Bayard Sharp Remembers Boca Grande As It Once Was
Tales of Island Life: February 2023
Before he died in 2002 Bayard Sharp kept notes he planned to use in a memoir. These and several interviews became the sources for an article Malabar Hornblower, the food writer and author, wrote for Connections, a publication of the Boca Grande Historical Society. In it she quotes Sharp’s recollections of earlier times in Boca Grande.
Sharp arrived in Boca Grande for the first time in 1924 having ridden the train from Boston to join his parents, H. Rodney Sharp, Sr. and Isabella du Pont Sharp, during a school break. He describes the Florida he watched from the train as “nothing except endless plains of scrub palmetto, broken now and then by a solitary tall palm or a cluster of top-heavy pines.”
He goes on. “My parents were waiting for me on the station platform on the island. It was very festive, with bright covers fluttering from card tables set up with refreshments – lemonade and daiquiris, fruit, finger sandwiches, shrimp and fresh oysters on ice……After the passenger trains ceased coming to the depot in the center of the island and before the causeway was built, there was something about making that last leg by boat or ferry that was like letting go and stepping into a new world – the island world of Boca Grande, a paradise.”
Sharp says his parents came to Boca Grande at the behest of Frank and Louise Crowninshield. Louise was Bayard’s cousin. The Crowninshields are described as an “adventuresome couple” who came originally to tarpon fish with Benny Crowninshield, Frank’s older brother. Benny and the well-known writer of Westerns, Zane Grey, had a fishing camp on Gasparilla Island.
The Crowninshields purchased a small cottage and moved it to the beachfront at First Street. Harry F. du Pont and other friends built houses on Banyan Street, First Street and Gilchrist. “The houses kept springing up and moving north along the Beachfront. Names like the Evander Schleys, the Stuart Dons, Mrs. Michael Gavin, the Van Burens, the George Weymouths and others, became residents. They were all united by their love for hunting, fishing and golf.”
Sharp reports, “With time on their hands and a sense of freedom from all strictures, both children and adults along the Beachfront indulged in a number of practical jokes, some of them quite imaginative.”
“One of the most remembered pranks is about the cow in our bathroom. Mary (Bayard’s wife) and I had been to a cocktail party and were going on to dinner, when Mary said she wanted to stop by the house. After checking on our daughter Sarah, she swung open the bathroom door to face a full-grown, real live cow staring at her. It was obvious the cow had been occupying the bath for quite a while.”
“By the time we cleaned things up it was quite dark. We knew the Weymouths and their children were up to all sorts of tricks so we carefully led the cow up to the Weymouths’ house. They had converted their garage into a dormitory for the visiting young boys. We pushed the bewildered cow into the garage and closed the door. It was pitch dark in there and we could hear the cow rampaging among the cots and orange crates, knocking them over.”
“We went back home and were sitting on the porch when, an hour or so later, comes the Weymouth parade leading the cow back. Mary’s convertible was parked at the curb with the top down, and they began to push and shove to get the cow into the car. Fortunately, Johns Knight, our sheriff, came along just then and he stopped the kids and made them walk the cow back down to South Beach.”
Sharp goes on to tell of other pranks involving greased pigs, golf carts and live crab sandwiches. But we’ll save these and other stories for future articles.
It’s also important to credit Bayard Sharp for the purchase of the Gasparilla Inn, his role in the GICIA, the Boca Grande Health Clinic and his donation of properties in a trade that gave CSX the Boca Bay properties and Sharp the railroad track and other properties that became the island’s state park as well as the bike path.