Punta Gorda (/ˌpʌntə ˈɡɔrdə/; English: Fat Point) is a city in Charlotte County, Florida, United States. As of the 2010 census the city had a population of 16,641. It is the county seat of Charlotte County and the only incorporated municipality in the county. Punta Gorda is the principal city of the Punta Gorda, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area and of the Sarasota-Bradenton-Punta Gorda Combined Statistical Area.
Punta Gorda was the scene of massive destruction after Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 hurricane, came through the city on August 13, 2004. Charley was the strongest tropical system to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and the first hurricane since Hurricane Donna in 1960 to make a direct hit on Florida's southwest coast. However, a revitalization of the City took place in the immediate years following the storm that resulted in buildings being restored or built to hurricane resistant building codes. The new buildings, restorations and amenities concurrently preserved the City's past while showcasing state-of-the art modern facilities. During this time, Laishley Park Municipal Marina was built and the Harborwalk, Linear Park and various trails were created throughout the City for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
|Punta Gorda, Florida|
Punta Gorda City Hall
Location in Charlotte County and the state of Florida
The name "Punta Gorda" has been on maps at least since 1851, referring to a point of land that juts into Charlotte Harbor, an estuary off the Gulf of Mexico. It was in the late 1800s that early settlers began to arrive in what is the present-day Punta Gorda area.
Frederick and Jarvis Howard, Union Army veterans, homesteaded an area south of the Peace River near present-day Punta Gorda about a decade after the close of the Civil War. In 1876, James and Josephine Lockhart bought land and built a house on property which is now at the center of the city. Approximately two years later Lockhart sold his claim to James Madison Lanier, a hunter and trapper. Lanier with his wife lived there until 1883, when 30.8 acres (12.5 ha) were sold to Isaac Trabue, who purchased additional land along the harbor and directed the platting of a town (by Kelly B. Harvey) named "Trabue".
Less than ten years after the first settlements in the area, railroads rolled into the town of Trabue in June 1886, and with them came the first land developers and Southwest Florida's first batch of tourists. Punta Gorda became the southernmost stop on the Florida Southern Railroad, until an extension was built to Fort Myers in 1904,attracting the industries that propelled its initial growth.
In 1887, 12 years after the first settlers trekked to Charlotte Harbor, 34 met at Hector's Billiard Parlor to discuss incorporation. Once Punta Gorda was officially incorporated, mayoral elections took place and a council was formed. The first mayor, W.H. Simmons, was elected. The new city was renamed "Punta Gorda."
Phosphate was discovered on the banks of the Peace River just above Punta Gorda in 1888. Phosphate mined in the Peace River Valley was barged down the Peace River to Punta Gorda and Port Boca Grande, where it was loaded onto vessels for worldwide shipment. In 1896, the Florida Times-Union reported that phosphate mining was Punta Gorda's chief industry and that Punta Gorda was the greatest phosphate shipping point in the world. But, by 1907, a railroad was built direct to Port Boca Grande ending the brief phosphate shipping boom from Punta Gorda.
In 1890, the first postmaster, Robert Meacham, an African American, was appointed by Isaac Trabue as a deliberate affront to Kelly B. Harvey and those who had voted to change the name of the town from Trabue to Punta Gorda .
Early Punta Gorda greatly resembled the modern social climate of various classes living together and working together. While the regal Punta Gorda Hotel, at one point partly owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, reflected the upper class, Punta Gorda was a pretty rough town, as most frontier towns were. Punta Gorda's location at the end of the railway line spiked the crime rate, resulting in approximately 40 murders between 1890 and 1904. This included City Marshal John H. Bowman, who was shot and killed in his front parlor on January 29, 1903 in view of his family.
In 1925, a bungalow was built by Joseph Blanchard, an African-American sea captain and fisherman. The Blanchard House Museum still stands as a museum, providing education for the history of middle-class African-American life in the area.
Punta Gorda in the 20th century still maintained steady growth. Charlotte County was formed in 1921 after DeSoto County was split. Also in 1921, the first bridge was constructed connecting Punta Gorda and Charlotte Harbor along the brand-new Tamiami Trail. This small bridge was replaced by the original Barron Collier Bridge in 1931, and then by the current Barron Collier Bridge and Gilchrist Bridge crossing the Peace River.
During World War II, an U.S. Army air field was built in Punta Gorda to train combat air pilots. After the war, the air field was turned over to Charlotte County.Today the old air field is the Punta Gorda Airport providing both commercial and general aviation.
Punta Gorda's next intense growth phase started in 1959 with the creation of a neighborhood of canal front home sites by a trio of entrepreneurs, Al Johns, Bud Cole and Sam Burchers. They laid out 55 miles of canals 100 feet wide and 17 feet deep using dredged sand to raise the level of the canal front land. This provided dry home sites with access to the Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. Johns went on to develop several other communities in Punta Gorda.
Punta Gorda is home to five public schools operated by Charlotte County Public Schools: Charlotte High School, Punta Gorda Middle School, Sallie Jones Elementary School, East Elementary School, and the Baker Pre-K Center. Good Shepherd Day School is the only private grade school in Punta Gorda. Florida SouthWestern Collegiate High School, located in Punta Gorda, is the county school district's only charter school.
Florida SouthWestern State College Charlotte Campus is Punta Gorda's institution of higher learning.