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The History of Cabbage Key

Although legends, fish tales, and local folklore may state otherwise, this timeline helps tell the story of our beloved island, Cabbage Key. Which, depending on the year and who you ask, has also been referred to as Palmetto Key, Gill’s Island, Rinehart’s Island, Turner Cay and Cabbage Key Hide-Away Resort.

Using newspaper and magazine stories, as well as federal, state and county documentation (and a few legends, fish tales, and stories told at our Dollar Bill Bar!), here’s our best account of the fascinating history spanning from 100 B.C. to present.

For those of you who have visited with us, thank you for being a part of our story. And for those we haven’t met yet, we hope you become a part of memories soon to be made.

Timeline

LAT. 26º 39' 24.162" LONG. 82º 13' 20.635"
10,000 B.C.
The Creation of Cabbage Key
Cabbage Key is an ice age sand dune. According to geologists, the island has not flooded completely since the last ice age. Cabbage Key is part of a series of islands and keys that sprinkle Pine Island Sound along the west coast of Lee County. The key has an irregular shape with its long axis measuring approximately 3,500 feet in length. A series of barrier islands, which include Captiva, Cayo Costa, and Sanibel, are to the west of Cabbage Key; beyond those islands you'll find the Gulf of Mexico. Immediately east of Cabbage Key is Useppa Island. At 112 acres, Cabbage Key is among the smallest of the islands in Pine Island Sound.
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100 B.C. – 1570 A.D.
Calusa Indian Occupation
An extensive Calusa Indian shell midden is located on Cabbage Key. This archaeological site was recorded by Dr. John Goggin of the University of Florida in 1951. The Calusa Indians were known to have lived in the Pineland area for about 2000 years until the mid-1700's. Remarkably, they survived for 200 years following the arrival of the Spanish. In 1997, a large collection of surface artifacts from Cabbage Key were submitted for analysis to the University of Florida by Taylor Stults, whose family owned the island from 1944 to 1969. The artifacts included potsherds (pottery fragments) dated back to the Caloosahatchee I period - 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. (Calusa painting by Theodore Morris)
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1750 – 1832
Cuban Rancho
Cabbage Key was used as a Cuban fishing camp. Ranchos were established in the area by Cuban fishing companies on the islands along Florida’s southwest coast to dry and salt fish for shipment to Havana. By 1770, thirty or more fishing vessels from Cuba were involved in this trade. Local indians were employed to work at the ranchos alongside Cuban fisherman. The presence of a Cuban fishing rancho on Cabbage Key is not surprising as a major rancho was located on adjacent Useppa Island. (Artwork Credit - Florida Museum of Natural History)
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1875
'Palmetto Key' and 'Cabage Key'
A survey of the region is completed in 1875 by Deputy Surveyor, Horatio Jenkins, Jr. The Florida Surveyor General’s Office uses the name ‘Palmetto Key’ on the township plat to identify the island. This early plat map shows two islands, one identified as 'Palmetto Key' and the other as 'Cabage Key.' It is the same island, put on the map twice, at different locations. That mistake, in time, would cause a legal dispute over ownership that would eventually be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. A hand-written correction is made on the map when the mistake is later realized. (Bureau of Land Management - U.S. Department of Interior)
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1896
Homesteader Charles H. Gill arrives on 'Cabage Key'
At this time, Charles H. Gill of Punta Gorda takes residence on the island with the intention of homesteading the property. The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged migration by providing settlers with 160 acres of land in exchange for a nominal filing fee ($10). Among its provisions was a 5-year requirement of continuous residence before receiving the title to the land. Between 1862 and 1934, the federal government granted 1.6 million homesteads and distributed 270 million acres of federal land for private ownership. This was a total of 10% of all land in the United States. (Bureau of Land Management - U.S. Department of Interior)
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October 23, 1900
B.F. Hampton and James M. Graham purchase 'Palmetto Key'
The island identified as 'Palmetto Key' was certified in 1899 by the federal government to the state of Florida as school indemnity lands. The island was then sold by the Florida Board of Education to business partners B.F. Hampton and James M. Graham. However, there was no island there! The map error would eventually put Hampton and Graham in court challenging Gill's ownership of the island. (Bureau of Land Management - U.S. Department of Interior)
