The Tarpon House Inn in 1910; photo from Digital FGCU. One of the last photos of the Tarpon House Inn in 1913; from Florida State Archives.
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Old Punta Rassa, this time from a 2016 News-Press article about “Pioneering Tourists” by Cynthia Williams: On a blustery day in March of 1881, illustrator Walt McDougall was fishing with friends in the Gulf when the wind picked up. They tied up at the nearest wharf and lumbered through sweeping rain into the barracks of old Fort Dulany at Punta Rassa, now a relay station for the International Ocean Cable Company. The cable station manager was a stout, genial guy by the name of George Shultz, from Newark, New Jersey. When the McDougall party came loping down the dock, laughing and shouting in a cold, driving rain, Shultz and his wife welcomed them in. McDougall so enjoyed the food and peculiar accommodations at Punta Rassa that he told all his friends up north about it. Curiously, other sports fishermen cabled Shultz for reservations. The word spread and soon wealthy businessmen from up north were roughing it in Shultz’s old barracks with bare floors and tin washbasins. Besides their rustic accommodations, these gentlemanly sportsmen enjoyed the convenience of keeping up with the stock market and cabling in to their offices via the IOCC telegraph. The Shultzes quickly named their barracks home the Shultz Hotel, and when his guests inquired as to other local places of interest, Shultz invariably pointed them upriver to the up-and-coming little town of Fort Myers. The destiny of a fledgling town can pivot upon something as simple as the flick of a mullet’s tail. In March, 1885, a sports fisherman from New York, vacationing at the Shultz Hotel, lowered a mullet wired to a hook into the sparkling water of San Carlos Bay. He was not prepared for what happened next. A 5-foot-9 tarpon hit with a force that nearly jerked the rod from his hands. The fisherman’s rod plunged and the man locked his chin to his chest and dug in. For the next 26.5 minutes and over a half mile of sea, he battled 93 pounds of silver, water-shattering tarpon. At the time, fishermen believed that a tarpon could not be caught with anything but a shark hook and chain, or a harpoon, but on March 12, 1885, W.H. Wood landed one at Punta Rassa, Florida, with a 5-foot bamboo rod. Sportswriters sent illustrated articles to magazines all over the world, igniting a tarpon-fishing craze that washed a rising tide of millionaire tourists into Punta Rassa. George Shultz merrily renamed his hotel the Tarpon House Inn, and when his guests inquired as to other local places of interest, Shultz invariably pointed them upriver to the up-and-coming little town of Fort Myers. Two weeks before Wood caught his tarpon, another fisherman put up at the hotel because chilling rain has spoiled his vacation in St Augustine. This fisherman was a former telegraph operator, so he and Shultz got along fine. They were relaxing on the veranda one day, their heads wreathed in clouds of cigar smoke, when Shultz mentioned Fort Myers. Mr. Edison decided to take his yacht up for a look. Upon his return, he told Shultz that he was thinking about building a winter lodge in Fort Myers. Shultz undoubtedly chuckled and, clinking the mouth of a whiskey decanter against the rim of Edison’s glass, commented with twinkling eyes, “Now that oughta get us some attention.” Postnote: Punta Rassa’s good fortune began to wane in the early years of the 20th century. In 1906, the Tarpon House Inn caught fire and burned to the ground. The resort was missed so much that wealthy patrons raised $40,000 to rebuild it. The new Tarpon House Inn withstood the hurricane of 1910, but burned down again in 1913.