The Museum of the Islands and the St. James City Civic Association's second "Stroll Through Pine Island History" was attended by more than 100 history buffs. Before the stroll began, attendees were entertained with period music by "Pickin' in the City."
Historian Tim Knox first led strollers to the site on Fourth Avenue where Captain John Smith, St. James City's first modern era resident, settled. He had lived on Punta Rassa but the hurricane of 1873 wiped out that village so Capt. Smith brought his family to St. James when he noticed it had not been ravaged by the hurricane. He homesteaded two parcels along Fourth Avenue until the St. James-on-the-Gulf Corporation acquired land extending down from about where the KOA campground is today to San Carlos Pass in 1885 to establish a residential city. The corporation sold Capt. Smith the two parcels for $1 and he remained there for many years farming, fishing and raising a large family, before moving to the northern part of the island to work in a sawmill operation.
The next stop on the stroll was the site of the Sisal Hemp and Development Company. After the demise of the St. James-on-the Gulf Corporation in the early 1900s, and the San Carlos hotel burning down in 1905, things were pretty quiet in Saint James City. The October 1910 hurricane destroyed most of the buildings which remained, but the next year a company bought the property of the defunct corporation to plant sisal hemp and build a rope manufacturing facility.
Museum of the Island historian Tim Knox and president Vickie Duflo fine tune the Stroll Through Pine Island History slide presentation.
Work got under way on a warehouse, an ice making facility, a new wharf and a 200-foot by 160-foot two-story manufacturing building for the Sisal Hemp and Development Company. Not long after, a hotel, post office/mercantile and electric plant were built. The end of the 600 feet of pier that jutted out into San Carlos Bay was where boats docked to bring hemp (initially imported) and in turn pick up rope. A narrow gauge railway ran down the length of the pier.
In 1913, just when the hemp company seemed to be thriving, it declared bankruptcy and closed its doors with no reason given. A 1926 hurricane brought the same fate to the Sisal Hemp buildings as one had to its predecessor in 1910.
The last stop on the stroll was the site of the second St. James City schoolhouse, the first having been destroyed in a May 1896 fire. The Sisal Hemp and Development Company built the school in 1912 on a parcel located at Oleander and Eighth, but it was a long way for young children to travel so it was moved to a parcel at Fifth Avenue, Lemon Street, Date Street and Meeting Street (today's Fourth Avenue).
By the late 1940s the children of Pine Island were being transported off the island to attend school and the old school building in St. James City was sold and moved to a newly dug canal along today's Oleander Street, down near Hopkin's Point. There it was turned into a fish camp called the Sea Belle. The school building today remains on the site as the bar section of the Waterfront Restaurant.
After the stroll, "Foreman Knox" answered questions about operation of the hemp factory posed by "Schoolteacher Mrs. Nellie Smith Hord" before refreshments were served.
Museum of the Islands invites you to visit their extensive displays and information on Pine Island history at 5728 Sesame Dr, Pine Island Center. For information, phone 239-283-1525.