Recently I was asked if I knew the history of the fish hut at the entrance to Safety Harbor. Safety Harbor is on North Captiva Island. This particular building was one of the Punta Gorda Fish Company's ice huts. In the early 1900s, there were two type of fish shacks built in the waters around Pine Island. There were ice huts, where fishermen would drop off their catch to be stored until the run boats from the fish company could pick up the fish. And there were fish cabins, where fishermen could live for extended periods of time while out on the water. This would save them from having to row or sail back and forth to their home each day.
These huts and cabins did not have electricity, plumbing, TV and dare I say, no Internet. But they offered a place to sleep each night and a shelter from storms. Water was collected from rain gutters mounted on the buildings for drinking and cleaning.
Fishermen would take their fresh caught fish daily to one of the ice houses built around Pine Island. The caretaker would haul the fish up into the building in a large bucket so the fish could be weighed. The fisherman was given a receipt for the catch that they could redeem at the fish company's office at a later time for payment for the fish.
The Punta Gorda Fish Company operated delivery or "run boats." Very early in the morning the run boats were loaded with 300-pound blocks of ice for the ice huts, and groceries and personal items for the fishermen staying in the fish cabins. After making their deliveries they collected the previous day's catch from the ice huts. The fish were shoveled through floor chutes from the ice huts into the ice holds of the run boats, and the run boats returned to the company where the fresh fish was processed for shipment to northern markets.
During World War II, the fishermen were deemed so important to our country's national interest they were exempt from serving in the military.
With the building of roads and bridges throughout our area, land-based fish houses became more practical to the ice huts around Pine Island Sound. Catches were brought in daily to one of the ice houses on land and refrigerated trucks hauled the fish back to the warehouse. By the 1950s, the ice huts and fish cabins were no longer vital to the commercial fishing industry and they were sold to private individuals for use as camps.
The builder of the ice hut at the entrance to Safety Harbor was J.L. Rose. It was built in 1924. And the building has the address of "N Shore Of Entrance To Safety Harbor North Captiva Island, Florida 33064". This structure was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on April 20, 1989.
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.