In fact, by around 1998, the Shipps’ condo owners mounted a flagpole on the Island, flew their condo flag and claimed the island as part of their domain! It became a favorite place for beach parties. If you examine the 1893 Coastal Chart, Karina Island appears to be slightly west of the current sandbar, but is still in Caxambas Pass. As a result “Karina” would be a logical, as well as a historic name, if a new island ever re-forms.

What do we learn from all of this? First, it is amazing how tides, storms, shifting sands and currents quickly destroy or create islands, spits of land and beaches. In just a short time, in fact in less than 20 years, a sand bar that arose became Sand Dollar Island, lost its “island status,” attached to the beach and became a large land mass and rookery for birds and marine animals – in the exact same way and in same place at least 100 years prior. Pelican Island also become an integral part of Marco’s beach and in fact, largely helped to create its crescent shape. Secondly, that shape, a crescent, is due in part to sand and movement from our two major passes: Marco River to the north and Caxambas Pass to the south. Lastly, it is clear that our beachfront is a dynamic environment, ever changing and, if left alone, over time natural forces would continue to grow the Island larger and larger in a westward direction.

A special thank you to Jim O’Donnell for his photo of the flagpole on the Island claimed as Shipp’s Landing Phase IV.

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The Predator of the Sea: Marco’s Commercial Shark Fishing Fri, 25 Jan 2013 00:06:48 +0000 By Craig Woodward

1977 Aerial of the former Coconut Island located due north of Hideaway Beach’s Royal Marco Point, and west of Isle of Capri. SUBMITTED PHOTO

1977 Aerial of the former Coconut Island located due north of Hideaway Beach’s Royal Marco Point, and west of Isle of Capri. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The former Coconut Island was a traditional place to raft up your boat, along with your friends’ boats, on a lazy Sunday afternoon and have a cookout on the beach while everyone swam and simply relaxed. It was a beautiful location – just north of the future Hideaway Beach, due east of Isles of Capri, situated in the mouth of the Marco River and the view to the west was of the Gulf of Mexico and the setting sun. Hurricane Donna created Coconut Island in 1960 when the south tip of Cannon Island was cut off; over time this little Island shifted and moved some but was mostly stabilized by tall Australian pine trees that dominated the north end of the island.

Few of the many visitors to Coconut Island, as they swam off the beach, knew that these waters formerly held hundreds of hooked sharks, and even fewer sun worshipers realized, as they lay on the beach, that they were tanning in an area where the sharks had been pulled ashore, killed, skinned and the meat butchered for sale.

The son of the local barber in the small village of Marco (now known as Old Marco), Francis Howard, was one fisherman who made his living in the shark business. Francis would take his boat offshore and, with hundreds of feet of chain, set a floating line of 50 gallon drums secured by anchors at the ends and attach numerous strong fishing lines off of the chain with large baited hooks creating what is known as a “long-line.” Dave Johnson, who grew up in Old Marco and whose father Roger participated in the early 1960’s in some of the “sharking,” describes this type of fishing as “a trout-line on steroids.”

Francis would return to Marco after setting his baits and would check the lines daily. It was important to keep the sharks alive so that their meat would be fresh for processing and, in addition, a hooked shark could be quickly damaged. Male lemon sharks, sensing that other sharks were hooked, would often swim along the line taking a bite out of almost every other shark, damaging each hide and, upon finding a bait available, would swallow it hook and all. Upon getting enough sharks attached, Francis would release a long line and drag it with the hooked sharks behind his boat back to the beach for processing.

After a shark’s skin has been removed and dried it is known as shagreen. For many years there was no commercial market for shagreen as the skin protecting the shark has a hard exterior, horny layer with small denticles (placoid scales) that are impossible to remove by mechanical means. Shark skins were used by Southwest Florida’s native Calusa Indians as coarse sandpaper to polish wood and also by South Pacific natives as the membranes on drums. However, on April 27, 1920, shortly after WWI, a U.S. patent was obtained by Allen Rogers for the “Improvements in Treating of Shark-Skins and the like Preparatory to Tanning” to remove the “hard or horny coating known as dermal armoring.” Rogers assigned his patent to the Ocean Leather Company of New York who, for over 60 years, held a virtual monopoly on the production of shark skin. The chemical process used was to soak the skins in a solution of salt and hydrochloric acid which, after a couple of hours, dissolved the denticles, and then the hides were colored as part of the finishing process. The final result was smooth skins much more elastic than pigskin, 150 times more resistant, and sturdier than cow leather. The market for shark skin was in making cowboy boots, handbags, belts, key and lighter cases, watch straps, sandals, gun holsters, cigar cases, briefcases, wallets and purses, and the like.

In the Journal of American Leather Chemists Association in a 1920 article, Allen Rogers, inventor of this patent, wrote that after being brought to shore, the sharks were killed using an axe (later they were often shot) and stated, “Dressing starts at once. Fins and tails removed – fins tacked on a rack and allowed to dry in the sun – used by the Chinese for making soup. Fish cut down the back and circular cut around the neck and gills. Skin removed so only the holes of the pectoral fins and rectal opening remains in the pelt. Flayed skins placed in salt for 24 hours.”

Other reports said that saltwater was brushed on the skin’s surface or it was hosed well with saltwater to remove the impurities before the hides were soaked in salt brine. Upon removal they were dried in racks in the shade overnight, salted more on the flesh side with a preservative, and placed in piles about three feet high. The piles were laid out to dry for up to a week. It was a major problem if it started to rain or fresh water ran on the skins during the drying process as that would create “sour spots” or discolor them and significantly reduce the value. At one time, Ocean Leather Company was paying a 20 percent bonus for hides without any cuts or flaws. After drying, the skins were re-salted and folded into flat bundles, flesh side inwards, with the bundles wrapped so air could get in, usually with burlap, and sold that way.

Faye Dickerson Brown remembers in 1959 when she was a senior at Naples High School and her good friend Lois invited Faye to go “sharking” with Lois’s brother, Francis Howard, his wife Emily, and Lois’s sister, Lettie, and her three children. At the time Francis was using the “north beach” or what is now known as Hideaway Beach for shark processing. Faye remembers Howard bringing their party to the beach after already having pulled in a long line.

Faye describes what happened: “Francis’s wife Emily sat upon the bow of the boat and cut the shark meat up into steaks which she said they sold to the Rod & Gun Club in Everglades to be sold on the menu as swordfish steaks. Once we found something in a shark’s belly and it was sized and shaped like a man’s lower leg! We all held our breath while Francis split open the stomach and pulled out a smaller shark from the larger shark’s belly. A four foot shark had taken the fish bait and the larger shark swallowed the smaller shark behind its head and was caught. I remember eight to ten foot sharks, mostly Tiger, Nurse and Lemon sharks.”

Of all the Florida sharks fished for, the most sought-after and profitable was the Tiger shark. In 1968, the skin of a 12-foot Tiger shark brought a base price of $12.50, added was a bonus of 50 percent because it was a Tiger; the meat sold for at least $10; and the fins (which were small) $3 additional, resulting in more than $30 for the one catch.

Faye continues her story about that day in 1959 with her friends on north beach: “We went dressed in our swim suits and sometimes swam near where the sharks were being skinned which was a crazy thing to have done.” Apparently they were simply following local tradition; in 50 years not much had changed.

