Grab a cup of coffee early on a Sunday morning. And in the pre-dawn dark around 6:15 a.m. head south from Arcadia on U.S. Highway 17. Less than 25 miles later, you will enter downtown Punta Gorda. It is dusk, still and quiet. There’s very little traffic as you cross both directions of U.S. Route 41 into a tree-lined, residential neighborhood. Go a few more blocks until Shreve Street, where there is a sign on the left pointing to History Park. Turn left, and the park will be about two blocks down, on the right. There is one colossal landmark, the newly built Charlotte County Library, which looks like the Taj Majal. It is such a massive structure that if you are an AT&T customer you can’t get your internet in the park anymore. Not even with a portable Wifi router.
The park and the market are just ahead of the library, on the right. Plenty of parking, for now. The Farmers’ Market at History Park is a creation of the Punta Gorda Historical Society. That group set the market up around the year 2000. The park itself had been leased to the Society by the city in 1995. It soon became an outdoor museum. Historical buildings were actually uprooted and moved there. Gardens were planted, walkways were paved, and a fountain was added. The place is a riot of brightly colored flowers and botannical tree specimens. It is this very beautiful and historically important area that hosts the market.
When farmers’ markets first began to surface about three decades ago, most if not all the merchandise was either agriculture or agro-related. Today this is no longer true. Farmers’ markets have evolved into very creative places to shop—and sell! Markets now include artists, craftspeople, photographers, people who design their own soaps and skin products, who are the master chef in their own portable kitchens. These markets play an important part in the community, because not only does the shopper deal directly with the producer and thereby get a better deal, but the budding young artist or novice entrepreneur making his own product can be provided an affordable start.
At present the Punta Gorda market is run by Margaret Bogardus, president of the Punta Gorda Historical Society. Margaret believes that the market should be as lively as possible, so she adds different events to the area while the market is operating. She has also set the stage for musicians to play, and at this time we have Leslie Dacosta Jr., a saxophonist, flautist and singer who gets people dancing to his bluesy jazz and tunes.
The Market at History Park is a good time for all, in a beautiful setting. Come meet the Easter Bunny on April 21, and get your dog’s picture taken by official market photographer Keith Hilgenfeldt. But for an added kick, get there when the mystery of dawn is just lingering. www.historyparkmarket.com, www.puntagordahistory.com
Anita Whitney is an Arcadia travel writer and jeweler, www.thesilvergrouper.com