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1901
Charles H. Gill acquires deed to the island
Through the U.S. Federal Government Homestead Act of 1862, Charles H. Gill of Punta Gorda acquires the patent to the island. He planted fruit-bearing trees and towering coconut palms. Local residents said there was a citrus orchid on top the shell midden, on the same spot where the Rineharts would later build their winter home. (Bureau of Land Management - U.S. Department of Interior)
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1912
United States Supreme Court: GRAHAM v. GILL
Gill's ownership is affirmed by the U. S. Supreme Court. No significant improvements are made to the island for next 25 years. Locals referred to it as Gill's Island and his land dispute was well known in the area. Local resident Arthur Coleman said there was an 18' wide dock made of cabbage palm logs; he would visit the island to gather coconuts and guavas located behind the orange grove. There was also an Italian man - a moonshiner - who used dynamite on the island and put some groves in the woods. Later, a man who raised pigs moved on the island (and he also made moonshine!). (Courtesy of Taylor Stults, Article - Fort Myers News-Press April 2, 1912)
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1920's & 30's
Meanwhile, at Useppa, Mary Roberts Rinehart is a frequent guest
America’s bestselling mystery writer was Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876 - 1958). She wrote over 50 books, hundreds of short stories, articles, and plays and she was a war correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post. Her play, The Bat (1920), ran on Broadway and was Bob Kane's inspiration for Batman. Mary developed the 'Had I But Known' style of building suspense which is still used by writers today. Friend to kings and presidents, Mary was introduced to Useppa by President Herbert Hoover. A survivor of breast cancer, she was a pioneer in leading the campaign from a formerly taboo subject to a prominent national concern. Mary vacationed on Useppa frequently and loved fishing for tarpon in the area. (Photo - University of Pittsburgh Archives and Special Collections)
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1935
The Thigpens
Florida State Census records list Elbert and Lena Thigpen as renters on Palmetto Key. Elbert was a fisherman. He and Lena had three children. They presumably lived in a house, but any development on the island in 1935 remains undocumented. It is believed that any buildings constructed and possibly lived in by the Thigpens, were removed after June of 1936 when the Rineharts purchased the island. It is difficult to know the exact sequence of those early inhabitants. Except for the Calusa, through their shell midden, no previous occupants made a lasting impression until the Rinehart’s arrived in 1936. (1935 Florida State Census)
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1936 - 1944 The Rinehart Era
Alan and Gratia Rinehart Purchase Palmetto Key
As undeveloped land, the small island was inhabited by an old squatter, some wild pigs, and the usual island critters. Creatures of the wild inhabited the place and two people, Alan and Gratia Rinehart, eyed the acreage with a dream. In 1971, Frederick Rinehart stated "My brother Alan, fell in love with the Key. There was, as I recall, alligators and other beasties back in the swamp." (Article - Fort Myers News-Press June 7, 1936)
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1936 - 1944 The Rinehart Era
The Rineharts
From left to right - Alan Rinehart, his mother Mary Roberts Rinehart, and his wife Gratia Buell Houghton Rinehart. Gratia was heiress to the Corning Glass Works fortune, which Amory Houghton Sr. founded in the mid 19th century. Mary and her family were frequent visitors to Useppa during the 20’s and 30’s and resided on the north end of the island in the Honeymoon Cottage. (Photo - University of Pittsburgh Archives and Special Collections)
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June, 1936
Construction of the Rinehart Estate Begins
The Rineharts hired architect Nat Walker of Fort Myers to design their winter estate. Walker's design work came during a period of prolific activity for wealthy seasonal residents of southwest Florida and the primary building is the Rinehart house. The home sits atop a Calusa shell midden 130' from Pineland Sound at approximately 33' above sea level. Facing northeast, the building displays a creative, irregular plan and contains approximately 4,500 square feet of interior floor space. Three additional screened porches and multiple cross-hip extensions reinforce the building's overall asymmetry and to help capture prevailing breezes for natural ventilation.