A Tiger shark being pulled out of the water by Francis Howard assisted by Roger Johnson on the block and tackle, and Francis’ sister, Lois (Howard) Crews on the dock. PHOTOS BY Dave Johnson

A Tiger shark being pulled out of the water by Francis Howard assisted by Roger Johnson on the block and tackle, and Francis’ sister, Lois (Howard) Crews on the dock. PHOTOS BY Dave Johnson

Julian Dimock, with his father, headquartered their Everglades adventures on Marco, wrote in 1908: “In Marco women and children swim about the dock from which men are fishing for sharks, and more than once, while swimming there with my daughter, fifty feet from shore, I have seen a shark glide between us and the bank.” Clearly Dimock did not seem the least bit worried about his daughter repeatedly swimming with sharks while today this activity would seem worrisome as many are paranoid about sharks. In earlier times, when people were much closer to nature, they understood that, for the most part, sharks were pretty harmless and they held no cause for alarm. However, it is fortunate that humans do not taste as good as a tarpon, as Dimock also writes about fishing for tarpon and ending up with a shark on the line: “A fourteen foot shark is likely to have taken in half of your six-foot tarpon at a single bite.”

Shark meat that was not good enough to be sold to restaurants could be made into fish scrap for fertilizer as it contains about 15 to 17 percent nitrogen. Another profitable part of the shark was the removal and processing of its liver. One Tiger shark caught was 7’8” long, yielded nine square feet of skin, weighed 128 pounds and its liver weighed 24 pounds – slightly over the average for Tiger sharks whose livers normally weigh about 17.5 percent of their total weight.

Inventor Allen Rogers, in 1920, again describes the process: “Livers go into a barrel to disintegrate them in steam jacketed kettles and heated to boiling for about one hour. From kettles the oil is run into washing and settling tanks where the gurry is separated, oil runs into a tank, is washed and then stored for shipment.”

Sharks are unique sea animals as they have no swim bladder and their buoyancy in water is maintained by their large livers saturated with oil. The processed oil from shark livers was used as fine machine oil or as a lubricant as it has a very low melting point and a very high boiling point. It was also used in cosmetics, skin healing and for health products. During WWII, a large boom in the business occurred as it was discovered that shark oil could be used to produce Vitamin A which helped the night vision of fighter pilots. That market collapsed when synthetic Vitamin A was discovered in 1947.

Ocean Leather Company started production around 1923 in the Florida Keys where, by 1930, they were catching and processing an average of 100 sharks a day. Almost everything connected with the sharks was used with the oil being processed by Hydenoil Products. One comment at the time about the harvesting process of sharks was that “the odor was quite strong.” By 1964, Ocean Leather Company, in its northern plant, was processing about 16,000 shark hides annually. Because 98 percent of its production was sold in Texas, the company did not try to market elsewhere as they could hardly keep up with the demand from the Lone Star State.

Dave Johnson mentioned one spectacular day of Marco sharking: “The day they brought in the Great White was quite an event. Nobody had ever seen one before. It was 19-feet long and as you can see from the photo, something pretty big as well had bit a large chunk out of its pectoral fin before it was harvested.” Presumably that bite was from a male lemon shark.

On Marco, the sharking business died off around 1963 or 1964. Dave mentions living on the north end of the Island at the time: “A little down side to the enterprise was the fact that when the wind blew from the west, the smell of those drying shark fins was strong enough in Old Marco to make you think twice about ever trying the soup!” Development was coming to Marco Island and Coconut Island itself was divided up into 100 foot strips and sold off as privately owned parcels by the mid 1960’s.

Francis Howard standing on a makeshift dock at Coconut Island bringing in a shark for processing. Just off the dock can be seen the Great White Shark caught that day with a bite taken out of its pectoral fin.

Francis Howard standing on a makeshift dock at Coconut Island bringing in a shark for processing. Just off the dock can be seen the Great White Shark caught that day with a bite taken out of its pectoral fin.

A major change also happened in the shark skin business: while Francis and other fishermen of his time had caught a few sharks by hooks and lines, the industry changed after sharking on Marco had ceased, as it became routine for large vessels to net hundreds of sharks at a time. In fact, by the mid-1980’s, from its world production of shark hides, Ocean Leather Company was handling around 50,000 shark skins annually. That number probably pales by the amount of sharks caught for their fins by the Chinese.

Meanwhile, the growing environmental movement did not bid well for the growing shark industry. Research revealed that sharks have a very slow growth rate, come to sexual maturity late in life and have relatively few offspring after a long gestation period. For a number of years, the number of sharks harvested was twice the number of new sharks born, creating an alarming situation.

Between 2004 and 2008, an estimated 800,000 sharks were killed by recreational fisherman off the Gulf coast and the Atlantic Ocean. Research from North Carolina pointed out that when the shark population declined, the ray population increased from having no natural predators. As a result, more rays ate more bay scallops creating an economic loss of local commercial scallop fisheries. As the predator of the seas, sharks keep fish populations healthy by eating the sick or injured and by scavenging the dead.

There are now Federal and Florida laws protecting sharks with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission listing 25 different varieties as Protected (Prohibited) Species. A year ago, on January 1, 2012 Florida added Tiger sharks and three different types of Hammerheads to the list of sharks that are prohibited from all harvest, possession, landing, purchase, sale or exchange because their populations had declined by over 50 percent. Ocean Leather Corporation (as it was later known) is no longer in existence. The decline of business in shark skins is attributed to the popularity of eating shark meat which requires that the shark be put on ice, which spoils the hides while the skin remains intact to protect the meat. Today, many shark products including shark skin, as well as shark cartilage pills (presumably to ward off cancer) are produced in China.

Coconut Island continued to grow smaller and smaller and shifted to the south and then completely disappeared in 2005. Coconut Island had existed for 45 years, from 1960 to 2005, and in similar fashion, the knowledge that there once was commercial shark fishing on Marco has also faded away.

I want to thank David Johnson, Faye Brown and Lois Crews for sharing their memories of Marco commercial “sharking” with me.


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REMEMBERING HELEN: Building the Marco Community Thu, 29 Nov 2012 22:19:12 +0000 By Craig Woodward 

On Wednesday, November 14, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, a church which first opened 46 years earlier in November of 1966, many old timers came together to celebrate the life of a Modern Marco pioneer – Helen Tateo. She and her husband, Vince, moved to Marco Island in August of 1966, just a little over a year and a half after the official grand opening of the Island on January 31, 1965. They had first visited in February of 1966 and within eight months moved here permanently, bringing with them their three young sons: Paul, age 11; Jess, age 10; and Todd, age 6. In unique fashion like other pioneers before them, they arrived by water, traveling aboard a 36’ cruiser south from Norwalk, Connecticut on an almost two month voyage down the inter-coastal waterway and crossing the Florida peninsula via the Lake Okeechobee Waterway.

Vincent and Helen Tateo.

