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Old Punta Rassa:
Passing through Punta Rassa on the way to or from Sanibel Island on Florida’s Gulf coast, you just don’t see many cows these days. It’s mostly condos, marinas, and businesses. That’s a big leap from how things used to be, as anyone familiar with the history of Florida’s cattle industry can tell you. For a good portion of the 19th century, Punta Rassa was a favored port for shipping cattle to Cuba.
The port had already been an important spot for some time before Florida cattlemen began using it as a trading center. A U.S. Navy schooner reported in the 1820s that a group of Spaniards and Native Americans were using the area as a fishery. The U.S. Army established a supply depot (Fort Dulany) in the vicinity during the Second Seminole War. It wasn’t until the 1850s that the cattle shipping business began to really take hold.
One of Florida’s most famous cattlemen, Jacob Summerlin, helped establish Punta Rassa as a port. He and his brother Clarence came to the area in 1858 and began shipping cattle to Cuba. When the American Civil War struck shortly thereafter, the U.S. Army reactivated Fort Dulany and used the port to ship cattle down to Union-controlled Key West. Not long after the war ended, the port and Army barracks passed into the hands of the International Ocean and Telegraph Company, which extended an underwater telegraph cable from Punta Rassa to Havana, Cuba, 110 miles away.
Edison & Ford Winter Estates:
Historic Edison & Ford
In 1886, inventor Thomas Edison purchased land along the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers and constructed a winter home dubbed Seminole Lodge where he and his wife Mina wintered until the inventor’s death in 1931. Wanting to spend the winters with the Edison’s, their friends Henry Ford and his wife Clara purchased the adjacent property in 1915 and built a bungalow-style house naming it The Mangoes.
Today, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates features over 20 acres of lush botanical gardens boasting over 1,700 plants and one of the largest Banyan trees in the U.S. Read our blog article about our visit to Edison & Ford.
Exploring Edison & Ford Winter Estates
Visitors can explore nine historic buildings including Henry Ford’s home and Thomas Edison’s main house, guest house, caretaker’s house, the ahead of its time pool complex and the pier built to deliver materials for construction. There is a wide range of tour options available to experience the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.
Also, unique to the estate is Edison’s Botanic Research Laboratory, which was built for researching a domestic source for organic rubber and is now filled with the actual equipment Edison used to conduct his research. A 15,000 square foot air-conditioned museum displays some of Edison’s inventions, artifacts, and exhibits as well as a Model-T Ford, which was a gift from Henry Ford. Costumed actors portraying the Edison’s, the Ford’s and their friends can be found milling about, giving visitors a glimpse into how these wealthy residents lived during that time period.
Pirate Legends of Treasure:
Lafitte, Blackbeard, Black Caesar, and Gasparilla are all said to have plundered the Florida coastline. Pirates made camps on Sanibel, Captiva, Marco, Boca Grand, Cayo Costa, and Pine Island. Hiding treasure in those days was a necessity.
If the pirate's camp was raided there was no time to gather valuables. Florida due to its prominent location in the trade route has more buried and sunken treasure than anywhere in the world. Conflicting accounts of pirate legends are surrounded in mystery, leaving many unanswered questions and speculations. Treasure hunters have long sought to locate the millions in gold, silver coins, jewelry and artifacts that remain scattered along Florida's shoreline and coastal waters. Occasionally following a tropical disturbance, treasure lost for centuries is cast by the waves onto the beach.
Sanibel Island & Captiva Island Area History:
The history of Sanibel Island and Captiva Island features rich intrigue and adventure. Historians believe that Sanibel and Captiva were formed as one island about six thousand years ago, as sediment that rose from the sea after being shaped by centuries of storm activity.
Dating as far back as 2,500 years, the native Calusa Indians were the first-known residents of the island. The Calusa skillfully transformed the waterways around the island into abundant riches of food and tools. Whelks, conchs, clams, oysters, and other seafood were used for food, and their empty shells were crafted into tools. The Calusa proved to be skilled builders and craftsmen, perching their huts high atop shell mounds to provide protection from storm tides. Some of their shell mounds, which were also used for ceremonial, ritual and burial sites, remain intact today.
Famous explorer Juan Ponce de Leon is believed to have discovered Sanibel Island – which he named “Santa Isybella” after Queen Isabella — in 1513 while searching for his “Fountain of Youth.” He and his Spanish seamen battled the hostile Calusas for years, and Ponce de Leon eventually suffered a fatal arrow attack at their hands in 1523, at which time he retreated to Cuba and died.
The Spanish were unsuccessful in establishing any kind of permanent settlement. However, their infiltration introduced European disease and slavery to Sanibel, and overcome by yellow fever, tuberculosis, and measles, the Calusa population all but became extinct by the late 1700s.
Legend has it that the barrier islands soon became a haven for infamous pirates. “The Buccaneer Coast” attracted the notorious Jose Gaspar to the region in the early 1800s, where it was rumored that he buried his stolen treasure on Sanibel, and then built a prison on “Isle de los Captivas,” or Captiva Island, where he kept his female prisoners “captive” for ransom. Gaspar himself was captured in 1821 by the U.S. Navy, but wrapped himself in chains and jumped overboard off his ship, rather then face imprisonment.
Indian raids from the Seminole Wars kept settlers and fisherman at bay and discouraged any permanent settlements on Sanibel for several decades. Although Florida was admitted into the Union in 1845 as the 27th state, it was only after the country’s Civil War that increased military activity was able to secure the area and deem the island safe for settlers. In 1870, the U.S. Government ruled that Sanibel Island would become a lighthouse reservation and, on August 20, 1884, the Sanibel Lighthouse was first lit, and remains a working lighthouse to this day.