Saturday, September 26, 2020

“Grocery Place” – the remote pioneer settlement located between Royal Palm Hammock and Goodland

Aerial Photo of Grocery Place and Old Grove.

Aerial Photo of Grocery Place and Old Grove.

It is difficult to believe, as one travels by boat through our local mangrove islands, that many years ago almost every high piece of ground in the Ten Thousand Islands was inhabited by early pioneers who chose to settle on property that had once been inhabited by the Calusa Indians.  As we traveled down the Blackwater River through Palm Bay (formerly known as Grocery Bay) and then headed up Royal Palm Hammock Creek, it seemed unreal that this extremely remote location would be where people might choose to live. But, as we approached Grocery Place, we could clearly spot the larger of two remaining cisterns. Carved into the outside wall of one of the cisterns was the notation that it held a “Cap. 4,000 gal.” In several other places the names of the proud builders and the date of construction was hand carved: “Built April 25, 1914 by E. J. Morgan and J. W. Bostick.” On the second cistern the words, “Built on July 15, [year not readable] by J.W. Bostick” were inscribed. One small section of the cement “stucco” coating on the older of the two cisterns was purposely left off, in order to show an earlier construction date of August 31, 1901.

J. W. Bostick is Joseph Washington Bostick, the grandfather of current Marco Island resident Curtis Bostick. Curtis’ great grandfather (J. W.’s father), William W. Bostick, was the Lee County Superintendent of

Part of the a metal pot that would have been used to boil down the sugar cane.

Part of the a metal pot that would have been used to boil down the sugar cane.

Schools from 1897 to 1901 (that included Collier County at the time). William was also the first Baptist Minister in Ft. Myers.

Curtis explained that his aunt, Luella Doxsee, had told him that his grandfather, J. W, built the cisterns which were used to hold fresh water for the sugar cane plantation that was operating at Grocery Place. Our discovery of a piece of a large metal pot and several burned bricks, part of a fire pit, was additional proof that the processing of sugar cane had occurred there. E. J. Morgan was Ernest J. Morgan who would have been thirty-six in 1914, was married, and had been working as a fisherman on Marco Island in 1910, per the census.

A decade earlier, around 1900, Grocery Place was well established with the Cannon family residing there in a chickee hut structure along with their five children ranging from age five to fifteen. In a similar chickee-roofed home lived the Barnes family, with both parents being deaf, and two sons. Mr. Cannon earned his living as a fur-hunter, along with Frank Futch, who also resided at Grocery Place. Reports of bear and panthers were common place, but the major source of marketable fur was raccoon hides used to make the very popular and fashionable coon skin coats and hats; the strong market for which continued through the 1920s. Preston Sawyer, the “Caxambas Kid”, reported that it was

The large cistern and the Grocery Point sign seen from the water.

The large cistern and the Grocery Point sign seen from the water.

possible to get ten to thirty raccoon hides a night and that they could be sold at Smallwood’s store in Chokoloskee for fifty cents for little hides and “up to four dollars for large hides with good fur on them.”

This free and remote lifestyle appealed to A. T. Stephens who, with his wife Annie and five children, who included Tommie (Barfield) then age fourteen, left Caxambas around 1902, packed up their belongings, and moved their wood house by barge to their new home at Grocery Place. The Stephens’ wood house, purchased from J. M. “Jim” Barfield, was the envy of the Cannons and Barnes families, who lived in homemade chickee huts. Jim Barfield, the owner of most of the land in Caxambas, was smitten with young Tommie and rowed his boat for over two years the fourteen-plus miles round trip from Caxambas to Grocery Place to see her. In 1904, Barfield convinced A. T. Stephens to move his house and family back to Caxambas and accept a job as a mail carrier between Caxambas and Marco (now Old Marco). Jim Barfield, age 39, married Tommie, age 18, on July 31, 1906. She is the namesake of Marco Island’s local elementary school built in 1956. The Barfield family got connected to the Bostick family when Tommie’s brother, James J. Stephens, married J. W. Bostick’s daughter, Jossie, in 1914. (Their daughter Katherine “Kappy” Kirk currently resides

“Tabby mortar” construction.

