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Tours of Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande.
While staying on the Gulf Coast you may like to visit the old historic Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande (‘The Inn’ as it is known by locals) which celebrates 100 years in 2013. It is only a short drive from Rotonda West and midway between Fort Myers and Sarasota. In 1885, The American Agriculture and Chemical Company found phosphate rock just to the east of Gasparilla Island. With Boca Grande (Spanish for big mouth) having a natural harbour the minerals were initially shipped from there but later the railway replaced ships. Once the railway link onto the island was established the company began looking at ways of attracting the wealthy northerners who liked to winter in Florida.
On February 21, 1909, the Boca Grande Land Company decided to obtain permission to construct a resort hotel on the island. Planning permission was granted next day. In order that the hotel would be upmarket and attract wealthy guests, the development company first began to sell lots in the immediate area for building of residential homes with a minimum construction cost of $4, 000 - $3, 500 which was a substantial sum in those days. The original Boca Grande Hotel was a small 20 bedroom hotel which quickly flourished. In 1912 a decision was made to expand the hotel into a world-class resort which very soon became a retreat for rich northerners such as the Vanderbilt’s, Rockefellers, Ford, Edison and DuPont’s who liked to winter in Florida.
In 1930 the hotel and its surrounding properties were purchased by Barron Collier for $150, 000. He also enlarged the hotel and added the very grand colonnaded plantation style entrance it still has to this day and a golf course. After his death it was run by Collier Corporation until it was purchased in 1961 by a syndicate which included Bayard Sharp the DuPont heir. Within three years he had bought out the other members of the syndicate and poured millions of dollars into restoring it to its original elegance. He also added a marina, tennis club and croquet lawn. The hotel is currently owned by William Farish and his wife Sarah, the only daughter of the late Bayard Sharp. She recently refurbished the dining room and lounges in classic old Floridian style.
Now with 63 rooms and 80 cottages it is still a favourite of people such as former President G W Bush who likes to take his family there for Christmas. It is astonishing that no advertising was necessary until just over 10 years ago. The only way people heard about the resort was from families who had been staying there for several generations. Until that time it was almost impossible for a non-resident to eat in the dining room but even that has changed but with a strict dress code of course.
The Inn is closed during the summer from early July until mid-October but free tours operate when the Inn is open. A guided history walking tour of the main inn is at 10. 30am on Tuesday and Friday, a Horticultural tour from 9am on Fridays and a kitchen tour at 2pm every Thursday and Saturday. Meet for the tours in the highly polished porch (or at the front desk for the kitchen tour). Walking through The Gasparilla Inn’s colonnaded entrance and into the tranquil lobby, you experience the feeling that little has changed over 100 years.
Author: Val Easton
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