Fifteen Boca Grande pioneer families will dominate the Historical Society's 10-part History Bytes series this season, which concludes April 4.
To be included as a pioneer family in this series, island residence had to predate 1910 and some descendants must remain in the area.
"Ever since the town of Boca Grande was platted in 1897 there have been island families who have made a great impact on the social and economic evolution of Boca Grande," wrote Kimberly Kyle, BGHS administrator, in her winter newsletter. "A few of their descendants remain in the area. They are willing to share their memories of a colorful and unique lifestyle that was Old Boca Grande, harking back to a time when front lawns were as sandy as the streets they bordered and house foundations shook and windows rattled from endless arrivals of terminal-bound phosphate trains."
Robert Johnson discusses his family’s four generations as Boca Grande-based harbor pilots as the Boca Grande Historical Society History Bytes series opens Feb. 1.
Capt. Robert Johnson, a member of the Boca Grande historic pioneer families and BGHS historian and chairman of the History Bytes, led off the program Feb. 1 with a rambling oratory for 50-plus attendees at the Fust Community Library on a beautiful sunny, 82-degree day.
Johnson, a longtime harbor pilot, veered off topic at one point to discuss the recent shipwrecked cruise liner Costa Concordia. Capt. Francesco Schettino faces charges of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship after the massive vessel struck rocks and rolled onto its side Jan. 13 in the waters off the Italian island of Gigli. Sixteen bodies have been recovered and 16 people are missing from the roughly 4,200 people aboard the cruise liner.
Johnson said he thought the captain took manual control of the ship after briefly noting its charted position.
Who: Boca Grande Historical Society
What: "Pioneer Families of Gasparilla Island and Area" series focus on the Sprott Family
When: 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15
Where: Johann Fust Community Library loggia
You should know: The Sprott family operated a series of small hotels and ran the ferry service. Guest speakers will include Ruthie Amen, Jennifer Burch and Robert Johnson.
Contact: Call 964-1600.
Boca's 'Pioneer Families'
Source: Boca Grande Historical Society. TBA: To be announced.
"Just glancing at a chart and knowing a chart are not the same," he said. "You can't digest everything in a chart by glancing at it. He obviously didn't know exactly where he was and he certainly didn't know a rock was there, which a pilot would have known, but he didn't have a pilot."
His great-uncle, William Johnson, arrived in Boca Grande around 1885, he said, lured by a burgeoning fishing industry.
The great-uncle later got a job on a steamboat, which began a string of four generations of harbor pilots. Johnson lamented the loss of his family's legacy employment.
"Since Boca Grande no longer has a port, I guess the Johnsons will have to find something else to do," he cracked.
The Polk, Gaines and Fugate families were discussed last Wednesday. Guest speakers at 11 a.m. Feb. 15 will include Ruthie Amen, Jennifer Burch and Johnson discussing the Sprott gamily, which operated the Boca Grande ferry before the bridges were completed in 1958.