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1937
The Rinehart Estate Is Completed
The contractor that built the Rinehart's winter home was M.M. 'Pint' Cornwell. Cornwell worked for an architectural firm in Charlotte, NC. The estate is completed by the spring of 1937, with the main house, a boat house and docks, two cottages, a water tower and tank, and a power house. The house consists of six fireplaces, two large porches, a large kitchen, and three smaller porches. There were six bedrooms, a large living room, dining room, and two small staff bedrooms. (Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
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1937
The Water Tower
The water tower on Cabbage Key is the last standing water tower in the area. The structure sustains a significant amount of weight. The tapered wood-frame tower is assembled with large posts, beams, boards, and steel plates bolted together and further supported with lateral and scissor members. A dog-leg stair system with 41 steps terminates at an observation deck located beneath a large wooden cylindrical tank. The tank measures approximately eight feet in diameter and twelve feet in height and has a capacity of 6,000 gallons. It is assembled with vertical boards secured with steel bands and rests on a wooden deck with stanchions and handrails. Millions of visitors have climbed the water tower to observe the beauty of the surrounding area from the observation deck. (Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
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1937
The Boat House
The boat house structure displays a specialized method of construction, built partially on Cabbage Key and partially in the waters of Pine Island Sound. The roof displays an exposed truss system of vertical steel rods, diagonal struts, tie beams, and rafters. Claude Storter of Naples owned a dredging company which dredged a channel to support the Rinehart's boat house. The north side of the roof was destroyed by Hurricane Charley in 2004 and soon repaired and surfaced with metal crimp panels. (Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
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1937
The Caretaker's Cottage
The 650 square foot Caretaker's residence is now known as the Rinehart Cottage. Setback from the waters of Pine Island Sound approximately 170 feet, the one-story cottage faces northeast. A small, screened front entrance porch is protected by a flat roof, horizontal wood slated stem walls, and a screen door. A system of concrete piers, made partly with shells from the midden, support the building. Although many believe this was built for Alan's mother, Mary Roberts Rinehart, there is nothing to indicate she spent any significant amount of time on the island. (Photo - Cabbage Key Archives)
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1937
A playhouse for the Rinehart's daughters
Alan and Gratia had two young daughters, Gratia and Patricia ('Topsy' and 'Patsy'), for whom this 'playhouse' was built. The compact attractive small building was constructed east of the main house on the waterfront. Despite its solid construction, there was no water source or bathroom. The Stultses would later run a water line to the cottage and install a bathroom and septic system. Today, it is a popular rental cottage known as the Dollhouse. (Photo - Cabbage Key Archives)
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1938
The Sudden Divorce of Alan and Gratia Rinehart
Gratia Rinehart divorces Alan Rinehart. A sealed agreement settled property rights and custody of their two children. Alan then conveys his ownership interest of Palmetto Key to Gratia for $18,000 and she becomes the first and only person to ever solely own Cabbage Key. She returns to the island after her divorce and tells local reporters she will use the winter home as a place for herself and her friends to enjoy.
1938 - 1942 The Breder Years
U.S. Department of Fisheries Tarpon Expedition
During the spring of 1938, the U.S. Department of Fisheries sends out an expedition to Palmetto Key to study tarpon. The expedition includes Dr. Charles M. Breder of the New York Aquarium, Marshall B. Bishop of Yale University, and Sam Dunton, aquarium photographer. During the period leading up to her divorce, Gratia facilitated the development of a research laboratory with sleeping quarters. She provided the site where Breder constructed a one-story framed building. (Photo - MOTE Marine Laboratory)
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1938 - 1942 The Breder Years
Dr. Breder's Lab - Today Known as the 'Tarpon Cottage'
Referred to as the Palmetto Key Field Station, Florida Tarpon Lab, and New York Aquarium Research Station, the building contained a laboratory, sleeping quarters, and a bathroom. It replaced the Rinehart’s original reported intention of establishing a marine museum at Palmetto Key. Breder reported the cost of construction was $2,500. (Photo Credit - MOTE Marine Laboratory)
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1938 - 1942 The Breder Years
Dr. Charles Breder's Pioneering Research
Dr. Charles Breder, a leading experimental and behavioral ichthyologist, conducts pioneering research from a field station located on Palmetto Key. His research focused on documenting the life history of tarpon. Gratia provided Breder with accommodations on the estate, and set aside an area near the center of the key for Breder to dredge a containment pool for experiments. Dr. Breder pursued other interests while at Palmetto Key and commented that “a large collection of other fishes of the region have been farmed out to various specialists who are working on reports of this interesting and poorly known area.” (Photo - MOTE Marine Laboratory)
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1938 - 1942 The Breder Years
Mary Roberts Rinehart visits Dr. Breder
Mary Roberts Rinehart checks in on Dr. Breder from time to time at Palmetto Key. She provides him with an 18-foot skiff and a small outboard motor for the lab. (Photo - MOTE Marine Laboratory)
1939
The Death of Gratia Rinehart
Gratia Houghton Rinehart dies from breast cancer on May 24th, 1939 at the age of 34. She leaves behind two daughters, Topsy and Patsy, ages 11 and 8. (Photo - University of Pittsburgh Archives and Special Collections)
1939
Palmetto Key is For Sale
