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Gasparilla Island / Spanish fishing camps

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I went for a visit to the lighthouse museum on Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island State Park.
The museum is small, but it is full of information about the local history.
It is also quite a drive off the interstate, so plan in at least a few hours. But it is a beautiful area.
After you pay the toll at the bridge onto the island, you pass by the former rail line. Here it is seen from the road as I am driving down.

The rail line was abandon around 1979 as the phosphate industry in Florida closed down. I actually remember it, as I will tell in a few minutes.

This is the lighthouse, circa 1890. It is now the museum. The park office is next to it, housed in the former lighthouse assistant keeper's house.

Here is the museum's panel on the Calusa Indians. As you can see, it is full of information.

For a long time, I wondered about the Spanish fishing rancheros on the southwest coast, that the Army forced to close during the 2nd Seminole War. Fortunately this display includes information about them.

The Spanish fishing rancheros were a hold-over from before Florida was a US territory. The rancheros would operate from about October to March and send about a thousand tons of fish annually to Havana, Cuba. It was the largest economic operation in Florida at the time. So why did the US want to shut them down?

The main reason was economic. All the goods and money were going to Cuba, not the United States. So the US put heavy taxes on them, to the point where it would not be possible for them to make a profit and continue. The government put a revenue agent right next to one of the fishing rancheros here, but it was a dangerous profession, and at least one tax collector was killed. So the US & new territory wanted the money and fish to go to them, not Cuba, and sought to take over the industry.

One of the ways the government sought to destroy the fishing rancheos was to claim that they were conspiring with the Seminoles to raid white plantations, and were bringing in arms and ammunition to support the Indians during the 2nd Seminole War. I would have to look into it further, but I think most of this evidence was fabricated and not true. They would not aggravate a situation that would cause their demise.

Another reason the fishing rancheros because a target, was that they just didn't fit the mold of being a new southern slave territory. The people were mixed races, Spanish, Blacks, and Indians, and intermarried and had children together. And they were free. This just didn't work with a territory and future slave state. This is also where the Spanish Indians came from. They didn't start fighting until later in the war when the government came to close them down, on pretext that they were supporting the Indians.

Earlier in the war, the government sought the people at the rancheros as guides for the Army. That didn't work out, because all of these people lived on the coast and never ventured inland very far. They were unable to guide the Army inland any more than 10 or 20 miles, and were useless as guides. So the government decided if they were not useful as allies, it was time to throw them under the bus.

50 years later, the island became busy once again with the new phosphate industry. This peaked in the early 1900s.

But later in the century, due to environmental concerns of strip mining and cheaper phosphate from Africa, the mines closed down. I can actually remember these mines. As a kid, I used to go fossil hunting in some of the phosphate mines. In junior high, we went on a field trip to the mine and saw a large digging machine. And if you drove up highway 27 at night, you can see the glow from the ore processing plants, which looked pretty impressive. But that is all pretty much gone now. Rail lines would bring the ore down to Boca Grande, and ship it out from here. So Charlotte Harbor was a major deep water port for many years.

Now the main industry is fishing. Looking out from the lighthouse, you can see the pass, and on the other side is Cayo Costa Island.

From this narrow pass, some record tarpon and record hammerhead sharks have been taken out of the water.
Current Location:
the hammock
Current Mood:
accomplished accomplished
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