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Old Punta Rassa – Part 1

1882 Rand McNally map of Southwest Florida showing Punta Rassa and Fort Dulany; photo from State Library of Florida.  

“The Barracks” housed an increasing number of weary cattle drivers in Punta Rassa circa 1890s; photo from the Florida State Archives.

 

“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.”

So begins a fun blog on “Old Punta Rassa” published on FloridaMemory.comIt continues: 

“Punta Rassa could get a little wild when there were lots of cowhands about. The cattlemen were generally paid for their cows in gold coins, and the hands typically received their cut while still in town. Contemporaries recalled that some of this money often went toward having a good time drinking Cuban rum and playing poker. The younger men liked to shoot when they got a bit ‘liquored up’ and the walls and floors of the old barracks were riddled with bullet holes.”

Punta Rassa is the small 4.5-square mile area — today home to the Sanibel Harbour Marriott, Port Sanibel Marina and Punta Rassa Condominiums — that you see just before you reach the Sanibel Causeway. 

There’s a historic marker that says there was a time when it was a port town that had the “constant bedlam of bellowing cows, the cracking of whips, barking of cow dogs, cries of cowmen, an occasional gunshot, the shrieks of ships’ horns and the clatter of hoofs,” along with “card games and an occasional fight.”

The marker further details it was a Calusa settlement dating back to 500 A.D. and that Ponce de Leon may have sailed by on his second and last trip to our coast in 1521. Fort Dulany was a U.S. Marine Post during the Second Seminole War of 1835 to 1842, before it was destroyed by a hurricane, ultimately to be re-established in the Civil War to help with naval blockade operations.

“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. Throughout this period, cattlemen from all over Central and South Florida would drive their cows to Punta Rassa to be sold.”

Not long after the war ended, the port and Army barracks passed hands, and in 1866, the International Ocean and Telegraph Company made Punta Rassa the American terminus for an underwater telegraph cable from Punta Rassa to Key West and Havana, Cuba. It was where the continental U.S. first learned of the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana, which led to the Spanish American War.

Telegraph operator George Schultz and his wife lived in one end of the “Barracks” and the telegraph office was on the other end. The Schultz’s found themselves letting Florida cowboys bed down on their floor during cattle drives. And from these meager beginnings, our area’s hospitality industry was born.

More on Old Punta Rassa tomorrow!

 

2 thoughts on “Old Punta Rassa – Part 1

  1. I was extremely fortunate to grow up on The Calossa River just 2 miles from the Sanibel Causeway. My family owned 32acres which contains what is now called Iona Point. We had cattle on our property from approximately 1988 thru 2000.
    All my best friends lived on the Islands and or Iona Rd. Punts Rassa. I spent the majority of my youth working & playing on Sanibel & Captiva. One of my best friends father called me homeless Scott because I never would leave the Islands and crashed from one friends house to the next.
    We all hung out at Wulfert Rd. A majority of my die hard friends lived in the vicinity of Wulfert which was before it was developed. It was truly a remarkable place & definitely has left incredible life long memories in my life. From the causeway all the way to Caya Costa there’s nothing else on this Earth that has all the beauty, energy, wildlife and individuality that this stretch of land had to offer. It was truly like entering a different world once you crossed the causeway.
    I remember the first time I went to Sanibel. I was around 8 yrs old. I’ll never forget how magical the place was and felt. It was like entering a whole different planet. I was dumbfounded that a 3 mile causeway was all that separated these extremely diverse Islands from the mainland.
    My friends & I played in the jungle, chased the storms for waves to surf, partied with tourists, dated the girls both locals and tourists alike.
    Some of my friends that lived on the Islands well finances were not an issue. For the rest of us we made due by working for either family businesses and or the tourism industry.
    I started working on the Island at McT’s Shrimp House & Tavern. The owner actually picked me up hitch hiking out to the Island and gave me a job. I was just 15 and already had a couple yrs exp. working in Restaurants. But working on Sanibel and being able to make tips, especially when In season, as a young teenager I made a fortune. Well not a literal fortune, but I was making what 30 and 40 year old co-workers were making and I was still in High School.
    Growing up on Sanibel Island was the best childhood I could ever imagine having. The timing at which I was fortunate enough to be a part of it all was absolutely amazing.
    While running around with my friends we were able to see so much diversity of wildlife in both the water and on the land. We learned all about the nature and all the exotic animals & creatures from such a young age that it all was just second nature to us and we really took it for granite because we didn’t know any difference. We also met so many amazing people from the locals to the tourists.
    A few of us hitch hiked all over the Island at such a young age with absolutely no fear of being taking advantage of or being hurt. Before we knew it we were becoming of age obtaining our own vehicles and started traveling away to seek out or own life’s and dreams.
    By then the population and growth took over and literally changed everything we knew what seemed like overnight.
    One moment we were just all kids roaming all over the Islands and hanging out at Wulfert Rd. back in the woods out of the grasp of everything that was going on. Our spot was next to the extremely magical Caloosa Indian burial mounds. There just wasn’t anywhere that we could go on those Islands that didn’t have a special and unique Ora about it.
    I wouldn’t change anything about my youth and the time I spent growing up with myself and my best friends on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. I would gladly do it all over again without even the slightest hesitation. But like the majority of life everything great has to come to an end. To all my old friends, companions and mentors You are truly missed & will never be forgotten. In Gods speed,
    Scott R. Sander

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