PORT AT THE END OF THE PEACE RIVER
PUNTA GORDA, county seat of Charlotte
County, occupies a point where the
Peace River meets Charlotte
Harbor. It was a small cattle
port until 1885 when Unionist Kentucky lawyer Isaac Trabue
purchased hundreds of waterfront acres to promote the coming of the Florida
Southern Railway. A huge Punta Gorda hotel graced the
river, but Trabue lost his riparian rights to his
land and the townsfolk didn't cater to his choice of "Trabue"
for town name. One of the town's young leaders Albert Walter Gilchrist
rose to General of the Florida
militia, leader of the Southland Development's resort hotel, and eventually
Governor of Florida.
Isaac Trabue Albert Gilchrist
As most know Punta Gorda
was the victim of a savage 145 mph hurricane. Most of the Victorian waterfront
buildings survived due to their great construction. Other structures were
heavily damaged. The Freeman and Trubue landmarks
survived. My father was once editor of the newspaper in Punta Gorda so my family knows Punta Gorda
will rebuild to her old charms.
WHERE TO START Begin in the front of the CHARLOTTE COUNTY
CONVENTION CENTER, 75
Taylor Street, site of the 1887 Punta Gorda Hotel which brought investors like William Vanderbilt
and Andrew Mellon to the area.
To the northwest is the COLLIER
BRIDGE which replaced the
original 1921 bridge. The towering 1975 GILCHRIST BRIDGE
chops up downtown.
Drive west on RETTA ESPLANADE (1885), once directly on the Peace River before the dredging of the park. At 260 Retta Esplanade is the PUNTA GORDA MUSEUM, once
the town library. The Holiday Inn has a fancy lounge to entertain Vanderbilt
At 401 Retta Esplanade
is the JAMES SANDLIN HOUSE (1893), a Victorian Gothic with a
steep gable roof and a widow's walk. Sandlin was the only native Floridian on
the first City Council.
In the next block is a nice 1914 two story frame vernacular at 551 RETTA
ESPLANADE, but more interesting is the GEORGE McLANE
HOUSE (1887), 565 Retta Esplanade, is a Queen
Anne with a wraparound porch. McLane, a Confederate vet from Alabama, was Justice of the Peace during the
town's often violent early years.
565 Retta Esplanade 551 Retta Esplanade
Turn left on MacGregor.
Cross Marion, the main street, and turn left on Olympia and then left
again on Gill.
On your right at 507 West Marion
is the FIRST METHODIST CHURCH (1914), a fine brick edition in a
Latin cross. The city's oldest congregation, they are proud of their lancet
past a nice 1900 Victorian house at 108
Gill Street. Turn right on Retta
Esplanade, then right on Cross to pass the MAXWELL BUTLER HOUSE (1893),
a small frame cottage with a shotgun plan and broad and batten siding.
Turn left on Olympia
and left on Sullivan. On your right is the PUNTA GORDA
WOMEN'S CLUB (1927), 118 Sullivan Street, built on land
donated by Judge William Cooper of Chicago
for a library, one of the many uses for this structure.
Turn right on Retta Esplanade and right on Taylor. On the right was
the SITE OF THE TOM HECTOR HOUSE (1895), where in 1887, 34 men
(four African-Americans) voted over the objections of town father Trubue to incorporate. On your left is the CHARLOTTE
COUNTY COURTHOUSE (1928), 227 Taylor,
a Neo-Classical structure with the required side doors for officials to slip
You will have to get directions for our next building for it has been moved to
a small park away from downtown. That
structure is the transplanted ISAAC TRABUE COTTAGE (1886), a shed
like cottage of Punta Gorda's founder. Still on Marion east of Cross, on
the left, is the SMITH ARCADE (1926), once the original post
At 133 Marion
is the MERCANTILE BANK BUILDING (1912), a Classical Revival
edifice that housed the FIrst National Bank until the
Stock Market Crash. Down at 316 Marion
is PUNTA GORDA CITY HALL (1927), a cute Neo Classical temple with
a plaque dedicated to Gilchrist, a bachelor who left money for holiday treats
for local kids.
One other beautiful historic house is east on Olympia, the A.C. FREEMAN
HOUSE, a masterpiece of restoration. For
luncg, you might want to drive west along Marion and turn on the
signs to FISHERMEN'S VILLAGE, a complex of shops, restaurants and
fishing facilities built on the City Pier. It is an appropriate tribute to the
town where fishing was a key business.
A mile west on Marion,
through Punta Gorda Isles, is PONCE DE LEON
HISTORIC PARK, a picnic site on grounds where some believe the Spanish
explorer landed in 1513. It is a good spot to view vast Charlotte Harbor.