Readers may recall my column Dec. 31 about the San Carlos Hotel in St. James City. Researching at the library for the museum's upcoming event called "A Stroll Through Pine Island History" revealed some new details about the hotel and events surrounding their passing.
In that column it was noted that 1893 was the last year the hotel was opened under the management of the St. James on the Gulf Company. The following nine seasons the hotel was leased by R.B Hughes of Asbury Park, N.J. Hughes was a prominent hotel operator in the northeast. Under the management of Hughes, St. James City enjoyed an abundance of visitors and tarpon caught.
Prior to the 1898 winter season, Hughes purchased a large barge and outfitted it with rooms and other conveniences. He called this lodging the Captiva Hotel and towed it to Captiva Pass and anchored it there for the tarpon fishing. The company's newspaper ad stated "First Class in all its Appointsments" [sic]. Their appointments were pretty first class, too. The floating hotel had 21 sleeping rooms, two toilets (a must for the women visitors), a substantial wine room and kitchen. It was managed by Hughes' son. The Hughes family continued to operate both hotels until the end of the 1902 season.
As cited in my column, hard times fell upon the St. James of the Gulf Company. The deaths of two key investors contributed to the demise of the company. Furthermore, the Royal Poinciana Hotel opened in West Palm Beach Feb. 11, 1884. This 540-room resort was accessible by railroad and offered northerners a destination for golf, tennis, boating and bathing. Plus fishing.
The Royal Poinciana also offered tough competition for our hotel since it was easier to reach and provided so much more in the way of activities. Ironically, today's name for the place where the San Carlos Hotel once stood is Poinciana Street.
The St. James on the Gulf Company went bankrupt in 1903 and it was previously noted in my column that some of its property was sold at public auction for $100. While doing research on the Lee County Clerk of Court website, an additional sale of 3,474 acres of property for the "highest bid of $5,000" turned up. Not included in this sale were the 39 tracts already purchased from the company's original land acquisition on Pine Island.
On the Lee County website, it mentioned this auction was "by Special Masters Sale," not the sheriff's auction that was normal to satisfy land debts. The San Carlos Hotel was for many years a special destination.
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.