Punta Gorda? Can you really live in Punta Gorda?
“Punta Gorda,” that funny name means „fat point” in Spanish, and it dates back to the year 1521. That was the year when the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon set his foot on land somewhere in that area.
Why did he call it „fat point?” Well, it looks as if that little landmass sticks out like a „fat finger,” right into the large area of the Charlotte Harbor. Well, that is how he pictured it. By the way, this harbor is not only large, but it is also the second biggest estuary in the USA.
What did the Spanish Explorer want?
On his first visit, Ponce de Leon was not looking for real estate. The Spanish guy was searching for the mythical „fountain of youth.” History books are teaching us, that he was not too successful in doing that. Maybe he should have looked a little closer at North Port? At least they have the „Warm Mineral Springs. ” The warm spring water has the property to ease the pain in your old joints – at least a little – for a while. But at this point, we are not quite convinced that the hot water can turn back the clock of life. The effect on wrinkles appears to be pretty marginal. A bath in Botox would probably do the trick.
When the conquistador came to the Punta Gorda area for the second time, it was different. This time he also brought 200 settlers, horses, and seeds with him. The plan was to set up a farming colony in the Punta Gorda area. But, this did not go too well with the natives, the Calusa Indians, who had lived there for thousands of years. They considered confiscating their land as an insult. Funny people, right?
With Compliments from Murphy
So, everything went according to Murphy’s Law. The Old World finally clashed with the New World.
Ponce came back from one of the field trips with an arrow sticking out of his leg. This thing was neither a pleasant sight nor did it feel right. The Spaniards, “surprised” about the “hostility” of the Indians, abandoned the colony and offended they sailed back to Cuba. Ponce de Leon’s color of the leg went from pale to red. Later from blue to black, and finally the sepsis took his life and sent him to the happy hunting grounds. He was 61 years old when that happened. Back in 1500 A.D. that was actually not too bad because a lot of people did not live that long. But he could have prevented his early death by treating the Calusa Indians a little differently.
300 Boring Years
Following that “highlight” the next 300 years nothing exciting happened. Eventually, around 1850 a few settlers arrived and claimed some land. How exciting was that? In 1884 a guy with the name “Isaac Trabue” platted the first land and named the new town „Trabue.” That was imaginative. At least he thought so. He and his surveyor arranged the streets and blocks along the southern shores of the Peace River
and its mouth on Charlotte Harbor. Every waterfront block was designed as a park. Well, at least that was a fantastic idea. Nobody ever changed that in the course of time, which proofs that the idea was great. Today there is still a string of public parks along the river. They are all connected by a 2.5-mile long promenade. This “Harbor Walk” is an excellent feature of the town and will hopefully stay for a while.
1887 the railroad rolled into town. Almost simultaneously, the carpenters drove the last nails into the new „Hotel Punta Gorda.” From now on wealthy land developers, winter seasonal guests and settlers flocked into town. 1887 the city was incorporated and renamed „Punta Gorda.” Can you believe that Isaac Trabue was not too happy about that change? But that is politics, that is all politics when something like that happens.
Sometimes it Makes Sense to Dig a Little Deeper
Some lucky dogs discovered phosphate on the banks of the Peace River. You did not even have to dig very deep. It was basically “just there.”Because the world was so much in demand of phosphate, phosphate mining became a lucrative business. At first, they barged the phosphate down the river to Boca Grande, which was the only deep sea harbor in the area. But that was a pretty ineffective and time-consuming ordeal. Later, the mining company built a railway from Punta Gorda to Boca Grande. Now the
phosphate was shipped a lot quicker to the harbor.
As a side effect, the train also brought wealthy developers and building material to the island. That had a positive impact on Boca Grande, too. The wealthy people bought some nice lots and also bought the building material to erect their mansions. Sweet!
But many decades later, with the mass production of chemical fertilizer, this business dried completely out. The railroad became useless, and the tracks were dismantled. Fortunately, the railroad bed was not only left in place, but it also remained intact. Thus it was easy for the county to convert it later into a biking/hiking trail called the Pioneer Trail Park in Cape Haze. That trail is still accessible today. Bring your bike and enjoy a nice scenic ride.
Both, Boca and Punta Gorda had to Look for other Opportunities
Although the area thrived on tourism, agricultural trade, mining and commercial fishing, Punta Gorda went through unavoidable boom and bust cycles as well. Shortly before the Great Depression hit hard, the brand new „Tamiami Trail” (US 41), connecting Miami
with Tampa/St. Petersburg was finished. That was a necessary improvement for the economy of that area. After the USA had got sucked into the quagmire of the Second World War, training space for combat pilots was needed. The Air Force built an airport in Punta Gorda to accomplish that task. Once those young guys knew how to keep their planes in the air, Uncle Sam sent them to the war theaters in Europe and Asia. The training lessons in Florida’s blue sky were fun compared to what followed. Many young guys were shot out of the sky and did not come back in one piece.
The War Ended, of course
After the war, Punta Gorda took over. The Air Force didn’t need the airport anymore. Taking over the airport was an excellent idea. Although the airport was hibernating for quite a while due to inadequate management. Today the airport is extremely successful and an important backbone of the economy of the area. Passengers can fly to Ashville, Knoxville, Lexington, Allentown, Grand Rapids, Niagara Falls, Portsmouth, Cincinnati, Toledo, Kansas City Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Chicago and
Cleveland ..to name just a few destinations. Go to the Punta Gorda’s Airport website to find out about all the destinations offered.