The Tateo family was exactly what the Mackle Brothers, the developers of Marco Island, were seeking as permanent residents: as developers their emphasis was not just in building roads, seawalls, and creating lots and constructing houses, but they were also building the fabric of a healthy, vibrant community. Extensive marketing was done to draw purchasers wanting to be a part of the Mackle vision of a unique tropical Polynesian lifestyle: an outdoor lifestyle focused on boating, fishing and sports, situated on an Island with an unparalleled pristine crescent beach. While other Florida developers of the era simply platted large tracts of land into rectangular lots, constructed roads and drainage, the Mackles were specifically chosen by the heirs of the county’s namesake, Barron Collier, to participate in an exciting joint venture on the development of Marco Island. The Colliers knew the Mackles had an exceptional performance record and that the Mackles understood the real key to building a community was the human side, the people; the first pioneers who moved to a raw, undeveloped area and created the dynamic energy and excitement that drew others in. Marco was to be a totally planned community with 71 acres set aside for schools, 55 acres committed for churches, 90 acres for parks and beach access, and thousands of acres as preserves and native habitats. Over 11 acres were set aside for libraries, a youth center and an art league and, in addition, 275 plus acres were committed for the building of a yacht club, a country club and other places for people to meet and socialize.

Not only were the Mackles visionaries, but early pioneers buying into the dream of Marco Island could also see into the future. While many purchased Marco property with the plan to retire years later or purchased lots as an investment, there were those who simply took the plunge, transplanted themselves, and chose to raise young families here; actions that took a true pioneer spirit and courage. Today it is almost impossible to look around and see what this Island was like in 1966, or even to understand what was not here.

What was here? Mosquitoes – so thick that as a person walked, they could literally swing their hands back, clinch their fists and kill large handfuls. Also, hundreds of construction workers swarming over the Island, driving over daily from Miami to build roads, dig canals, survey lots, and then leave the island when the construction whistle would blow in the late afternoon.

In 1966 Marco had a permanent population of maybe 500 people, one grocery store – if we wanted to call it that – a 7-11 located where Kretch’s restaurant is now on Bald Eagle Drive, a hardware store, barber shop and a Gulf gas station next door: the Island’s sole “shopping district.” No traffic lights existed, but it did not matter as there were no roads. Your only option for travel east to west was SR 92, later named San Marco Road (from which you could drive on to the beach); while your sole choice from north to south was CR 953 (re-named Bald Eagle Dr), with the north end in Old Marco called Lee Avenue, where the post office was located, and the south end heading through “The Pines” toward Caxambas. By mid 1966 only fifteen miles of new paved roads had been constructed and 4 . miles of concrete seawalls built.


The Tateos, like all residents, drove over the old Goodland swing bridge installed in 1938, out to Royal Palm Hammock and then to U.S. 41, adding an additional 14 miles to the trip to Naples. Naples was not much more developed. Islanders picked up their groceries at the closest Publix which was located across from the current Coastland Mall. Paul Tateo remembers trips to Naples where his parents would “totally fill up both the trunk and the backseat of their car with groceries to be brought back to the Island to feed three growing boys.” His school bus ride to downtown Gulfview Middle School was equally long until May of 1969 when the Marco Bridge (now re-named the Jolley Bridge) opened and everyone happily paid a 40 cent toll to return to the Island and cut the travel time. It is hard to imagine today, but it was difficult to purchase clothes or shoes in Naples unless one shopped at the more upscale stores on 5th or 3rd Avenues. The only department store was Grants and, because there was no orthodontist in Naples, Paul’s parents drove him on the old U.S. 41 north to Ft. Myers to get braces, where they often took the opportunity to buy items at the Edison Mall – the closest mall to Marco.

For early Islanders there were few restaurants and most social activities were at the new Yacht Club or County Club or entertaining at newly built homes with lanais overlooking canals and bays. The Tateos constructed a “Mackle Built” Polynesian style home and in 1968 moved in. The Tateos, like many who followed them, were into boating, keeping their boats at the new Yacht Club. The “Sea Witch”, the 35’ Chris Craft, a wooden cruiser they arrived in, required lots of varnish and kept the boys active. When Vince Tateo sold it, he then purchased a Tahiti 33’ Ketch sailboat named the “Ichiban,” also wood. After the maintenance on wooden boats got too much, “The Sword,” a 28’ fiberglass Irwin Sloop, replaced it. By 1976 it was sold and “Shellback,” a trawler purchased; within a ten year period, they had four boats. Not only was the entire family into boating but so was the second monkey they kept as a pet named “Charlie Brown,” who hung out with Vince and was often taken aboard to “assist” as he worked on his boats. One day Charlie was spotted sitting at an open tool box picking up each tool, examining it and tossing it overboard, another time he got a hold of a can of WD 40 and sprayed himself all over until he was caught by Paul, bit him and then Todd says as a result Charlie, “got deported to the Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs, to live out the remainder of his days with another tribe of monkeys in a large cage, surrounded by a pit of alligators.”

In a brand new community there were many opportunities and Vince Tateo decided to pursue his passion and started the first sailing school on the Island, as well as brokering boats. Meanwhile, his wife, Helen, followed her dream of having an art studio and gallery – both located upstairs in a two story commercial building in Old Marco (where Pier 81 condos now are built), above Lowe’s Marina and Jonnie Gantt Realty on the ground floor. The Tateos’ interest in boating resulted in numerous trips with family and friends north to Sanibel/Captiva, Useppa Island, Boca Grande, and south to Everglades City, the Keys, and to the Bahamas. Annually, Vince would race The Sword in the Summerset Regatta from Ft. Myers to Marco Island and back. In 1968 he was instrumental in the founding of the Sailing Association of Marco Island (SAMI) and was named its first Commodore. He also was involved in the formation of Marco’s Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 95, and was a Commodore. Boating classes were then held in the old Deltona Administration building where Marco’s main fire station is now located. Meanwhile, Helen’s art studio gallery evolved into the foundation for the Marco Art League.

Helen Tateo

For the Tateos, Marco was not a sleepy little island, and while TV reception via antenna was almost non-existent for the first three years, the boys were involved in more than just boat maintenance. Paul and Jess got jobs delivering the Marco Eagle, a new eight page newspaper costing 10 cents, written and published by Bill Tamplin, with its first issue dated March 31, 1968. Paul would later get a job scraping barnacles off boats at Marco River Marina and an after school job at Island Drug, while Jess went on to bus tables at the Old Marco Inn and Todd got a job as a beach boy at the Marco Beach Hotel & Villas. Their parents saw other opportunities and changed careers, obtaining their real estate licenses and after being employed by another company, decided to open their own in 1980 – Horizons-by-the-Sea Realty. By then Paul had gotten out of college and joined them; sadly, nine months after opening the business, Vince Tateo passed away at age 56. For the next thirty two years until her death earlier this month, Helen continued to enthusiastically sell Marco Island by communicating to others the vision and the dream that she and her family had achieved here and, as a result, she assisted hundreds of people make Marco their home. The Tateos’ three sons stayed on Marco and each continued to help build the Island like their parents had done, by pursuing their own careers: Paul as broker of Horizons Realty, Jess as a painting contractor, and Todd as a licensed appraiser. Helen would stay active as a member of the Episcopal Church and involved in the lives of her seven grandchildren, all raised on the Island and attended our local schools.

We often take for granted the relaxed outdoor lifestyle of Marco Island, the many clubs and organizations that are available, and the numerous activities we have, but none of it was by chance. Instead, it was the result of a fifty year old vision for this Island being fulfilled and the efforts of pioneers, like Vince and Helen Tateo who saw what Marco could become, pursued their dreams, raised their families and made Marco Island what it is today.

