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This Month in History: La Costa quarantine station helped control spread of diseases

February 12, 2014
By TIM KNOX , Pine Island Eagle


Special to The Eagle

According to the Center for Disease Control website, there are 20 Quarantine Stations located at ports of entry around the U.S. where international travelers arrive. They are staffed with quarantine medical officers from the CDC. These health officers decide whether individuals who are ill should be allowed to enter the United States and what measures should be taken to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Article Photos

A sign at the site of the old quarantine station on Cayo Costa.


In 1904, a quarantine station was constructed at the north end of La Costa Island. Today that island is known as Cayo Costa.

The station was staffed with a doctor who would boat out to incoming ships and examine sailors and passengers for infectious diseases. The station was originally built in the 1890s on the south end of Boca Grande across from Cayo Costa. Because the Boca Grande site was low and swampy, it was determined the Cayo Costa site would be better suited for health care.

Incoming vessels to Charlotte Harbor had to wait offshore at anchor for 15 days before they were inspected. This would allow enough time to determine if someone caring the disease exhibited symptoms. Ships coming into San Carlos Bay destined for Fort Myers had to be examined at the quarantine station at Punta Rassa.

Today Florida's mild and sub-tropical climate receives praise as being good for your health. However, back in the late 1800s, this warm weather fostered tuberculosis, malaria and the dreaded yellow fever. Known as "Yellow Jack," this was a particularly feared disease with horrible and painful symptoms. It was also a killer with no known cure during that time. Yellow fever was only a concern during the warmer summer months.

In the spring of 1887, a Yellow Jack epidemic broke out in Key West. It quickly spread to Tampa as cigar makers were relocating to the city following a fire that destroyed many factories in Key West. It was reported that Yellow Jack was carried to Jacksonville from Tampa by a "drummer" (traveling salesman) who died at the Mayflower Hotel there. City residents burned the hotel down a few days later in a futile attempt to terminate the spread of the disease.

That year In Key West there were 282 cases of Yellow Jack and 30 deaths. In Tampa approximately 1,000 people contracted the disease resulting in 100 deaths. Nearly 5,000 cases were reported at Jacksonville that year resulting in 427 deaths.

There were no reports of Yellow Jack on Pine Island or the surrounding islands during this same time period. The fact that people traveled here via boats and not roads or rail made it easier to monitor visitors to our area. We have to give credit to that quarantine station on La Costa Island.


Readers may recall from my recent column that on Sept. 26, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt designated three small islands in the Matlacha Pass estuary as a "preserve and breeding ground for native birds."

A special thank you to Toni Westland and her associates at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge for identifying the first three islands of the Matlacha National Wildlife Refuge. Those islands are Bird Island, now called Lower Bird; Middle Bird, now called Givney Key; and Bird Rookery Island, now call Upper Bird Island.


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.



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