Boca Grande’s Hey Day: 1930-1958
Historical Overview of Boca Grande
This period of history could be called Boca Grande’s hey-day. All of the industries and activities put into place in the prior years were running smoothly. The town continued to grow and prosper.
At the north end of the island was a fishing village with a grocery store, post office and fish house. At the south end a deep-water port where cargo ships loaded phosphate and commenced their travels to countries around the world. In the center of the island were two large resort hotels; the Gasparilla Inn, purchased in 1930 by Barron Collier which boasted an 18-hole golf course, and the Boca Grande Hotel with a 9-hole golf course. There were several small hotels in town as well as shops, a pharmacy, a grocery store, and even a car dealership!
The composition of the population ranged in scope, both socially and economically. There were commercial fishermen, shopkeepers, fishing guides, black and white port workers and hotel employees (generally women from New England who, in many cases, eventually married local fishermen). Many upper middle class local families lived on Banyan Street: Captain Sprott, the owner of the car ferry; Mr. Fugate, the owner of the pharmacy, Mr. Gaines, a successful businessman, and Mr. Riley, head of the Boca Grande Corp., formally The Boca Grande Land Company.
Less affluent families lived on the east side of the railroad tracks in an area now part of Boca Grande’s historic district (now one of the most desirable areas of the island). A black community, which was nearby, had churches, a barbershop and a juke joint. Living in the southernmost part of the island were the harbor pilots, the lighthouse keeper and port employees.
The wealthy winter residents, including the du Pont’s, the Vanderbilt’s and other prominent families listed on the New York Social Register lived on the beachfront.
This small half-mile wide (at its widest point) and seven-mile long island supported several distinct and diverse communities.
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