Cabbage Key is closed after Gratia’s death. Various caretakers, or perhaps more accurately described as guards, were hired to look after the property. Arthur Houghton, Jr., Gratia’s brother, is trustee of her estate and the property is placed for sale. Arthur was working as the curator of rare books at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. He also maintained a home in Boca Grande until his death in 1990. The Jeffcott Realty Company in Fort Myers was given the task of selling the estate. Potential buyers were scarce. World War II may have been a factor in the lack of interest in purchasing the property. Before Gratia died, she expressed her desire to allow Dr. Breder to remain on the island to complete his work. Her brother Arthur honored that request. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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June 28, 1942
Breder's Wartime Departure
Charles M. Breder and his wife Ethel spent part of the summer of 1942 at the Palmetto Key field station. The field station ended in 1942 because of World War II. Dr. Breder's Palmetto Key diary ran for 95 pages of notes, tables, diagrams, drawings, lists, and business records and this report presents a variety of fascinating entries. All bear Breder's style of discipline, curiosity, humor, and speculations on nature. The diary was transcribed as part of the Coastal Estuarine Data/Document Rescue and Archeology effort for South Florida. One of his final activities included climbing to the top of the water tower to take "Kodachromes" of the sunsets and surrounding views. He characterized the view from the water tower on June 28, 1942 as "spectacular." (Photo - MOTE Marine Laboratory)
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1944
The End of the Rinehart Era
After Dr. Breder's departure in June of 1942, Palmetto Key was essentially abandoned for the next two years. Arthur Houghton, Jr., Gratia's brother and executor of the estate, was overseas serving in World War II. Then, in June of 1944, Jan and Larry Stults appeared on the scene and the island soon found a new owner. (Fort Myers News-Press, October 31, 1944)
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1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
Larry and Jan Stults
Thinking of buying an island scarcely fit the profile of the Stultses. From Evanston, IL, Larry owned an advertising agency in Chicago. The Stults family had vacationed many times on Longboat Key in Sarasota and were living there in 1944 while Larry recovered from a serious illness. In 1944, they went to the Boca Grande area on a fishing trip. During that visit their guide boat passed Palmetto Key and they heard it was for sale. Willing to consider any option to avoid harsh IL winters, and out of curiosity, they contacted the Fort Myers realtor for information about the property. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1899 - 1996
Larry Stults
Born in Orwell, Ohio on July 19, 1899, Elwin Martin Stults, Jr. grew up in the rural Midwest. He graduated from Washington High School in Massillon Ohio in 1918 and from Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh in 1922 with a B.A. in Fine Arts. During his college years, he adopted the nickname “Larry,” a name he used personally and professionally for the rest of his life. His commercial advertisements appeared in many newspapers and major publications. Full color ads, many with his signature, appeared in such leading national magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, House and Garden, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. (Credit - www.stultsart.com)
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June 1944
Larry & Jan Stults Purchase Palmetto Key
In June of 1944, Larry and Jan Stults signed a contract to purchase Palmetto Key for $25,000. When they purchased the property it had been vacant for some time and some of the systems, such as the electrical generator, were in need of maintenance. A real estate brochure from the time, complete with multiple photos, were taken quite some time before the sale, along with glowing written descriptions, would lead one to believe that the property was in immaculate condition, especially for its intended use as a private residence. The pictures were probably taken soon after construction was completed. An on-site inspection showed the Stults that the property needed extensive brush removal and landscape repairs. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults, Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
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1944 - 1967
The Sandspur
With the Rinehart estate purchase came a 36-foot boat named the Sandspur. It was a gas screwed vessel, built of teak wood in 1929 by the Collier Boat Works located on Punta Blanca. It had 10-foot beam and was powered by a 200HP Sterling engine. It would later get destroyed during a storm in Boca Grande Pass in December of 1967. As it broke up, the vessel went ashore near the phosphate docks at the south end of Gasparilla Island. Francis Knight (Knight Brothers in Boca Grande) came to assess the situation. Knight stated there was nothing to be done, that it was a total loss and they would take care of clearing up the wreckage for the fittings (shaft, propeller, toilet, bilge pump, brass fittings, etc.). Several items that were retrieved included the teak engine box cover and several hatch covers. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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June 1944
Converting the Rinehart estate into a small island inn
They began the process of how to utilize the buildings. Fortunately, to a large extent they generally were well suited to converting them for guests. An adjacent building, initially intended for the caretaker during the Rinehart period, could be put to use right away with its two bedrooms, bathroom, living room, and small kitchen. Two other buildings needed substantial work. One had been a playhouse for the two Rinehart children with only one main room. The other was designed and had been used as a marine research laboratory. With the conversions, that added space for more guests. The island could accommodate a total of about 25 guests in the main house and in the three cottages. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults, Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
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June 1944
All they needed now were guests!