In 1969 at age 13, shortly after Vince Tateo had taught my family how to sail, I went with the Tateos and their boating friends on an overnight sailing trip to Everglades City –it’s all about the memories!


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Florida at War Thu, 15 Nov 2012 20:25:38 +0000 COASTAL HISTORY
Craig Woodward 

“The Perfect Formation” Bill Blair flying Kingfisher plane #13.

As we reflect on a peaceful Veteran’s Day with great weather and our local beaches full, it is hard to envision a time when Florida skies were full of fighter pilots, our coasts under constant watch for enemy attack, and U.S. sailors both dead and wounded were being brought into Florida hospitals. World War II was not only fought in Europe and in the South Pacific, but was also fought here at home. Few remember that Nazi Germany brought WW II literally to our shores, with U-boats (submarines) paroling up and down our coasts looking for allied ships to destroy.

Along only a portion of Florida’s coast, in 1942, eight freighters carrying cargos including phosphate, lumber, lead, tanks, trucks, airplanes, ore, sugar, and general cargo for the war, along with eight tankers carrying millions of gallons of oil, aviation fuel, and even drinking water were attacked and most were sunk. These 16 ships fought their battles just off of Florida’s eastern shore, south of Cape Canaveral and north of Ft. Lauderdale – a distance of a little over 150 miles. At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean today are shipwrecks off of Cocoa Beach, Jupiter, Cape Canaveral, Melbourne, St. Lucie, Delray Beach and Boca Raton. 158 seamen and crew were killed off the Florida coast during one year, 1942, in these 16 vessels. After the war, German navy records show that the commanders and crew of seven U-boats were involved in the attacks on the 16 ships. German U-boat commander Peter-Erich Cremer in charge of submarine U-333 attacked three of these vessels; on May 5, 1942 close to midnight he heavily damaged the first, the Java Arrow, a tanker, at 3:40 am in the morning of May 6th he sank a large freighter, the Amazone, and a few hours later at 4:55 am he and his crew sank a large tanker, the Halsey carrying 3 ½ millions gallons of oil. Cremer would later recount what happened in his book: “U-Boat Commander: a periscope view of the Battle of the Atlantic.” Regarding the sinking of the Amazone he would write: “The boat sank like a stone.”

Portrait of Bill Blair done by Malenda Trick.

Portrait of Bill Blair done by Malenda Trick.

To stop the destruction, save lives and insure the safe passage of war materials, the U.S. Navy equipped and flew squadrons of the Vought OS2U nicknamed the “Kingfisher.” The plane had a pilot and a radio man/gunner and carried two 325 pound depth charges under its wings and had a range of 805 miles and a maximum speed of 164 mph. Piloting one of them was Lieutenant JG William D.C. “Bill” Blair of Grand Forks, N.D. who had finished flight training in Pensacola, Fl. Bill now resides on Marco Island and was recently honored by being one of twenty veterans whose portraits were painted by Malenda Trick as part of Iberia Bank’s Veteran Portrait Project, a celebration of our local veterans. Bill explains the mission: “Flying south of Cape Canaveral, off the coast of Miami we would pick up convoys of ships coming out of Galveston and other ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Our planes would lead the convoys east into the Atlantic Ocean as far as our fuel would take us. After leaving the convoy we would fly back to “The Rock” now known as Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas.”

The German submarines were diesel powered and would run on batteries when submerged to conserve their oxygen for their crew’s use. During the day using batteries the U-boats did not have the speed to keep up with the convoys, but at night when they came up for air and started their diesel engines they could run much faster. It was no coincidence that German U-boat Commander Cremer’s three battles occurred in the middle of the night. His and the other U-boats also refueled at night by use of “milk ships” or German mother ships.

Dusty Rhodes of Marco Island, a Navy aviator flying out of Jacksonville in the 1960s, explained the secrecy: “During WW II there was little to no publicity regarding the presence of German subs off our coasts because the government frankly did not want to frighten our citizens.” He explained that even when he was flying similar missions looking for and tracking Russian nuclear subs in and around Florida there was no publicity for the same reasons and even today, unknown to the public, U.S. Navy airmen remain in the air to monitor and safeguard our coasts.

In 1944 Blair was forced to land his Kingfisher in the Atlantic Ocean as his radio man/gunner called “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” over their radio. Their single engine had mechanical problems and they floated for nine hours in the Bermuda Triangle before being rescued by a U.S. Torpedo boat and taken back to “The Rock.” Blair and two other fellow pilots flying in formation were photographed by Newsweek. The photograph appeared on the cover of that magazine and was titled “The Perfect Formation,” he is flying the closest plane #13.

Photo of Bill and Miff Blair, with his portrait and daughter Bonnie Woodward. PHOTO BY CRAIG WOODWARD

Photo of Bill and Miff Blair, with his portrait and daughter Bonnie Woodward. PHOTO BY CRAIG WOODWARD

Bill Blair’s portrait and story along with the 19 other veterans will be exhibited at the Marco Iberia Bank branch until November 16th, then in Iberia’s North Naples branch on Pine Ridge Road for a week, moving on November 29th to the Naples Backyard History Museum on 3rd Street South until early January 2013. These 20 excellent paintings done by artist Malenda Trick are well worth seeing. If you are unable to visit them, I suggest you view the slide show of them at her website:

I want to thank Bill Blair, who I am fortunate to have as my father-in-law, for his information for this article, as well as thank Dusty Rhodes, Malenda Trick, Keith Dameron of Iberia Bank and all of the veterans and heroes who have served our country and preserved our freedoms.

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The Astronomical Station at Cape Romano and the Caximba route Thu, 01 Nov 2012 19:47:53 +0000 COASTAL HISTORY 

Craig Woodward

Part of John Lee Williams’ 1837 map showing the Caximba route around Cape Roman. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The last few issues of this newspaper have contained excellent articles about Cape Romano, regarding the history of the dome house and the former pyramid house built in the early 1980s. This large point of land is one of Florida’s earliest recognized geographic features similar to Florida’s other large cape, Cape Canaveral. So, let’s investigate the early history of Cape Romano.

Our story started 500 years ago when, in 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon sailed up the Southwest Coast of Florida on his first discovery trip of Florida. A few years later in 1521, he returned to our area only to be wounded in a battle with the Calusa Indians and was taken to Havana where he died as a result of his injuries. Either because of his discovery of this area, or perhaps to acknowledge his death, the Spanish named the large bay stretching from Cape Sable north to Cape Romano as “Juan Ponce de Leon Bay”; it retained that name for centuries. By 1762 the English had invaded and taken control over Spain’s principal colonial city Havana, the hub for its holdings in the Caribbean. They almost immediately traded Havana back to Spain in 1763 in return for what the English would call East Florida (now known as the peninsula) and West Florida (now known as the panhandle). The British sent out surveyors to chart their newly acquired coasts and, in 1765, surveyor William G. De Brahm, started working his way around the Florida coast routinely changing Spanish names to proper English ones. The old “Juan Ponce de Leon Bay” became the new large Chatham Bay with Gullivan’s River (now Blackwater River) in the bay’s northeast corner.

