History Center receives gift of rare documents detailing commercial establishment of Boca Grande

October 2, 2020
By Marcy Shortuse

BY KAREN GRACE AND THE BOCA GRANDE HISTORY CENTER – A few weeks ago, a phone call was received at the History Center. The caller was not familiar with Gasparilla Island but had found the Historical Society’s website and was interested in information regarding the early phosphate industry especially the Bowker Chemical Company.  Jim Blaha, chairman of the History Center committee, researched the company and responded with the information. He learned that the caller had early documents from Bowker and from the American Agricultural Chemical Company, the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway, the Peace River Mining Company, the Boca Grande Land Company and its successor the Boca Grande Corporation, the companies that established commercial Boca Grande.  
Last Friday, six books of original documents arrived in Boca Grande.  Included with them was a note that said, “I’m so glad we found your society to deed the documents to preserve their place in your community.” 
The documents provide minutes of directors’ meetings dating from 1902 to the sale of the remaining Boca Grande Corporation lots to Henry Schwartz and Sunset Realty for $200,000 in 1945. The early documents are hand-written while later ones are typewritten.  
Many of the names are interesting including that of Albert W. Gilchrist, Florida’s 20th governor, and John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Eisenhower, who was a director of the Boca Grande Corporation in 1927 as well as Peter Bradley, Robert Bradley, Burdett Loomis, Jr. and others who served as directors.

Jim Blaha said that the documents are in good shape and will now be wrapped in acid-free tissue, placed in individual acid-free storage containers and stored in safe, climate-controlled conditions. The contents will be indexed and digitized so that they are readily accessible to researchers and anyone who wants to view their contents. After the History Center has made a more complete evaluation, it may determine that the documents should receive the attention of a professional preservationist.    
Blaha adds that it will take time to digest all the information contained in these books but as primary source materials, they are first-hand accounts of island history and a direct link to the past. For example, minutes from a 1914 meeting discuss the building of sixteen homes for fishermen and workers, a store and a machine shop for a total expense of $5,750. At the same meeting, the directors discussed the exchange of lots with the Episcopal Church which was being negotiated between one of the directors and the Episcopal Bishop.
RoseMarie Blaha, formerly a librarian/media specialist, notes that documents like these are rare. The only similar set she knows of are at the Florida State University library.
“It is a testament to our History Center that we have been given such wonderful primary sources,” she said.
Jim added that the documents “add to his appreciation for the early families and workers as well as the companies that made the history of the island so unique.” 
The History Center would like to add to its present collection with photographs, letters, deeds, newspapers, films and any other materials that people might like to deed to the Center. The History Center will help with information as to how to deed materials to it. Alternatively, one may lend historical materials to the Center so that they can be digitized and preserved for the community then returned to the owner.
To learn more about the history of Boca Grande and Gasparilla Island, visit the History Center website <https://bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com>, like us on Facebook, or when open, visit the History Center at 170 Park Ave. or call 964-1600.  
The History Center welcomes input from all. Please send comments or questions to bocagrandehistoricalsociety@gmail.com.