The majority of the buildings were completely furnished thanks to the previous owner. The comfortable living room included an extensive library of books. To spread the word about this new enterprise, Jan and Larry wrote to northern friends and business associates about this new venture, inviting them to come to Cabbage Key. Thus, a slow process began that gradually started to build a guest clientele. They did not rely on advertising or going through tourist agencies, but primarily tried to rely on “word of mouth” to spread the news. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults, Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
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October 19, 1944
Cuba-Florida Hurricane
Larry and Jan Stults faced many challenges including being hit with a hurricane within a month after moving onto the island. The storm came ashore from the Gulf hitting the coastal area between Fort Myers and Sarasota with Cabbage Key squarely in it's path. Fortunately, the high quality construction saved the buildings from serious damage. One casualty was the loss of the top of the water tank on the tower. The tank stayed secure, but the pump was damaged, causing water shortages until it could be repaired. They relied on rainwater taken by buckets from a large rainwater concrete tank located under the kitchen floor. Obstacles like this must have made Larry and Jan wonder if they made a wrong decision. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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November 1944
Hurricane warning found months after the storm hit!
Modern technology provides extensive information about storms approaching. In earlier days, authorities used a very unusual technique to provide warnings. The Coast Guard, in an attempt to warn the island residents about the 1944 hurricane, prepared a written warning and dropped it from the air. An oblong block of wood contained a rolled-up statement with a warning. The block was bright yellow with a yellow streamer and was dropped from airplanes. Were these types of warnings effective? "Probably not," stated Taylor Stults. "First, the information would have been quickly out of date, so one wonders at all the effort and expense for the government to even try such a warning technique. In retrospect, it seems a little silly and ineffective." (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1944 - 1949
Attending School While Living on an Island
One immediate task was to arrange for the education for the three Stults children: Debbie, Peter and Taylor. Debbie was of high-school age, and the solution was to have her live with a family in Sarasota and attend public high school there. Peter, somewhat younger, went by daily “school boat” to a nearby one-room school on the island of Punta Blanca for one year, and then he lived with a family in Boca Grande to attend 9th grade there. Taylor, the youngest, went by “school boat” to the one-room school on Punta Blanca for five years, followed by going by “school boat” to Boca Grande for two years of schooling. These arrangements were not ideal, but they worked. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1944 - 1949
The Punta Blanca Schoolhouse
The Punta Blanca School existed from about 1925 - 1949. Barron Collier, owner of Useppa Island and Punta Blanca, provide the school on Punta Blanca that would be more convenient for the children of his employees working at the Collier boat yard on that island.
1944 - 1949
Joe Celec, the School Boat Skipper
Joe Celec drove the school boat. It was his personal boat and he was contracted by the county to do the school boat runs. It was a simple open launch (23 feet) with a single cylinder, manual rope start, exposed engine with the spark plug on top, no gears. Once you start the engine, you are underway. Joe was particularly skilled at reading the tides and winds and knew just when to kill the engine to coast up to the dock. He picked up the island kids and took them to the one room school house on Punta Blanca. When that was discontinued in favor of a new school in Boca Grande, the county provided a larger and safer vessel that Joe drove across Boca Grande Pass. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1948
Taylor Stults and the School Boat
This article was published by the Fort Myers News-Press in 1948 and was also picked up by newspapers nationwide. In Taylor's own words: "This photo appeared in the Fort Myers News Press showing how Joe Celec picked me up for school each day. I am carrying school books and a bag lunch in my left arm. My right hand is holding a small brown bottle with an essential water supply. In fact, it was originally a Clorox bottle! Thus I was well prepared for each day at Punta Blanca." (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
Joe Celec, Cabbage Key's Handyman
After dropping off the kids on Punta Blanca, Joe would come to Cabbage Key and work until it was time for him to pick them up. Even though he had only a grammar school education, Joe could fix anything - tear down and rebuild the Kohler generators, make a bronze bushing to replace a failed wheel bearing in the old rotary mower, keep all the boats running, etc. Joe was a wonderful man and a great help to Jan and Larry. He is fondly remembered. Joe would watch Cabbage Key from time to time when the Stultses were away, but in fact, Joe was their everyday, essential handyman. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
A Steal of a Deal!
During the winter season, rates in the main house were $15 to $20 per person/per day and summer rates were $12.50 to $14.00 per person/per day. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
A Casual Atmosphere - "Make yourself at home!"
From the beginning, Jan and Larry had a laid-back view of how vacationers would spend their time. There was no social director to provide guidance or structure. They counted on the guests to decide how they wanted to enjoy their vacation. Some wanted to read in an easy chair in the living room or on one of the porches or sit on the dock at the boathouse with a book in hand. Spending time there resembled a house party where guests liked the informality of going to the kitchen for their early morning coffee. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
Boat trips to Cayo Costa
Many guests wanted to enjoy the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. Larry learned how to operate the small boat and how to reach either of the two points on nearby Cayo Costa that give access to the deserted beaches of the Gulf. (Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
Boat Dinners
Another unique and popular activity was to take an occasional boat dinner on the Sandspur. Jan prepared the varieties for the meal, often centered on a ham or beef roast, while Larry slowly navigated through the channels of nearby islands. This included nearby Middle Key, a national bird rookery, with its numerous varieties of birds to see close up. (Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
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1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
The island itself provided some of the food for guests.