“Our story starts 500 years ago with Ponce de Leon.” 

The next surveyor appointed by the English, Bernard Romans, who despised De Brahm- probably because Romans was owed money for surveying work he had done when De Brahm was his employer- said this about De Brahm’s work:“I have carefully avoided the change of well-known names of places; but preserved the old ones, except only in two or three places where the name was not well known, or where there was none at all. Nothing can be more absurd, or productive of confusion, than the assuming new and fantastical names in places of so much danger; yet the author of a certain pamphlet, published two years ago, has done this at no small rate.”

This statement, however, did not stop Romans in 1771 from seeing an opportunity to change the old Spanish name of “Punta Larga” (Large Point) to a new, and in his mind, more fashionable name of Cape Romans! Shortly after the end of the American Revolution in 1783, Spain once again acquired all of Florida back from the English. Apparently it was not worth their trouble to re-establish the old Spanish names for rivers, places and islands and, for the most part, Spain simply left the English names intact, but in some cases those names evolved to sound more Spanish – Cape Romans eventually became Cape Romano.

Nautical Chart of 1893 showing the Cape Romano Astronomical Station established 1886. SUBMITTED PHOTO

By 1821, the United States obtained Florida from Spain for $5 million (a way to repay debts Spain owed us). As the U.S. developed nautical charts of the area, they showed the heavy shoaling south of Cape Romano with numerous ever shifting sandbars, and before long American guidebooks were suggesting that this dangerous area could be avoided by using the “Caximba,” a channel or route that would have taken one up and around the shoals via the current Marco River entering at Coon Key, passing the current Goodland, and exiting out to the north through Marco Pass. By 1837 John Lee Williams, who traveled around the exterior of Florida, wrote, “Punta Longa, or Cape Roman, is situated in latitude 26° and longitude 6° 46’ W. It is the south point of a large island, and projects fifteen miles from the main land, and from a S. W. point a succession of sandy shoals extend fifteen miles farther, in a S. S. W. direction. Vessels drawing six feet water may avoid this cape, by passing through the Caximba and by a passage of nine miles, shun a dangerous voyage of sixty miles.”

Florida evolved from a territory to becoming a U.S. State in 1845 and one of its first obligations was to survey land and divide the state into “government lots” for sale. Cape Romano was surveyed by John Henderson in 1878 and was subdivided into parcels for future government sale. However, again recognizing the historic shoaling to the south of Cape Romano, the official government surveyor noted on the survey that the U.S. Secretary of Treasury had ordered that Cape Romano be set aside for a future lighthouse.

Our story picks up in 1886 when charts of the area show the “Cape Romano Astronomical Station” in the area of the current dome house, leading one to wonder what is an Astronomical Station? A 1913 government book entitled “Triangulation along the West coast of Florida” describes the station: “On Cape Romano 6 meters back of high-water line and 315 meters north of the most southern point of the cape. The station is marked by a hole in the top of a marble post. A tile is buried 16.04 meters due north of the station and another 15.50 meters east by north. A large buttonwood tree marked with a blazed cross is at the edge of the woods about 125 meters north-northeast from the station and a large red mangrove tree similarly marked is at the edge of the woods about 160 meters east by north.” So what was this station? It was not a building and no one lived there, it was simply a government marker – a small round brass disk with a hole in the center and a legend that said “U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Triangulation Station. For information write to Superintendent, Washington, D.C. $250 fine or imprisonment for disturbing this mark.”

“Our story picks up in 1886 when charts of the area show the “Cape Romano Astronomical Station.”

The station had been established in 1885 and later was revisited in 1887. It was one of 1,150 different stations around the Gulf Coast of Florida, others nearby included one at Pavilion Key, Horse Key, Coon Key, Johnson Station on top of Indian Hill (Charles Johnson owned Indian Hill selling it later to the Barfields), Caxambas, Big Marco, Little Marco, Gordon Pass, and so on. The purpose of these stations was to create points along the coast where triangles could be established in order to “trigonometrically correlate on one geodetic datum” the specific locations of Florida’s Gulf Coast. They were called Astronomical Stations because the origins and standards for latitude and longitude were usually determined by astronomic observations.

As can be seen from a map of their work, some of the points of the triangles were out in the Gulf waters and had strange names like “Flossy.” It is not clear how these were established or ever found again. In 1901 the Federal Government adopted the U.S. Standard Datum – which in 1913 became the North American Datum after both Canada and Mexico adopted the same system. The data collected for this effort was used by geographers and cartographers to create early maps, including correcting the attached 1893 chart. Today’s Global Positioning System (GPS) makes this early effort in mapping our coast look like enormous work and at huge expense, but it was the technology of the day.

A portion of the Triangulation Map of the Astronomical Stations printed in 1913. SUBMITTED PHOTO

On April 12, 1898, two months after the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor, which started the Spanish American War (and would bring Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders to Florida and then on fame winning the battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba), President William McKinley issued an executive order permanently reserving the southern point of Cape Romano for a lighthouse. The reason given was to protect the heavy ship traffic which was expected between Tampa and Key West, for transporting military supplies and troops to the war front in Cuba. The war against Spain only lasted 64 days and Cuba gained its independence as a result.

The closest lighthouses to Cape Romano are in Key West, built in 1826, and the one at the south tip of Sanibel Island, constructed in 1884; both still exist and are worth visiting. The 1901 minutes of the Annual Lighthouse Board show that the U.S. Secretary of Treasury asked the Speaker of the House of Representatives for $45,000 for a lighthouse to be built at Cape Romano, it was requested because of the 100 mile spread between the Sanibel and Key West lighthouses and the large shipping commerce between those points. For years there were discussions in Congress about funding a lighthouse at Cape Romano due to the danger to vessels of the heavy shoaling, but sufficient funds were never appropriated and it was never built.

“For years there were discussions about funding a lighthouse, but it was never built.” 

Today, while most of Morgan Island is government owned, other parts of this large island, including Cape Romano, remain in private hands; yet this historic Cape remains one of the most dramatic, windswept, natural places in Florida.

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Broaden your Horizons Mon, 30 Apr 2012 10:41:57 +0000 The Marco Island Historical Society is pleased to announce a marvelous pair of events for the merry month of May.

We invite you to broaden your horizons with a concentration on the history of Fort Myers.

On May 1, our regular monthly meeting will begin at 7:00 P.M. in the Rose History Auditorium with our featured speaker Matthew Johnson, Director of Cultural and Historic Affairs or the city of Fort Myers.  His power point presentation will include references to the time 10,000 ago when stone age people inhabited Florida, and will bring us up to date with the ancient Indians of SW Florida, the beginnings of Fort Myers and Lee County.  Photographs and illustrations will pinpoint the changes along the way, with a commentary by the speaker.

A follow-up to this program will be a field trip on May 11 to the Fort Myers Historical District.  We well meet at 9:00 A.M. in the museum parking lot on Marco for carpools, and maps will be furnished.  We will visit the Cracker House, the old railroad car, the museum itself and have lunch across the street in a charming restaurant.  The cost for this event is $30 which includes lunch and admission to the museum.  Call Jerry Masters at 239-394-3917 for reservations.