More growth came to Punta Gorda at the end of the 1950’s. A modern shopping center was needed to „entertain” the bored consumers in the area. The rotting boat dock at the end of Punta Gorda’s Historic District was an eyesore and developers decided to change that. That was in the early 80’s.
Fisherman’s Village Added Real Value
A place with restaurants, waterside shopping, and apartments with a view, a marina, and entertainment for the whole family was in their mind. They called it „Fishermen’s Village,” and today it is still „the” attraction in Punta Gorda. Built on a New England Fishing Village theme, the second largest tourist attraction in Southwest Florida is constantly remodeling, improving, and attracting people.
This unique waterfront destination includes gift, clothing boutiques, and specialty shops. There are several restaurants with a wide variety of food items on their menus. A little military heritage museum tells stories about the past while the ice cream parlor next door drops a 5,000 calorie ice bomb on you. The marina offers 98 boat slips and a gas station. Fully furnished luxury apartments on the second floor are waiting for new arrivals who are seeking a break from the hustle and bustle.
Everything is in the shade. Wide openings provide for a gentle sea breeze on a sizzling summer day. On certain days you can listen to live music while enjoying your ice cold beer… or whatever you prefer to drink.
Charter boats are departing from the harbor. You can go out on a short sunset tour, or you can go out on a variety of day trips. The skippers will take you on cruises up the river, or to those little keys located in Charlotte Harbor. On one small island, called Cabbage Key, sits a unique little restaurant. One of those charter boats gets you to that little island in the sun ..and maybe even back. Try it out.
An Event that Shaped the City forever – “Charley.”
When the category four hurricane „Charley” hit Florida’s Sun Coast. Charlotte Harbor, Port Charlotte, and Punta Gorda (a little later even Arcadia) were right in the bulls-eye of the storm. That was in 2005, and it left huge parts of the city in ruins. Many buildings on the north and south banks of the river were destroyed because the eye of the hurricane went through the harbor and up the river without losing force.
For many months, blue tarps were protecting the roofs of the lucky ones while yellow tape marked the homes of the less fortunate residents. Their homes became uninhabitable and had to be torn down. Schools, hotels, churches, public buildings – the storm spared nothing. The historical part of the city, which is close to the water, was also affected by the storm.
But, everybody did a great job afterward, and today there are only a few scars still visible. The city looks beautiful again – maybe more beautiful than ever before? The historical part of the city now has cobblestone streets and gas streetlights. The residential area also features brick streets lined with huge royal palm trees. Old Florida-era tin-roofed homes with wide front porches are creating this unique „Old Florida Flair,” that everybody likes so much. Several old buildings, like the A.C. Freeman House, were authentically restored and serve as a museum now. If you want to learn more about Punta Gorda’s history, this might be a starting point.
Now, let us get back to the Question: “Can you live in Punta Gorda?
Ask a local teenager, and he will tell you that Punt Gorda is a big retirement community…and that sucks. Well, from his perspective he is probably right, but who asks a teenager for advice. Less than 3% of the residents are in the 18-25 age bracket, but almost 50% are older than 60. There are not too many leisure time activities for younger people. Nobody wants to study all day long for school, right? Where is the fun?
Now, if you are retired or semi-retired, 55+, and married, the picture is different. With its small town feel, waterfront parks, a vast system of pathways for walking and bicycling, and an extensive collection of independent shops and restaurants, Punta Gorda is catering directly to the 50+ clientele. Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River offer excellent recreational fishing and spectacular boating opportunities.
The water is perfect for sailing boats, power boats and small crafts, like kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes alike. If you want to leave the fish alone for a while, you can play a round of golf instead. You can go to the semi-private Punta Gorda Country Club, which is an 18-hole, par 72 golf course. They have a driving range and a pro shop, and they rent clubs as well – if you don’t have any.
Real Estate in Punta Gorda
The location seems to be perfect. The city is centrally coated between Sarasota and Fort Meyers. It is still a comfortable driving distance to Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers, or even Miami. Punta Gorda has a historic district with unique Florida-Style homes. On the Punta Gorda Isle, you can buy or build a nice home on a canal, Some canals are sailboat water; others are suitable for small fishing boats and other canals are only for the looks. The eastern quadrant of the city, dominated by ranch style homes enjoy larger lots. Many have acreage and space for horses.
Burnt Store Marina, located at the southern border of Punta Gorda, is a boater’s dream. Beautiful Condos, starting in the mid $100’s, townhouses (mid $100’s), villas (higher $100’s) and single family homes (high $100’s) are available. Spacious 3/3 or 3/2 single family homes on one acre lots with or without canal front are on the market for $500k-$750k.
Punta Gorda Beach
Where is the Punta Gorda Beach? Well, there is always a fly in the ointment, right? There is no Punta Gorda Beach. Beach Boys need to saddle their horses and drive a little. A 30-minute drive on 776 brings you directly to the wonderful beaches in Englewood; Stump Pass Beach Park, Englewood Beach, Middle Beach or Manasota Beach. For 6 dollars you can cross the bridge to beautiful Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande. There you can also enjoy miles and miles of sandy white beaches. Boating anyone? Relax a day on your boat, fish and enjoy the emerald waters. Now the horizon is your limit besides the size of your gas tank.