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Charlotte Harbor, Florida

Charlotte Harbor, Florida

By BRIAN GLEASON, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.

Down by the riv, er, harbor

In my column about the new auditorium, I wrote it will sit on the Peace River. I got a note from Punta Gorda native Gussie Baker, taking me to task for the statement.

“I have to tell you the center is on Charlotte Harbor,” Baker wrote. “All my life I have been told the Peace River starts east of the northbound U.S. 41 bridge.”

Ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 answers.

“There are people who say it’s where the old (U.S. 41) bridge was. I’ve heard other people say it’s up closer to Harbour Heights where the I-75 bridge is now,” said Frank Desguin, who grew up in the town of Charlotte Harbor. “That controversy has been around for a while, where the river ends and the harbor begins.”

“When newcomers drive over the bridges, the Peace River is so wide at that point they think they’re seeing Charlotte Harbor,” said Frank Hommema, owner of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle in Charlotte Harbor.

“People who sit at Fishermen’s Village think they’re looking at Charlotte Harbor, and I can understand that. According to NOAA, who does the Bible, it starts out here,” said Rob Cuddihy, sales manager for Punta Gorda-based Waterproof Charts, pointing on a map to a navigational light due south of Hog Island at the mouth of the Myakka River.

“There’s no question about it,” said Jimmy Rose, a Punta Gorda native who goes by that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map, “to the west of PGI, there is a marker. That is the point that the U.S. government says the Myakka and the Peace come together, and anything south of there is Charlotte Harbor,” Rose said.

“That’s not technically the start of the river, but it’s the start of the Peace River series (of markers),” Hommema said. “If you took a line from (just north of Ponce de Leon Park) over toward Myakka cutoff, that’s actually the start of the Peace River there. Actually it starts closer to marker two than to one.”

Adding to the confusion, the U.S. Geological Survey puts the beginning of the river about one minute north and one minute east of Marker No. 1. And local historian Vernon Peeples, Baker’s brother, cites railroad documents, survey maps and historic journals that put the harbor-river boundary just east of I-75.

“Florida Southern Railway obtained a grant to build a railroad from Lake Alford to the waters of Charlotte Harbor. The railroad was built to where the Isles Yacht Club is, that’s where the long dock went out. The Peace River didn’t start until you got up around Cleveland,” Peeples said, adding that fishery management agencies use the Collier bridge as the boundary. “Above the bridge it was considered the river, west of the bridge it was considered saltwater,” he said.

Desguin, Rose and Peeples agreed on one thing. Land on both sides of the river/harbor was simply called the bayfront or waterfront.

“I don’t know anyone who lived here who went swimming in the river — they went swimming in the bay,” Peeples said.

BRIAN GLEASON article, June 6, 2007 gleason@sun-herald.com

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