“Tabby mortar” construction.

in Goodland).

Jim Barfield helped his wife Tommie’s family again when, in 1909, he purchased the “A.T. Stephens Place” and the “Nash Place,” or a little over 93 acres located at Grocery Place and at the nearby “Old Grove.” The property had been originally owned by the Louisville and Nashville Rail Road Company who acquired it in 1893. Barfield owned it for five years. In 1914, he sold the properties to E. J. Morgan, so it is clear that around the time the cisterns were built, the land was owned, or being purchased, by Morgan. By 1917, Barfield had the properties back from Morgan and resold them to J. W. Bostick. Bostick held them for four years. Then, in April of 1921, Bostick sold the 93 acres, holding a purchase money mortgage which was paid off when Barron Collier purchased everything in July of 1925.

By 1914, the production of sugar from sugar cane was a large crop in Florida. The cisterns were built to hold fresh water which was needed as the sugar cane required a lot of water to grow. After the stalks are cut off (the roots are left to grow again) they are crushed between rollers, and the sweet juice boiled for approximately four hours to create cane syrup. Buttonwood, along with the waste of the fiber of the cane, is used to fuel the fire. The perfect combination of sugar cane

The names of those who built and used the cistern are written on the side of cistern

The names of those who built and used the cistern are written on the side of cistern

syrup, fresh rainwater, and a remote location like Grocery Place, would lead one to guess that another profitable business also occurred here, making moonshine!

Both cisterns were constructed with poured walls of tabby mortar made from burning oyster shells to extract lime from them (making a bonding agent similar to cement), and then washing the salt from sand and shell (used as the aggregate), to be mixed with fresh water. The oyster shells were, and are, plentiful on lands the Calusa had previously inhabited as oyster was one of their principal food sources. Archaeological studies show pottery has been found at Grocery Place dating from 500 BC to 900 AD, evidence that the area was inhabited for over a thousand years. Clearly Bostick and Morgan put in a great deal of manual work to build these tabby mortar cisterns. Burning piles of oyster shells, washing salt out of the sand and shell and forming the walls for the pour, in the presence of swarms of mosquitoes and heat, was no easy chore. One formula for tabby mortar was “ten bushels of lime, ten bushels of sand, ten bushels of shells and ten bushels of water” to yield sixteen cubic feet of wall – a 4 foot by 4 foot by 1 foot wide section! A better mortar mix was used to stucco the outsides and insides of the walls probably to make them water tight.

Even

Blackwater River.

Blackwater River.

after the hurricane of 1926, Grocery Place was still inhabited, as Preston Sawyer reported that he was able to find enough scrap lumber to build a fishing camp there. He fished and hunted coon that season and made enough money to build a little wood-framed house in Marco (then known as Collier City north).

It is not clear how Grocery Place received its name. It is possible that vegetables and fruits were grown in this remote location and sold there, but most likely an early family had the name “Grocery”, as many locations were named after the residents: such as the Watson Place, the Layne Place, the Darwin Place, etc. On June 1, 1944, Barron Collier’s heirs deeded the property to the Florida Board of Forestry and Parks which was the start of the current Collier Seminole State Park. Today Grocery Place is a stop on a 13-mile canoe route within the park. The adjacent Mud Bay is off limits to motorized boats because it is the home of the very rare sawfish, which is an endangered species.

I would like to thank Curtis Bostick, as well as Meredith Kruse, Assistant Park Manager of Collier Seminole State Park, for their assistance on this article. Additional information came from Island Voices, They came to Marco Island and The Caxambas Kid. Lastly, thanks to my wife, Bonnie, who endured a long boat trip in a huge rainstorm to check out some old “concrete structures.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *