Harbour Heights History: Part III
In 1850, the United States Congress passed the ‘Swamp Lands Act of the Congress of the United States’. This act granted a patent from the Federal Government to the State of Florida wherein the Commissioner of Agriculture of the State was appointed as the official custodian of all patents. Pursuant to this in 1855 the Florida Legislature approved ‘An Act to Provide for and Encourage a Liberal System of Internal Improvements in this State’. This allowed the lands acquired by the State from the Federal government under the Swamp Lands Act to be made available for settlement.
On June 24th 1886 the Internal Improvement Fund of Florida transferred 72.80 acres of land at Shell Point to Niles C. Larson of Manatee County a transplanted farmer from Iowa who planned on growing citrus here. Three of these acres “had been “improved” with a dwelling appraised for $250. He acquired 230 additional acres nearby about five years later.”1 The land at Harbour Heights Park and the County’s congregate dining facility adjacent to
the park are located opposite the best fishing hole in the Peace River. “Early pioneers called the spot Shell Point and took large tarpon there before phosphate mines in the river bed destroyed all marine life for many years.”1
A dirt trail linked Larsen’s Shell Point home with Nathan DeCoster’s Harbor View subdivision and the little cattle town of Hickory Bluff–now called Charlotte Harbor town.”1 When DeSoto County was created out of Manatee County, Nathan DeCoster was elected as a
commissioner. Most of the land in this area was still owned by the Internal Improvement Fund of Florida and they used much of the land in this area (sections 15 and 21) with the exception of the land owned by the Larson’s at Shell Point in Harbour Heights to reward the Florida Southern Railway when it completed it’s line from Bartow to the newly platted town of Trabue, now Punta Gorda.
“The railroad sold its land there the following year to John Brewer, a financier of Bingham, Mass. Brewer and his descendants leased the land to the Consolidated Naval Stores Company for the bleeding of pine trees for turpentine–valuable in those days of wooden sailing ships. When the pines had been bled to death in 1912, the property was leased to the Russ Lumber Company of Arcadia for the taking of timber. The land was sold in 1920 to
the Bay Shore Company of Punta Gorda.
The Florida Land Boom was just getting underway. Bay Shore expected its land would become priceless when roads were extended to Shell Point. Neil Larsen sold his homestead to Bay Shore in 1925 at the height of the boom and moved to Charlotte Harbor Town.
The speculation bubble burst in 1929. Land was worthless. Unable to pay taxes which had skyrocketed when land values soared, owners let hundreds of thousands of acres revert to the state. Shell Point was one of the properties abandoned. Shell Point lay idle during the ensuing Great Depression until 1934. At that time, it was picked up for $107.24 in back taxes and another $300 in interest and court expenses. The purchaser was a retired U.S. Army Air
Corps general names Charles H. Danforth.”1
1. 1. Our Fascinating Past, Charlotte Harbor: The Early Years by Lindsey Williams and U.S. Cleveland.
Jean Tuggle, Editor