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150 years ago – Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Weeks Fri, 06 Apr 2012 04:17:07 +0000 COASTAL HISTORY 

Craig Woodward

Alfred Weeks the son of John J. Weeks and Lizzie Weeks at the Marco Cemetery 1948. PHOTO COURTESY OF FAYE BROWN

An article titled “The Headstone Project” was published in this column on October 7, 2011. Donations were requested for the purchase of a headstone for Elizabeth (Lizzie) Weeks Barnes Sawyer. Granny Sawyer, as she was known before her death, was buried in an unmarked grave at the Marco Island Cemetery. She died in 1939, in the middle of the depression and her family had a simple burial at the cemetery, later adding a tabby mortar slab, where her name had once been scratched in the surface. For over half a century there was no visible clue on the slab; it was a local mystery who was buried there.

Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Raulerson, born around 1858, would have been about age 4 when she moved with her mother, Sarah Weeks, step-father John J. Weeks, Jr. and her older sister, Martha, to the mouth of what is now known as the Barron River, where the river enters Chokoloskee Bay near current Everglades City. The river was then called Potato Creek. The location of their homestead is now within the city limits of Everglades City, currently the headquarters of Outward Bound. It is difficult to imagine how remote this area was in 1862 – the nearest neighbors were either in Key West or near Sanibel Island. The Weeks were clearly a struggling family with young children – Martha age 6, and Lizzie, 4. They made a living by fishing and farming; the market for their produce being Key West, shipped there by passing vessels from Charlotte Harbor.

The new headstone for Elizabeth Weeks (aka Lizzy) with her great, great grandson Melvin Brown who helped install it. PHOTO BY CRAIG WOODWARD/COASTAL BREEZE NEWS

Unknown to them at the time, the Weeks family would make history as the first permanent settlers of the future Collier County. Sarah Weeks would die at their home in 1865 giving birth to her 4th child, the second daughter she would have with John. At her death, John was left with the four girls, two from Sarah’s first marriage and two from his marriage to Sarah. John appropriately named the new baby after his wife, Sarah, born the day of his wife’s death. Before long the census records in 1870 would show that Martha, the oldest child, moved away leaving Lizzie and her step-father raising her two younger step sisters. In a strange twist of fate, John married Lizzie in a Catholic ceremony in Key West on March 18, 1878. During their twenty two year marriage, they lived in various places including Cape Sable, Chokoloskee Island, northern Rookery Bay, Marco Island and were living at the Blue Hill Plantation on the eastern side of Horr’s Island (now called “Key Marco”) when John died in June of 1900. John and Lizzie had seven children together. Three years after John’s death, Lizzie married Andrew Barnes and they lived at Grocery Place (see the prior article on this remote settlement at coastalbreezenews. com) – one daughter was born from that marriage. After Andrew’s death, Lizzie married in 1908 for the third and last time to Richard (“Dick”) Sawyer and helped raise his young son, Preston Sawyer, age 9. Preston Sawyer’s life is told in the local history book “The Caxambas Kid.” Lizzie lived in Marco Island (now known as Old Marco) until her death at age 80 in 1939. She was described by her granddaughter as being a “quiet, gentle woman” who didn’t have to raise her voice to get across what she meant, also known as a woman who kept an immaculately clean house.

Of the four original Weeks family members who moved here 150 years ago, John is buried in an unmarked and, to date, unfound grave on Horr’s Island. His wife, Sarah, as mentioned above, is also buried in an unmarked and unfound grave near what is now known as Outward Bound at the mouth of the Barron River. Daughter Martha Raulerson Lanier died in 1939, and is buried in Morriston, Fl. and Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Weeks Barnes Sawyer’s grave at the Marco Cemetery is now identified and honored by her family.

On March 5, 2012, I assisted Lizzie Weeks’ great, great grandson, Melvin Brown to unload and place her headstone on top of the slab that her sons had originally installed so many years before. The new headstone is a fitting tribute to a pioneer woman who moved here 150 years ago and to whom literally hundreds of people alive today count as their direct ancestor.

Everyone who donated to this cause is appreciated, but especially Faye A. Brown who raised funds by the sale of her book “Weeks Family Connections” and also to Chris Durfey for her contributions and assistance on this project.

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Deltona Settlement Agreement – and its enormous impact Fri, 24 Feb 2012 13:40:05 +0000 Craig Woodward

The Mackle Brothers who owned most of the Deltona Corporation. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

The one single document with the greatest impact on the growth and density of Marco Island would be, without a doubt, the “Deltona Settlement Agreement.” This document created much of the current developed and undeveloped “eastern” Marco Island, as well as much of Rookery Bay and also created a great deal of the “951 Corridor” south of U.S. 41. The Agreement was not your normal arm’s length negotiated “deal” but was, in fact, the end result of years of complex litigation between the Deltona Corporation, who were the developers of Marco Island and of Marco Shores, and a multitude of governmental groups including the U.S.A., the State of Florida including a number of its sub agencies – the Florida Dept of Environmental Protection (“DEP”), The Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (which consists of the Governor and his Cabinet), South Florida Water Management District, as well as many environmental groups including the National and Florida Audubon Societies, the Environmental Defense Fund, Collier County Conservancy, etc. The Settlement Agreement immediately settled nine separate lawsuits, five of them with the DEP and one with the federal government, being an off-shoot of a case that had just been denied a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court a few months earlier. It is not an exaggeration to say that this document, dated July 20, 1982, created the Marco Island we know today.

Recent newspaper articles report controversies that have historical roots in this now 30 year-old Agreement. For instance, a recent story reported that the DEP had filed suit against a number of property owners with boardwalks constructed to gain access to Barfield Bay – why was the State objecting? Because, the development rights to all of the lots abutting Barfield Bay that Deltona had owned were given up in the Settlement Agreement. The Agreement rezoned this strip of land as “Environmentally Sensitive.”

Map showing part of Deltona’s original land holdings.

Additional stories appear about the dead mangrove areas near San Marco Road and the cost to restore them. A contributing cause: the Agreement allowed the development of the adjacent “John Steven Creek” (the location of condos of the same name, Stevens Landing), “Barfield Bay Multifamily Area” (now where Estuary and Vintage Bay Condos are) as well as “Horr’s Island” (Key Marco Development) to be constructed without having to meet the full requirements for surface water management.

But, there are more far reaching provisions of this Agreement. It carved out “specific developable areas” that were deemed high and “upland” enough to build upon. These include the now completed areas of: Goodland Marina (now called the Calusa Island Marina), Horr’s Island (The Key Marco development), the Barfield Bay single family area (streets behind the “Big Publix”), the Barfield Bay multi-family area (condos mentioned above) and a parcel of land known as “Isle of Capri” – at the corner of Capri Blvd and S.R. 951 (Collier Blvd) which is currently being developed by Collier County into a canoe and kayak park. All of these projects were possible because of this Agreement and, in fact, parts of each continue to be constrained by the Agreement; for instance, the approval to develop Horr’s Island into the Key Marco project permitted only a small portion of the center ridge of the Island to be developed, while the many mangrove and preserve areas were placed under the protection of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Recently this was in the news regarding the extent to which the vegetation could be trimmed without environmental approval.

Map showing the extent of Deltona’s ownership in 1982 – to the south is Kice Island, to the north U.S. 41, and to the west is part of now Rookery Bay.

