Thanks, Marcy, for trying to straighten out a conundrum, which you set forth in your down on the bayou column in the December 16 issue of the Beacon. As a former Boca Grande harbor master and present Boca Grande Historical Society “historian” I may be able to shed some light on this very murky subject.
According to Charles Dana Gibson in his book “Boca Grande; a series of Essays,” the bayou was dredged about 100 years ago by the Boca Grande Land Co. I can testify that this waterway has been used by the public for the purpose of navigation, and anchoring, since that time. Any testimony that I would give would be based on the Johnson family oral history going back to before 1911.
Aside from my historical perspective as a lifelong citizen of the island I also have a strong personal opinion regarding this matter. Boca Grande has always been more inclusive than exclusive. That is part of its charm even today. In my opinion, sailboats in the bayou are a part of that inclusive charm.
On another matter I must say, as a historian, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. As an example, in the early ’80s Bayard Sharp, then owner of the Inn, had a grandiose plan to build what was called, at the time, a motel/boatel.
This was to be a giant project which would necessitate digging up the mangroves on the golf course side of the bayou, along with enough fill dirt to extend the shoreline in front of the Pink Elephant, to accommodate this project, including ocean-going yachts!
Mr. Sharp claimed that in order for this plan to work he would have to have the land at the end of 4th Street on the bayou. He convinced the county of this and they gave him the public street end. This is not all, in the bargain he agreed to give the public land at the end of 5th Street for a public boat ramp, and provide parking for boat trailers on the edge of the golf course. If it is true that the Inn is attempting to discourage, or prevent, boats from anchoring in the bayou I would say that is the height of irony.
It is undeniable that the Gasparilla Inn contributes enormously to the economy of the island, and I feel sure, that merchants, and residents in general, know and appreciate that fact. However, the island has, as I said, been more inclusive that exclusive, it has also been very diverse. My interest in all of this is that we, the people of this special island, promote and extend our heritage.
Capt. Robert W. Johnson Boca Grande
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