Trying to Hold On To a Beachfront – a History
Tales of Island Life: February 2024
It’s difficult to envision a boulevard in front of the beachfront houses but, as the accompanying 1919 photo shows, that’s how things were in the earliest years of the 20th century. The 1897 plat of the of the Island north of what is now First Street shows 197 feet of high ground and 53 feet of beach west of the platted blocks. The wide thoroughfare shown in the photo was built in 1910. By 1925, a survey of the same area shows 15 feet of high ground and a narrow beach showing the erosion that has plagued the area even until today.
There have been many attempts to protect the beaches and the properties to their east. In 1924 C. R. Peterkin, the American Agriculture and Chemical Company’s sales agent, tried to limit erosion by placing semicircular rows of palmetto logs along the beach. These washed away with the first storm.
The AACC, feeling it had spent all the money it would on trying to maintain the beach, offered its riparian rights to the properties between First and Third (now Banyan) Streets to the Crowninshields for $1. They suggested that the property owners could then form a group to build retaining walls and jetties at their own expense. This was the beginning of a pattern of collective anti-erosion measures taken by land owners. In 1927 a seawall was constructed of a line of piles backed up by three layers of lapped cypress sheathing. This structure lasted until the late 1940’s.
At that time, a local contractor, S. Findley Griffin, was hired to build a concrete seawall from Seventh to Thirteenth Street. The residents of the homes between First and Seventh Street hired Griffin to repair the wooden seawall already in place with new treated piles at a cost of $35 per foot. The cost of a concrete seawall was $52 per foot. Within two years, the wooden seawall was already being affected by erosion and in 1951 the residents added eight jetties to help protect the wall and the beach. They seemed to help but did not eliminate damage to the wall or beach erosion.
In 1967 the Misener Marine Construction Company of St. Petersburg was hired to construct a well-anchored 8 inch thick, reinforced concrete wall at a cost of $63 per foot. This wall remained fairly stable and protected the properties behind it but the beach continued to erode. Again jetties were added but did little to keep the sand on the beach.
Peter Ffolliott, who lived on the beachfront for many years, recalled that in 1973 it was “decided that a rock rip-rap revetment should be placed in front of the sea wall. Thirteen years later it didn’t look good. Not only had the rocks making up the rip-rap moved and appeared to have melted…but now what had been a sturdy cap on the cement sea wall was showing signs of deterioration…Hence, in 1987, additional rip-rap was added and a completely new 24-inch, 710-foot long cement cap replaced the chipped and broken old one.”
More recent attempts to “save” the beach have focused on renourishment where sand is pumped onto the beach to increase its height and width and in the hope that property will be protected and the beach recreated as it once was. Renourishment to various parts of Boca Grande beaches took place in 1981, 1993 and 1997. The most recent of these projects took place in 2007 and 2013 under the supervision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. It was funded under a federal act and through Lee County.
The 2013 renourishment utilized more than 400,000 cubic yards of sand. The sand was excavated from an area approximately 1 mile off the south end of the Island and moved north to cover 2.8 miles of Boca Grande beach according to a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.