‘Then and Now’ exhibit showcases how things have changed on Gasparilla Island over the years

January 23, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY TONYA BRAMLAGE – Every day of our lives we are making history. Make no mistake about it, these days of citizenship in the COVID period have made for strange and unusual events.

The Boca Grande Historical Society hosted its first open air archival photograph event on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 in the parking lot of the Boca Beacon & Gasparilla Outfitters/Special Effects. Portable tables, chairs, and canopies were erected and the historical photos were on display in the light of a sunshine filled day. What made this event notable and historical wasn’t the weather. It was the people. “People came out from all over the country,” said Nancy Lyons. There were dozens of Boca Grande residents who gathered in the parking lot socially distanced, masked, and ready to share memories and additional information regarding the photographs that would normally only be viewed at the Historical Society building.

The exhibit featured original photographs of businesses, streets, and sites all over the Island. These provided the “Then” features. Rick Montgomery provided aerial drone photographs of the same locations providing the “Now” views. Together Nancy and Rick worked tirelessly on the project volunteering time and talent to bring the event to fruition. Dog owners, passersby, old friends, neighbors, and local business owners were “enchanted” by the opportunity to view their work. The event gave locals a chance to learn, share, and connect. “Throughout the day you could see small clusters of people stand together, sharing and discussing little known facts and details,” said Nancy.

Elated by the turnout, Nancy Lyons was inundated with more information and verbal history than she could have imagined. The photographs that garnered the most attention were the giant aerial pole shot of the United “Elephone” Company, the road at the north end of the Island where the pilings were being built for the swing bridge, and the Rachel building. Attendees were allowed to view photos using a magnifying glass. This allowed individuals to see and believe for themselves the little known background information explaining why for years so many Island residents called the Telephone Company the Elephone Company. For 20 years the “T” was missing from the sign!

Little did Nancy know that when she moved to Boca Grande 21 years ago from Mystic, CT. that she would discover a vast tapestry of sights and stories. Every picture tells a story and she is passionate about recording and sharing each one. Nancy hopes to continue to host these pop up events for the Historical Society in the months to come. “So many requests have come in asking us to share more,” she said. Among some of the best suggestions include; featuring all the local businesses in an upcoming future pop up.

Pictured in the photo above are Martin & Nancy Lyons, Marty McFadden & Sandy Melvin, who were out early Monday morning to set up the display.

Photo by Cheryl