Deltona amassed and owned 24,962 acres of land on or around Marco Island. However, by the date of the Settlement Agreement in July of 1982, they had been only able to develop and improve less than a fourth of it, only 5,518 acres, leaving 19,444 acres yet to be developed, almost 70% of which (13,500 acres) were classified as “wetlands.” Where are these thousands of undeveloped acres? Two large parcels, which Deltona had already totally presold, were the “Big Key” and the “Barfield Bay” areas located to the north and south of San Marco Road as one heads toward the Goodland Bridge – 5,889 planned residential units were never built here. Meanwhile, a third, and even larger tract, the controversial “Unit 24,” also known as “The Collier-Read Tract,” consisted of 3,564 acres, platted to contain 6,604 units and was located due west of SR 951 projecting directly into the middle of Rookery Bay (now a National Estuarine Research Preserve). In total Deltona planned 12,493 potential single family and condominium dwelling units in these three developments. Their presale of all of the lots located in the Big Key and Barfield Bay areas and over half of those in Unit 24, never to be completed, put a huge financial stress on the company to repay its customers. In addition, the large Kice Island project (which Deltona envisioned connecting via a bridge from Horr’s Island) located north of Cape Romano included 2 . miles of pristine gulf front beach, was never constructed and title to 4,032 acres was transferred to the State of Florida.

Meanwhile lands to the east of S.R. 951 and north of Marco were deemed less environmentally sensitive. This included Marco Shores where Deltona had constructed its airport, a country club and adjacent multi-family parcels. To the north of that was the huge parcel known as “Unit 30” – now incorporated into the current “Fiddler’s Creek” project. As a strategic move, Deltona acquired the properties that made up Unit 30 after 1976, when the Corps of Engineers announced their denial of the development of the Big Key and Barfield Bay permits. The rest of Deltona’s undeveloped 19,444 acres included hundreds of mangrove islands located in and around Addison Bay (to the east of the Jolley Bridge), and in the areas of MclIvaine Bay, and south of Horr’s Island, all of which were deemed environmentally sensitive.

Environmentalists Opposed to Deltona.

In a stroke of a pen thousands and thousands of acres of land were designated for transfer to Rookery Bay, the DEP, or set aside with conservation easements never to be developed. In addition the Settlement Agreement cancelled virtually all of the existing permits and approvals. So what did Deltona obtain by signing it? Obviously the end to expensive litigation (which did not look promising as the U.S. Supreme Court had just refused to hear their case), but also immediate approval by all of the ten agencies who signed it for the completion of the “developable areas” and established an expedited procedure for any other approvals needed. Deltona was given 50 acres owned by the State near the Miami International Airport and the ability to quickly develop or sell off as “fully permitted projects”: Horr’s Island, John Stevens Creek area, Goodland Marina, the Barfield single family area and multi-family areas, and the Isles of Capri parcel. But what else did Deltona get? An enormous concession, and clearly the single largest impact on modern day Marco Island, they received the right to transfer their remaining vested density of 14,500 dwelling units (less the units which remained permitted to be constructed on Marco Island) north along the 951 corridor. So when you drive north and see the large high rises of Hammock Bay or the scope of the Fiddler’s Creek project, know that, but for this Agreement, some of the units you are seeing were once planned to be built on Marco Island.

The Deltona Corporation took the high ground, repaid all of its customers and refused to file bankruptcy. The company never fully recovered from these financial setbacks as well as from the repercussions of the litigation (despite this Settlement Agreement), and in 1986, Deltona was sold for its assets, primarily the water, sewer and other utilities it had retained in the various developments around the State, including those on Marco Island. This sale led to private ownership of Marco’s water and sewer franchises, resulting in a later purchase of them by the City of Marco Island, which in turn led to more controversy and litigation. Without a doubt, the events of today are impacted by the decisions of yesterday, and only those who take the time to analyze the history can fully understand it.

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Rev. George W. Gatewood, Fishing, the 1900 Census and Religious Zeal Fri, 10 Feb 2012 14:30:36 +0000 COASTAL HISTORY 

Craig Woodward

G.W. Storter’s Store on the Allen River with the Storter home in rear (currently the Everglades City Rod & Gun Club). PHOTO BY ALVIN LEDERER

The first full time minister in Southwest Florida was George W. Gatewood. Before Reverend Gatewood, at age 24, came to scout out the area in 1886, there had been traveling Protestant preachers who held periodic revivals as well as Roman Catholic priests, from Key West, who came to the Chokoloskee area to attend to the spiritual needs of the Santini family and other Catholics; but none of them actually resided here. In the late 1800s, Key West was the principal city of the area and a number of the Conchs were Methodists. “Conchs” being the name given to transplanted white Bahamians who had moved to the Keys, many of them were descendents of British royalists who had escaped to the Bahamas after the Revolutionary War. Rev. Gatewood was a Methodist minister and was based out of what is currently Everglades City. He traveled the Ten Thousand Islands area (Marco Island, Fakahatchee Island, Halfway Creek, and Chokoloskee) for four years as a “circuit preacher.” In 1892, at age 30 he married his wife, Minnie Clark of Leesburg Florida, who was 16 at the time. The couple would document their adventures in the Everglades– Minnie by keeping a diary and George, years later, by writing two books about his days in Southwest Florida, one published in 1939, and the other in 1944.

George Gatewood built a church along the then Allen River (now the Barron River) in the town of Everglade (the name later changed to add the current “s”) and organized, as Rev. Gatewood would call it: “a little group of Methodists,” who became the core of a larger congregation which included Seminole Indians. The Seminoles were in town to deal at G.W. Storter’s store near the current Rod and Gun Club. George Storter was a key member of Gatewood’s church. Gatewood reported that the Seminoles insisted on first selling their hides and furs and receiving their cash before they, in turn, purchased any supplies. The seating at the church during service was no problem, as the Indians refused to sit on the benches and would sit cross-legged on the floor.

Methodist Circuit Preacher George W. Gatewood. PHOTO BY CHARLOTTE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Transportation at the time was solely by sailboat as there were no roads in Southwest Florida. Many of his reminiscences had to do with bad weather, boating accidents and delays in travel. He reported that his 1893 trip to the Florida Methodist Conference in Palatka, Florida, took eight days of travel time. Rev. Gatewood accepted part of his pay in produce, including bananas and sugar cane syrup, and took those items with him to sell to finance the trip. On December 5th he started out from Everglades City toward Marco with another man and, when their borrowed sailboat capsized near Fakahatchee Island (due to a strong northern headwind and a “head tide”), a barrel of syrup poured out and “sweeten the bay for a considerable distance.” They waded out into the water and pulled the boat ashore. On December 18th he again started out for the Conference, this time accompanied by his wife with Captain R.B. Storter at the helm, but they immediately got stuck in Chokoloskee Bay at low tide. Later, when the tide came up, they were able to get to Coon Key and anchor for the night. The next day they got to Marco and ate dinner with George Gatewood’s friend, Capt. Bill Collier, and the following day sailed north facing a strong headwind but were able to get to Punta Rassa (at the base of the current Sanibel Bridge) by 4 AM. The following day they sailed to Punta Gorda and it took several more days by train to Bartow, to Orlando, then to Leesburg and finally to Palatka where the Methodist Conference was being held.

