BY MARCY SHORTUSE AND T. MICHELE WALKER
So many stories have been written about the railroad that ran to Boca Grande, but one forlorn piece of that history that was moved off-island 25 years ago left the state of Florida with little fanfare and minimal recognition this past month.
The old bridge-tender’s building that sat on the railroad trestle now has a new home in Georgia, after spending more than two decades on the old Grande Tours property on Placida Road. Capt. Marian Schneider, the former owner of Grande Tours, couldn’t bear to see it destroyed … so she took it with her.
“Stories have been written in the Boca Beacon about this house,” Schneider said. “After selling Grande Tours I tried to donate it to every historical society I could find, but nobody wanted it. It belongs in Boca Grande but I gave up, something I don’t do easily.”
Marian had the little building dismantled and taken to her property in northern Georgia to be rebuilt there. It took a contractor, a U-Haul and two weeks of work to get it to its final resting place, Schneider said, and more than a little expense on her part.
She promises to send photos when it is re-assembled in Georgia.
In 2014 a company called Boca Norte, LLC, (also the owner of the former Mercabo facility) owned by island property owner Brad Kelley, purchased the land at 12575 Placida Road and the easement that used to be the site of Grande Tours for $820,000. The property is zoned RMF-T, or “residential multi-family tourist.”
Commissioner Bill Truex spoke to the Charlotte Board of County Commissioners on March 9 with the proposal of purchasing property on the east side of Placida Road, across from the county’s Placida Boat Ramp. According to Charlotte County spokesperson, Brian Gleason, “The question was raised by Commissioner Truex during a recent county commission meeting and the consensus is to have the staff look into it. Beyond that, there’s been no proposal or purchase offer. We’re really just at the exploratory stage right now.”
“I was speaking with property owners in this area who are interested in selling,” said Truex at the March 9 meeting. “Staff has been looking at the parcel for our Bluetrails Water Trails for access. This estuary right here is good for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. My goal would be to maintain as much of the tree canopy as possible still providing access for people to have a kayak launch.”
Other Commissioners, Deutsch, Constance and Tiseo expressed their support to continue exploring the acquisition. Constance said, “This is an investment that pays dividends. Putting a development there isn’t really going to help us. Having that (property) saved for everyone else helps people wanting to come here.”
Truex added, “Here’s a crazy idea I haven’t pursued yet, and that is reach out to the Gasparilla Island Conservancy and see if they have interest in assisting with this project. I’ll reach out and see if they have any interest at all.”
This move is welcome news to local conservation groups, who have been concerned with development in the area.
In 2015, Friends of Cape Haze, a local conservation group, and Sierra Club, a national conservation group brought a case against Charlotte County to prevent high density development on the Cape Haze peninsula. According to a spokesperson for Friends of Cape Haze, “I think that fundamentally this kayak launching facility will be good. It’s a popular spot. You can’t deny the public right to access the water and I think it will be for the benefit of all involved.”
“We would like for it to become a part of the trail system. We wouldn’t want motor access,” said Truex.
“I think it would be a good property to keep and protect the environment and provide access.”
Photos from the Boca Beacon Archives and Capt. Marian Schneider