Over the years, I’ve read the Boca Beacon without fail. The best parts of the weekly paper are what I call “The Boca Soaps.” I savor every word. I love the Gilchrist sagas that kept going for several months … then the private fence on the south end of the island that extended across the beach and into the water … even the cement boulder placed across the pathway on the beach.
I’m particularly interested when someone is trying to preserve some history of the island. That’s wonderful, and I’m sorry for the loss of the Whispering Bench. I agree; it should have been saved.
I owned Grande Tours, Inc. of Placida for many years. If you ever visited, you might have noticed an old 10’ x 10’ building right in front of the property. This little building was the bridge tender’s house and it had rested on the railroad trestle to Boca Grande since 1910. It was small, but held so much of Placida, Cape Haze and Boca Grande history. Before I sold the business, I offered to donate this building to any historical organization interested in relocating it … but unfortunately, there were no takers. Some of you reading this article will remember me contacting you.
My concern was always about the little house, the building that saw every phosphate railroad car that came to Boca Grande. I wanted to preserve an important part of local history – my history – and our history. I did not want to see it destroyed. Inside the little building would be a bridge tender who would open and close the trestle bridge when there was boat traffic. The little house contained a potbellied stove and an outhouse on the back, hanging over the water. The outhouse had a beautiful stained-glass window, and it is with the little house to this day.
Three years before I sold Grande Tours, I started a very active search to find the next place to move the house to … it needed to be saved … it needed to be in Boca Grande. I started with the organization Barrier Island Parks Society (BIPS); I conversed with the Director, Sharon McKenzie, many times. In three years, she had no place in Boca Grande to put it. When I exhausted that idea, I reached out to every Historical Society in the county, including Boca Grande, but no one was interested. Some of them expressed interest, but no follow-up action was ever taken. A local contractor said it would be easy to move, since it was only a 10’ x 10’ structure, and he would not need a permit – it could be loaded on a flatbed and driven across the bridge to take it home. There would have been very little drama involved.
I sold Grande Tours in 2015. One of the stipulations of the sales contract was that as long as the little house was owned by the purchaser, I could move it at any time. If the property should be sold by the present owner, it would belong to the new buyer, and it would probably be destroyed.
In 2020, I gave up on preserving the little house … OR I thought I had! For many years the bridge tender’s house was always on my mind, I couldn’t imagine it being destroyed. But, by luck, I met a carpenter who agreed to dismantle the little house and help me get it to North Georgia, where we would assemble it on my property. We took every board apart and, with a U-Haul, two trucks and 12 hours later, we were in Blairsville, Georgia, at my home, where the little house would once again be at rest.
It took about five days for us to unload and lay out all the pieces on the ground to reassemble. It now sits beside my pond in North Georgia; it will never be destroyed on my watch. Final cost to move it and reconstruct it was around $8,000 – and it was worth every penny!
Now here’s the purpose of my letter. I would like to donate the 1910 bridge tender’s house back to the island, where it belongs. I have read in the Beacon comments pertaining to the Whispering Bench such as, “Let’s share the responsibility to protect part of our past,” “Do you understand the flavor of the island?,” “If you’re paying attention,” “For those who were paying attention we had a severe wakeup call,” and “Let the pendulum swing.” Once again, I ask someone to please take action and preserve a small piece of the history of the Island and move it back home, to Boca Grande. Will the island and Cape Haze/Placida communities come together and move this iconic structure back to Boca Grande? It can be done; I proved that it can be moved and reconstructed.
You can reach me by email at email@example.com.
Capt. Marian Schneider