Punta Gorda History: Ever Wonder How Punta Gorda Got Its Name?

Punta Gorda means ‘fat point’. It is a perfect description of our small town, which protrudes out into the water where Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River meet. Yet, in the late 19th century, Punta Gorda was named “Trabue.”

Isaac Trabue was an attorney from Kentucky. In 1883, Trabue came to the Charlotte Harbor area to start his own town. At the time, the Native Americans had long called the area Punta Gorda. However, after purchasing 30 acres from a homesteader, Trabue decided his own name would serve the town better.

While some believe Trabue sought out a simpler way of life, many people believed the town of Trabue to be a haven for bums and criminals. All of that changed when the Florida Southern Railroad came to town in August of 1886. Trabue became a town where men could find jobs and prosper.

punta gorda fat point

In 1890, Florida Southern tracks reached Charlotte Harbor. Eventually, they would end in what is now Punta Gorda Isles. The tracks brought in more business. Ambitious investors started work on the Punta Gorda Hotel. Over 200 carpenters built the hotel and another 200 constructed a pier.

Trabue would never see the end of the railroad. By the time it was finished, he had lost his town. In 1887,  a group of 34 men gathered in Hector’s Billiard and Parlor to incorporate the city. One of the men was Kelly B. Harvey, the surveyor of the town who had previously written that the town was not well maintained, void of streets, sidewalks and ditches, and subsequently filled with mosquitoes. Harvey and Trabue had had their disputes. The group of men meeting in that parlor had a different vision for the town. Perhaps they couldn’t imagine the manicured lawns of today, but they knew Trabue could be a beautiful, wide point on the harbor. When it came time for the men to vote on the town name, Trabue was out and Punta Gorda was back in.

After the meeting, Trabue went back to Kentucky where he died in 1907. Kelly B. Harvey lived in Punta Gorda until 1924 before moving to New York. The Punta Gorda of 1924 would have been much different from the town of Trabue he once surveyed. That same year Barron Collier and Cornelius Vanderbilt saw enough potential in Punta Gorda to purchase the Punta Gorda Hotel, renovate it, and add a large swimming pool.

Today, many Punta Gorda residents know little about Trabue. Yet, without him, Kelly B. Harvey and other settlers may have never looked twice at the little, wide point quietly jutting out into the Harbor.

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