BGHS takes note of a rare ‘Magna Carta’

February 13, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY SUSAN HANAFEE – Jim Blaha calls the mountain of material the Boca Grande Historical Society received from the attic of a woman in Tennessee late last year the “Magna Carta.”

And, indeed, the collection of books and documents contains the names and signatures of such notables as Albert Gilchrist, Peter Bradley and other “movers and shakers” involved in the industrial and commercial development of Boca Grande. A rare and happy find during the dismal year of the pandemic.

“These are documents that would only be found in the archival departments of a major university,” says Blaha. “These belong to the people of Gasparilla Island.”

The list of books include records and documents from the Bowker Chemical Co., the Peace River Phosphate Co., the Boca Grande Land Co., the Boca Grande Corporate Book and minutes from the Boca Grande Corporation. The materials cover the period from 1902 to 1952.

Blaha and his wife, Rose Marie, have taken on the responsibility for the archival materials associated with the Historical Society in recent years. But given the significance of these documents from Tennessee, he and the Society are looking to employ the services of a professional conservator.

So excited were the Blahas and the Society with this contribution that Jim was personally able to raise $20,000 from six donors as a first step toward conserving the rare documents. To do proper archival preservation requires funding for materials such as acid-free containers, external drives, consultant and outside vendor costs and proper storage, among others.

“Jim is a wizard at pleading the case and finding funding,” says Rose Marie, who explains that the process of scanning has already begun on what will be a big, but important project for the island’s historic records.

Patricia Bermingham (Colgan, Cunningham) LaSalle was born in Scotland, in the 30s, the youngest of four girls. She came to America when she was 12, through Ellis Island.

Her family settled in Merchantville, N.J. She attended the Kensington Girls High School of Philadelphia and was the valedictorian of her graduating class. She also starred in their production of Jane Eyre. She met Jack G. Colgan of Nebraska, who was a young stockbroker in Philadelphia. They built a stone house on the Main Line so he could commute by train. They had a girl, Nancy, then a boy, John and she was expecting their third child, Patricia, when she was tragically widowed. Later she had another daughter, Catherine, remarrying and had another son, Kerry. She divorced and later married John LaSalle of NJ, from whom she was also widowed. She was a breast cancer survivor of 15+ years.

She was an avid lover of the English language, and was a professional at RCA of Moorestown, N.J., working on classified information for the Navy for 20+ years. She retired to Englewood FL, for many years, then moved to Gainesville GA, where her son’s family cared for her in her last days. She leaves behind her adult children, their children and numerous great-grandchildren, in Georgia, central Kentucky, N.J. and Florida. Everyone she met was taken in by her talent and love of writing, poetry and the arts.