Besides going to the nearby oyster bar, fish caught at the dock or by boat provided ample varieties for meals. Key lime trees provided the accent for tasty gin and tonics. Bananas and papayas contributed their fruit. Jan used the output of the mango trees to make tasty mango chutney. On rare occasions, a cabbage palm tree was cut down to provide the tree’s core “heart” to be used as the base of a tasty and unusual “heart of palm” salad. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
Art Lessons at Cabbage Key
In his limited spare time, Larry Stults utilized his talents as an artist. Professionally trained as an art student at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and later at the Art Institute of Chicago, Larry already had painted extensively while living in the north. Larry provided art instruction for interested guests, and they named the island 'The Inn and Studio on Cabbage Key'. (Painting by Larry Stults - www.stultsart.com)
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1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
"Composition is the basis of all real art.” - Larry Stults
At Cabbage Key, Larry loved to paint subjects and scenes found in the area: boats, fishing, beaches, shells, and colorful skies. His mediums included both oils and watercolors. His extensive art work was primarily in oils, although watercolors, pen and ink, acrylics, and monoprints were also a part of his artistic success. (Painting by Larry Stults - www.stultsart.com)
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1945
Island Population: 15
In 1945, the Florida Department of State’s State Population Census recorded 15 residents at Palmetto Key. They consisted of Larry and Janet Stults and two children, Arthur and Nellie Coleman, Nancy Clemons and her three children, and five members of the Spearing family. An oral history interview suggests that the Colemans assisted the Stultses by catching fish, cooking, and housekeeping. In addition, the Stultses made arrangements with Antioch College in Ohio to periodically send several students for work-study opportunities at Cabbage Key and assist with the day-to-day operations of the inn and studio. (Photo by Joseph Steinmetz)
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1946
The Knight Brothers of Boca Grande - Boat Builders
Brothers Francis Knight (1926 - 2006) and Johns Knight Sr (1922 - 2014) were World War II veterans. Francis was a merchant marine and Johns served in the Navy. "After we came home from the war, there wasn't any work. There weren't any jobs, so we had to make our own jobs. So me and my brother started the boat business in 1946." They started out doing repair work and then building boats. They had no previous experience or training in boat building. Asked how they learned how to build boats, Knight replied, "Out of our heads...just common sense. We designed and built boats from the beginning that would outperform anything else we knew of for size and horsepower." (Photo - Boca Grande Historical Society)
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1950
Dr. Breder's Laboratory becomes the 'Studio Cottage'
The popular rental known as the Tarpon Cottage was called the 'Studio Cottage' during the Stults years. Once a laboratory for Dr. Breder, the Stultses renovated it when they arrived in 1944. Left behind were numerous bottles containing various sea life in liquid preserves. The former laboratory would become a popular rental cottage. During the years of the Stults ownership, many families rented the cottage which was quite ideal for parents and children on vacation especially during the summer months. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1954
The Jeep
In 1954, Peter Stults purchased a Jeep as a gift for his parents. The Jeep was obtained in Rochester, New York and was driven to Florida by Peter to be taken to Cabbage Key. This picture shows conveying the Jeep from Boca Grande to Cabbage Key on the Sandspur. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
1954
Cabbage Key gets communications ability!