Sunday school - Town of Everglade – 1906.

Gatewood, during his 62 years here, was a keen observer of this area and especially the fishing industry. He reported that Captain Fred Quednau (later the mayor of Punta Gorda and the sheriff of Charlotte County), had once been in a boat off of Cape Romano seeing “50 acres of redfish where the water was about 25 feet deep and they were stirring up the sand from that depth. So many (redfish) were there that the fish at the surface were being lifted up by those below, creating the appearance of a coral oyster rock rising slightly above the water-level. The red cast of color was from the red color of the fish and their rippling of water helped give the appearance of being above the general surface level.” In 1892 Rev. Gatewood reported seeing a 56 foot long whale, “nearly dead,” that had drifted in to a pass west of Chokoloskee Island. The whale, tied to a mangrove tree, was being harvested by the Santini family of Chokoloskee who reportedly got 30 barrels of oil from the whale. When George and his wife Minnie rowed their boat around it they estimated the jawbone to be ten feet in length and the teeth to be “the size of a Jersey’s cow horn.”


In 1900 George Gatewood was appointed the “federal census enumerator” and sailed the islands in a light draft sailboat locating citizens and taking down data. He stumbled upon a vacant cabin and, while looking for the residents, found a moonshine still in the back yard, he quickly left and headed across the bay to another house where he found two men both drunk with “a barrel with the makings in it.” They had seen him and knew he had landed at the cabin and had discovered their still. They were not reassured that Gatewood and the man with him (named Parker) were not “revenue agents,” but finally they answered the census questions that Gatewood posed to them. It helped a lot that Parker was armed with a six-shooter.

Being a Methodist Circuit Preacher was also a risky profession at the time. Captain Bill Collier tipped Gatewood off that: “a certain old man around here who, with a shotgun, was hunting you a while ago saying he was going to kill you because of something you said last Sunday in the pulpit.” The old man was a Civil War veteran who had heard Rev. Gatewood had made “certain unfavorable remarks about old soldiers.” Gatewood avoided the old man until he and his wife Minnie and her sister, “Bird” were going from Chokoloskee to Marco and got stuck on a little island for three days during a huge storm. They ran out of fresh water and had no choice but to go to the old soldier’s home to get water. Minnie objected as she did not want to carry her husband’s body “as a corpse home,” but in the end the old soldier and his wife were very cordial and the threats apparently forgotten.

One incident that did not turn out as well involved residents of Marco Island and their lack of Christian zeal. Gatewood built the first chapel on Marco. One of Rev. Gatewood’s Methodist congregation in Everglade, “Brother Lockhart,” who lived at Halfway Creek, and was described as “a steward, and an exhorter and was very zealous” became concerned over the “flock at Marco.” When Rev. Gatewood told him that he did not see “any change in them”, Lockwood, who had been recently licensed as an exhorter by the church, preached a sermon to Gatewood to demonstrate what he believed it would take to convert the Marco folks. At Rev. Gatewood’s request, Lockwood accompanied him on the next trip to Marco and did the preaching. Gatewood thought Lockwood did well, but noted that after the service those who attended chatted among themselves for a while then all went home. Lockwood said nothing as he and Rev. Gatewood went to their boat to prepare their dinner; when asked why he was so silent, Lockwood replied: “Well, I was just thinking about Paul when he was shipwrecked on the island of Melita where barbarous people showed him no little kindness and these folks here haven’t even asked us to dinner.”

Both of George W. Gatewood’s books are long out of print and his wife Minnie’s original diary is now located at Florida Gulf Coast University. They provide a rare look into everyday life at the turn of the century. George Gatewood died in 1947 at age 87 and his wife predeceased him in 1944, however their home still exists in Punta Gorda.

I want to thank Marya Repko of Everglades City for providing me copies of part of one of George Gatewood’s books for this article.

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Surveying problems in the Ten Thousand Islands Fri, 10 Feb 2012 11:10:56 +0000 Submitted by Everglades Historical Society 

A Surveyor in 1885, photo courtesy of Alvin Lederer. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Imagine not being able to obtain a deed to property on which you have built a house and lived in for years! That was just one of the problems faced by pioneering settlers in “Florida’s Last Frontier”.

Surveyors faced myriad obstacles such as shifting coastlines and, of course, mosquitoes. Meanwhile, the State was transferring vast tracts of land to railroad companies without regard to pioneers’ homestead rights.

To learn more about early attempts to establish property boundaries and obtain titles, you can attend an illustrated presentation: “Surveying Problems in the Ten Thousand Islands” on Friday, February 24, at 6:00 PM at the Everglades Seafood Depot Restaurant in historic Everglades City.

Survey Party Everglades (AL).

The speaker is Craig Woodward, a Marco Island attorney with a passion for local history. He spoke on this subject to professional surveyors at their annual conference in October of last year. “Two murders, an inept government, pioneer Crackers pitted against large railroad interests, years of frustration in getting legal title to homestead property, and a local story that hit the Associated Press wire and went national in the 1920s – this topic is interesting even to those who know nothing about surveying”, said Woodward.

This event is presented by the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation. Cost is $25 per person, which includes dinner. To make reservations, see www. where you can download a form to send with your check or book online with a credit/debit card. For more information, phone Marya at (239) 695-2905.

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Explore our Island history! Wed, 18 Jan 2012 14:17:48 +0000 Submitted by Friends of Fakahatchee 

Fakahatchee Strand in the Ten Thousand Islands. PHOTOS BY MARYA REPKO

Join us for a really unique “Olde Florida” treat. The Friends of Fakahatchee are hosting Coastal Cruises through the mysterious mangroves of the Ten Thousands Island. On the way, you will probably see dolphins cavorting with the tour boat. When you arrive at Fakahatchee Island, a naturalist will point out unusual plants on the path up the ancient shell mound to the old cemetery. On the return journey, the boat passes by a famous rookery where the birds will be settling down for the evening.

We might think of “Fakahatchee” as a swamp with Ghost Orchids and Florida Panthers but to many local Gulf Coast families, it was the Fakahatchee Island that was important. In fact, it even had a school!

Ready for passengers.

That was back in the early 1900s when farmers and fishermen had settled around Fakahatchee Bay, west of Chokoloskee, and scratched out a living. They grew fruits and veggies to sail to market in Key West.

And, they fished. Salted mullet by the barrel brought in much-need funds. What remains today is memories – and a cemetery, cisterns, a cow dip, and some wonderful unspoilt landscape with rare plants.

You will see local wildlife.

The Friends of Fakahatchee are repeating their successful Fakahatchee Coastal Cruise on January 21, February 25, March 10, and March 25. The event begins with a talk about the history of the area at the Everglades National Park Ranger Station in Everglades City at 3:00 p.m. Participants will then be ferried to the island by Everglades National Park Boat Tours. The event ends around 6:00 p.m. back in Everglades City where there are interesting restaurants in which to enjoy the area’s signature stone crabs and other delicacies.

This is a unique opportunity to learn about our outer islands and the communities that existed in olden times. It is also a chance to see a Ten Thousand Islands ecology that has not changed for over fifty years!

For information about the Fakahatchee Coastal Cruise, phone Marya at (239) 695-2905 or see and click on Events Schedule. Places (at $75 per person) are limited.


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