Readers may have wondered why I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about the telegraph office at Punta Rassa when this column is about Pine Island history. Well, without that telegraph office, we may have never had the grand San Carlo Hotel constructed in St. James City in 1885.
The San Carlos Hotel was built before there were any fancy resorts in Miami Beach or West Palm Beach. This beautiful building was three stories tall with 50 guest rooms and a dining room to accommodate 100 diners. It sat on the block of land surrounded where Fifth Avenue, Date Street, Six Avenue and Poinciana Street are today. The grounds surrounding the hotel were planted with lush tropical vegetation. Palm Avenue, which led up to the hotel from the waterfront, was lined with palm trees and paved with shells from a nearby Calusa Indian mound. There was also a shell paved road that ran along the waterfront. The main part of the grounds went north as far as Eighth Avenue, east to Coconut Street and west to Sanibel Boulevard.
According to Lee County's first tax records in 1887, the St. James on the Gulf Corporation, which built the San Carlos Hotel, owned 3,872 acres of land on the southern end of Pine Island. This stretched from the waters of San Carlos Bay north to the present day KOA Campground and included almost the entire southern end of Pine Island.
The San Carlos Hotel, built in 1885, was located in St. James City. It burned down in July 1905.
Such notable Americans as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the San Carlos Hotel. Today the Shangri-La Mobile Home Park occupies the site of this once grand hotel.
The St. James on the Gulf Corporation went bankrupt in the 1903 due to the deaths of two of its prominent investors. According to a document filed with Lee County Clerk of Court on January 9, 1904, "the sheriff did levy on and seize all the estate, right, title and interest which the said defendant (St. James on the Gulf Corporation) had of, in and to the property hereinafter described, an on the first Monday in January A. D. 1904, being the fourth day of the month, and a legal sale day, sold the said property at public auction in front of the court house, for the sum of one hundred dollars ($100), being the highest bid for the same." The buyer's name was Irvin R. Todd.
In 1905, the Koreshans of Estero bought the hotel from Todd and planned to use it for its World College of Life. However, it burnt down in July of that year while being remodeled.
So, what's the significance of the telegraph office at Punta Rassa for the San Carlos Hotel? That telegraph allowed industrialists who wintered here during those years to conduct their business, while at the same time they could enjoy the fine weather and excellent sport our area had to offer. Without the telegraph, who knows?
For more history of Pine Island, visit the Museum of the Islands, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.
The museum is conveniently located next to the Pine Island Library at 5728 Sesame Drive off Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1525.
Tim Knox is museum historian at the Museum of the Islands.