Part of the uniqueness and the cultural identity that Boca Grande enjoys comes from its rich historical roots. Although many of the island’s historical structures have been destroyed to make way for new homes and businesses, many others have been saved through the foresight and leadership of residents and elected officials who saw the value of preserving structures that contribute to the distinctive character of this seaside island.
Imagine if the Railroad Depot (1910) or the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse (1890) or the Boca Grande Community Center (1929) wasn’t there to give the island its depth of history and community.
Similarly, across the Causeway Bridge in the village of Placida, there is a precious piece of railroad history sitting at the top of the Pioneer Trail, waiting for a chance to tell its story. The Placida “Bunkhouse” was built in 1907 to house railroad workers as the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad pushed its way across the Florida wilderness to bring phosphate to Port Boca Grande and then to the far corners of the earth. This building is the only survivor of a series of “bunkhouses” built along the route of the railroad, a couple of them even in the old port area on the island, long gone now.
Over the years, in the sparsely settled Placida and Cape Haze region, the building not only served as a bunkhouse, but as a makeshift church, a school, a post office, and a home to a number of families, some of whom still remember living in it.
Charlotte County took possession of the building from its owner in the early 2000s and relocated it from its original site as the realignment of the Coral Creek Bridge threatened the structure. County officials have said that fundraising efforts to restore the building years ago were unsuccessful and that the County’s mission was only for “preservation” and not “restoration.”
It would be an absolute shame to have this very last piece of Placida history deteriorate to the point that it becomes unsalvageable.
I hope that the County of Charlotte does the right thing and restores the Placida Bunkhouse and creates either a local railroad history museum or a nature discovery center, perhaps partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory, whose own birthplace was in Placida. What a great opportunity to restore not only an incredible historical building, but to reintroduce Placida as a place where incredible history was first made.