Blogging Boca Grande

Where are we?

Since this is our first blog post, it makes sense to clear up the air about where we really are. Are we on Boca Grande? Or are we on Gasparilla Island? Where is it? What is it? First off, we are on Gasparilla Island, a seven mile long barrier island in southwest Florida. Gasparilla island is surrounded by the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the pristine estuaries of Charlotte Harbor. Offering some of the best beaches in Florida. Located about 1 hour and 45 minutes south of Tampa, and about two hours north of Naples, you will find what’s left of old Florida.

An aerial view of Gasparilla Island.

Head over the swing bridge and you will find out why Boca Grande is so special. No highrises, no street lights, no hotel chains. An island where golf carts out number cars, you will find the laid back beach town of Boca Grande. Yes, Boca Grande is actually the historic village on Gasparilla Island. While exploring the historic village one will find many shops, restaurants, and specialty stores. Two historic lighthouses, that still function today. A magical street named Banyan St. where 100-year-old trees canopy over the road.  Boca Grande is home to several marinas which help to explore the local waterways. The island homes are tucked into the native landscaping with many right on the beach.  A true highlight is the historic Gasparilla Inn, a century old hotel that has hosted such guests as the DuPont’s, Rockefeller’s, and J.P. Morgan. More recent guests include Audrey Hepburn, and the presidential Bush family. Boca Grande has also been on the Hollywood screen, along with hosting some high-profile weddings.

Boca Grande lighthouse overlooks the pass
The Port of Boca Grande Lighthouse stands guard over the pass.

So now that you know where we are, and where it is, let’s talk about what it is? For this we need to dig into the interesting history of Boca Grande. For those history buffs, here’s a brief overview on the beginnings of Boca Grande. Oh, and one more thing.. It’s pronounced Boca Grand, not Boca Grand"a"

History of Boca Grande

Boca Grande means “big mouth” in Spanish, this refers to the waterway passage at the southern end of the island between Charlotte Harbor, and the Gulf of Mexico. After the Calusa Indians settled this area around 800 A.D. their empire numbered thousands of people. The Calusa empire sustained their existence until the mid -18th century when they became victims of diseases, slavery, and European warfare.

Around the 1880’s phosphate rock was discovered and mined from the Peace River along with areas around Punta Gorda and Charlotte Harbor. The deep natural pass at Boca Grande was used as a major seaport to transport the phosphate. It was during this mining period the village of Boca Grande was born.  Just after the turn of the century a railway was built from the south end of Boca Grande to the mainland. This major improvement made transporting the phosphate to larger ports easier in Florida and beyond. During the mining heyday the port of Boca Grande was ranked the fourth busiest in Florida.  But in the 1970’s the mining companies started to switch their interest to larger ports around Tampa and the St. Petersburg area. As those larger ports were developed the shipping traffic to Boca Grande decreased.  In 1979 the phosphate industry on the island ended.

During the island industrial revolution many wealthy American families began traveling to the area. Since the island is of its own a tropical paradise located on the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico it became a popular vacation spot. The waters around the island, especially the pass are also known for their excellent sport fishing, namely tarpon. Boca Grande is known as the Tarpon capital of the world, and yields more tarpon then anywhere else around the globe. As the town grew from both the mining and tourism industry many people began investing in land and started to develop the island. In 1911 the first hotel, The Gasparilla Inn was opened, making Boca Grande a true vacation destination. The Gasparilla Inn is still open today and hosts guests from around the world. It’s grounds host many amenities including a private golf course, 5 star dining, and wedding accommodations.

Boca Grande train depot and bike bath
The train depot today. The tracks have become a bike path on the island of Boca Grande. 

The railway played an important part of Boca Grandes history. Not only for the mining industry, but also in the redevelopment after the mining was over. The railroad brought folks to the area to enjoy the natural beauty of this barrier island. The railway was the only practical way to get visitors to the island other than a boat ferry. The railroad continued to bring winter visitors from all along the east coast and upper Midwest regions until the Boca Grande Causeway opened in 1958. The swing bridge spans over two 80-foot-wide channels on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at Placida Harbor. Construction began in 1952, and in 1958 the causeway replaced the ferry service. With the bridge operational, it was faster to fly into the Tampa airport and drive to Boca Grande than it was to take the train directly from the northeast and mid-west cities. The last commuter train to Boca Grande was on April 12, 1959.

Today’s Boca Grande

Today, we still have remnants of days gone by. Both lighthouses still function. The Range light has just undergone a major renovation and now hosts trails around the grounds and tours to the top. The Port Boca Grande lighthouse is now home to a museum open to the public. The old concrete oil docks are still just inside the pass, and there are some remaining sections of the phosphate dock still visible in the harbor. As you come over the Boca Grande causeway you will see the railway bridges. As Boca Grande transitioned away from its industry roots the railroad easement was turned into a bicycle and golf cart path in 1985. The Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association, a non-profit organization based on the island, currently operates the path. The village of Boca Grande received some national recognition as it was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. 47 buildings are included in the “Boca Grande Historic Village.” Residents and guests also enjoy everyday amenities such as a grocery store, library, community center, and post office.
Golf course at the Gasparilla Inn

What is Gasparilla Vacations?

Gasparilla vacations logo

Now what are we doing here? Our company Gasparilla Vacations specializes in luxury vacation rentals here on this historic island of Boca Grande, and the surrounding areas. We are reinventing the stale rental model by giving our guests a true vacation experience. Bringing custom concierge services to our island guests allows them to truly enjoy their time on the beachfront sanctuary of Gasparilla Island.

Booking your island vacation rental is just the beginning of our concierge services. First, our innovative website allows our guests to customize their vacation needs adding amenities such as golf carts, fishing charters, personal chefs, and transportation, right when booking. Our island experts are here to insure you build the perfect Boca Grande vacation just to your liking! We are here to make your every dream come true. Whether that be dinner reservations, transportation, bike or kayak rentals, a catered dinner party, boat excursion to a remote island, or in-house massages on the beach. Gasparilla Vacations can make your vacation an island experience you will never forget.

Gasparilla Vacations is affiliated with Bob Melvin’s team at Gulf Coast International Properties. A leader in Boca Grande real estate sales for over 35 years. Our relationship allows us to combine efforts, offer opportunities to our clients, & bring an innovative model to our exclusive island. We are now your source for all your real estate needs on Boca Grande. We specialize in a hand selected portfolio of luxury rental homes. Our partnership model with our owners allows us to invest more time & capital, offer innovative marketing, and concierge style service to our guests on Gasparilla Island making a truly memorable island vacation.

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