Having the jeep meant lugging fewer pounds of groceries, guest luggage, gasoline cans, and essential supplies up the hill by hand. Most importantly, the Jeep was equipped with a ship to shore radio which served as a way for Jan and Larry to contact the mainland from Cabbage Key. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
1944 - 1969 The Stults Era
Gulf Airways
Some guests arrived by seaplane, thanks to Gulf Airways based in Fort Myers under the capable ownership of “Buddy” Bobst. This was an occasion for island guests to watch the amphibian plane (a Republic Seabee model) land and cruise to the dock to unload passengers. In addition, Gulf Airways also provided the bed linens for the island, arriving on Sundays with large packages of linens from the Fort Myers commercial laundry along with the Sunday newspaper. This was another feature of the colorful life at Cabbage Key. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1967
The Karevan
After the loss of the Sandspur in late December 1967, Peter Stults was instrumental in investigating options for obtaining a new or replacement craft to serve the island’s needs. After some time in his search, he discovered and purchased a fiberglass hull that he located in New England. This type of design and composition was used as the base of a small U.S. Navy utility craft. This empty hull cost $600 and he had it shipped to Florida. Pictured is David Stults, grandson of Jan and Larry Stults, at the Cabbage Key boathouse. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1967
Knight Brothers of Boca Grande Hired to Build New Boat
The Knight Brothers Company in Boca Grande were hired to build the new boat. The total cost of this undertaking was estimated at approximately $20,000 and took about a year to complete. In the interim during the construction, Jan and Larry hired Boca Grande guide boats to service Cabbage Key by delivering the essential needs to and from Boca Grande: supplies, gasoline, groceries, mail, island guests, natural gas tanks, etc. The boat's name 'Karevan' was a clever way to combine the names of several of the Stults grandchildren: Karen, Anne, and Evan. When the Stultses sold Cabbage Key in 1969, Peter’s recollection is that the Karevan was sold separately for approximately $7,500. Pictured is Larry Stults in the Karevan. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1968
Cabbage Key is For Sale
By the latter part of the 1960s, Jan and Larry decided the time had come to think about their future and the future of Cabbage Key. Health and age were factors to consider as they neared a quarter century of operating this island inn. Now in their sixties, it had been a rewarding undertaking, but hard work as well. The time had come to move on. They found a buyer, and sold the property in 1969. It was the end of an era, one with experiences and memories they could not have predicted at the beginning when they began this venture in 1944. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults)
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1969
The End of the Stults Era
Larry and Jan moved to Sarasota to spend their retirement on Siesta Key. Larry continued his active art career and died in 1996 at age 96. Jan died in 1999 at age 94. In later years, even after the island passed to other hands, the Stults children and numerous grandchildren have returned to Cabbage Key on many occasions to continue those special visits and reaffirm their memories of this delightful setting. (Courtesy of Taylor Stults, Painting by Larry Stults - www.stultsart.com)
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July 9, 1969
Jimmy Turner purchases Cabbage Key for $160,000
James Turner owned Useppa Island. He made the island an adults-only resort and children under 14 years old were not allowed on Useppa. Jo Ann Beck and her husband Bob were living in Clearwater when they decided to spend a weekend on Useppa. Island owner Jimmy Turner greeted them at the pier. The couple became very good friends with Turner that first weekend and he returned their cash payment because he enjoyed their company so much! He then asked them to return the following weekend to work for him. Turner’s business at the Inn was increasing. Then, in 1969, Florida's 'Island Man' Turner purchased Cabbage Key from Larry and Jan Stults. He then handed over management of Useppa to the Becks and moved to Cabbage Key. (The Goat Boat by Captain Kirk Walter)
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1971
Bob and Jo Ann Beck Purchase Cabbage Key for $225,000
Turner offered to sell the Becks Useppa Island, but they felt the extensive staff and work that needed to be done would be too much for them. However, they believed Cabbage Key was a possibility. Turner agreed to sell Cabbage Key for $225,000. They sell their house in Clearwater to come up with the $10,000 down. They decided they could finance Cabbage Key and operate it with minimal assistance. The Becks found it necessary to subdivide the island and to sell shares. They sold advanced shares at $10,000 per half acre. The idea was to arrive at Turner’s handshake purchase price of $225,000. (Courtesy of Gil Hampton)
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1971 - 1976 The Beck Era
The Beginning of the Legendary Dollar Bill Bar
The best part of the deal was the liquor license. At the time they were selling for nearly $200,000, if you could get one. Turner sold and transferred to them the Useppa liquor license - for $10.00! (Photo courtesy of Gil Hampton)
1971
Dollar Bills - The Start of a Tradition!
Almost as soon as the bar was opened at Cabbage Key, the first dollar went up. Gil Hampton, son of Jo Ann Beck, was one of the first bartenders when the bar was opened. He recalls the first dollar going up, but does not recall exactly why the person did it. It didn't take long for more to appear, and the reasons varied. Was it for luck? A way to remember past visitors? Or was it commercial fishermen who would reclaim their dollar during a bad day of fishing? Yes to all those reasons says Gil. "Nobody was really paying attention at the time to why he did it. I think it was an insurance guy from Fort Myers, but I'm really not sure." (Pianist - Keith Anderson, photo by C.J. Walker - Ft. Myers News-Press)
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1971 - 1976 The Beck Era
