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New Caladesi Island marker highlights yesteryear

A couple of years ago, Ozona resident Terry Fortner spoke at a luncheon meeting of the Caladesi Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution about her family's history on Caladesi, an undeveloped island off the coast of Dunedin.

Fortner's great-grandfather, Henry Scharrer, established a 156-acre homestead on the island in the 1880s. Her grandmother, Myrtle Scharrer Betz, was raised on the island and wrote a book about growing up there.

Fortner's stories gave members of the DAR chapter an idea.

"It just seemed that we, as the Caladesi chapter, should put up a historical marker on Caladesi Island,'' said Carol Allen, who chaired the luncheon in 2011.

So on a recent afternoon, members of the chapter and other guests, many of them dressed in period costumes, rode a ferry to the island to dedicate the historic marker that will tell future visitors a little of the history of the place.

The marker, on a walking path between the marina and the Caladesi beach, was dedicated in conjunction with the statewide Viva Florida 500 celebration.

Caladesi chapter chaplain Donarita Vocca gave an invocation that focused on the importance of keeping history alive.

"Let us remember the people of yesterday who, through the wilderness and water, pushed their way to this land. Renew in us the spirit of the people who graced this place and left their footprint in the sand,'' she said.

Jim Schnur, president of the Pinellas County Historical Society, shared a brief history of the island, which is accessed via a ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park. He reminded the crowd of approximately 100 guests that Caladesi Island was originally part of a larger land mass called Hog Island. However, a hurricane in October 1921 carved Hog Island into two separate islands — Caladesi and Honeymoon.

Schnur also spoke about the Spanish fishing rancheros who came to the area from Cuba in the 1800s.

". . . Somewhat like present-day snowbird migrations and farmers' markets, these rancheros allowed indigenous and Spanish colonial populations to trade food and other commodities at a time when few settlers in (Florida) lived south of a line from the big bend to St. Augustine,'' he said.

The words on the marker briefly tell the long and interesting history of Caladesi Island, now primarily seen as an uncrowded beach destination for locals and tourists:

"Ancient ceremonial and burial mounds on Caladesi Island are evidence of pre-European activity by countless generations of Native Americans. After the Spanish conquest of La Florida in the 1500s, the island was a site for seasonal encampments and fish ranches. This use spanned 300 years. Tall ships moored offshore. Soldiers and sailors came ashore to hunt, fish, and camp. Smoked and salt fish, plumes and hides were traded with Cuba. For two decades, including the years of the American Revolution, the British ruled Florida before the Spanish regained control in 1783. Acquired by the U.S. as a territory in 1821, Florida became a state in 1845.

"Swiss immigrant Henry Scharrer, a self-taught naturalist and protector of Caladesi, established a 156-acre homestead here in the 1880s. Born there in 1895, a daughter, Myrtle, is remembered for rowing daily to Dunedin to attend school, and for writing a memoir of Florida pioneer life: Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise. Visitors to the homestead included Fritz Kreisler, Robert Lincoln, Eddie Rickenbacker and Carl Sandburg. Caladesi Island became a Florida State Park in 1967. It is a rare surviving example of a naturally evolving barrier island with coastal dune, mangrove, maritime hammock and pine flatwood habitat."

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4163.

New Caladesi Island marker highlights yesteryear 11/26/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 6:27pm]
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