The vision of Bob and Jo Ann Beck - and hard work - cultivated the mystic and magic of Cabbage Key into an ethos that is still present today. Under their ownership, the legendary dollar bill bar evolved into a popular destination for boaters and tourists from all around the world. (Pianist - Keith Anderson, photo by C.J. Walker - Ft. Myers News-Press)
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1971 - 1976 The Beck Era
Gil Hampton, Bartender
Most visitors come for lunch and a drink in Cabbage Key's lost-in-time bar. Plastered with dollar bills, the cozy former library became a legendary Florida watering hole. Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Hepburn, Ted Koppel, Jimmy Buffett, Ed McMahon, Rob Lowe, and Julia Roberts have all bent an elbow here. Cabbage Key has always treated everyone the same and doesn't make a fuss over celebrities. Maybe that's why they always came back. (Courtesy of Gil Hampton)
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1973 - 1987 The Yelvertons
The Green Barn
January 15, 1973 - Wallace 'Wally' Yelverton of St. Petersburg purchases a parcel on Cabbage Key and builds his island cottage known as the 'Green Barn'. Today, it is a popular rental cottage known as the Snook cottage. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Nygren)
1973 - 1987 The Yelvertons
The Green Barn
The Yelverton's owned and maintained their cottage on Cabbage Key from 1973 - 1987. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Nygren)
1973 - 1987 The Yelvertons
Wallace 'Wally' Yelverton
1971 - 1976 The Beck Era
Cabbage Key Postcard
"The idea of island living is such a beautiful thing. The guests are here because they love nature and serenity and it gives us happiness to share it with them. We work hard but don't expect to make a fortune. Our friends thought we were crazy because we gave up a lovely home, several cars and all that sort of thing. We feel that when you get right down to it, none of those things really mean too much." -Jo Ann Beck, 1971 (Fort Myers News-Press Article)
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1971 - 1976 The Beck Era
Island Staff
"Young people loved to come work for us - the freedom and joy of living on an island was a perfect combination. Of course, you really had to be able to live without shopping or living in the fast lane. You had to be happy with yourself and get along with other staff as well as the public that were there to have a good time. I tried to teach the staff that lived here to pretend they owned the island and the customers were friends that had come to visit." -Jo Ann Beck (The Goat Boat by Captain Kirk Walter)
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1973 - 1976
Cabbage Key is For Sale
Two sisters and their husbands, Bud and Leona Babcock with Larry and Janet Sibley, purchase Cabbage Key from the Becks. They made an agreement, then the Becks took off in their 40' Pacemaker and went to the Keys. After 6 months, the payments were late and eventually stopped all together. The Becks returned to Cabbage Key to take over the day-to-day operations once again. They brought their daughter, Lettie, back to manage the island. They once again took off for some needed rest, and it was during this time that Bob Beck was diagnosed with cancer. They placed the island for sale again and waited for a buyer. (The Goat Boat by Captain Kirk Walter)
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1976 - The Wells Era Begins
New Owners - Rob and Phyllis Wells
Robert Wells was the Director of Admissions at High Point College in North Carolina, and his wife Phyllis was an elementary school teacher when they decided they wanted something different, something unique that would be a challenge. And they found it at Cabbage Key. (Photo Credit - Kim Smith, Fort Myers News-Press)
1977 - 2004
Terry Forgie - Cabbage Key Dockmaster for 27 years.
Terry was the Cabbage Key sentinel. He greeted boaters, guided them in, and tied the lines. Many marinas have dockmasters, but few had one that worked the same dock for 27 years. He remembered nearly every skipper's face and chatted with each one of them. Everyone knew Terry. He was a landmark at Cabbage Key. His gruff voice projected over engine noise. He barked orders and asked questions - What's your beam? What's your draft? How long do you plan to stay? The visitors to Cabbage Key varied, as did the boats they came on. "The reasons for boating never change. People wanting to get away, relax, and have fun," says Terry. But when they approach the dock, reality snaps in. "I'm the only person whose job is to tell people where to go, and how to do it," he would joke. (Photo - Cottage Living Magazine)
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1980s During The Wells Era
Lela, Cabbage Key Bartender
(Photo courtesy of Captain Ryan Kane, Lela's nephew)
1981
Cabbage Key gets electricity
Before the underground cable that brings electricity to Cabbage Key, generators supplied the power. There were two systems used - one 2-kw and one 5-kw. They were Kohler-made and gas powered for running the engines that connected to a generator to produce electricity. The Stults' policy was to start one of the systems about 5 pm each day - usually the 2-kw as it was more economical in gasoline use. That took them through pre-dinner, preparing and serving dinner, and the evening for guest to converse, read, share a drink, etc. "Lights-out" was 11 pm. Each guest room in the main house had a kerosene storm lamp for those wishing to stay up past that time to read or talk.
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1994
O'Bannon Snook Tournament
The Fingers O’Bannon Memorial Fishing Tournament is a prestigious invite only tournament dedicated to the life and memory of the late Floyd 'Fingers' O’Bannon. Born October 10, 1926, Fingers O’Bannon became famous for fishing our pristine local waters. His death on September 27, 1993 prompted many to take action to remember his legacy. The annual Snook tournament takes place every April at Cabbage Key and is considered a prestigious honor to win. Like all Cabbage Key tournaments, the tournament is 'catch and release' and follows all Florida fishing rules and regulations. (Photo - Cabbage Key Archives)
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