For the first part of the new century, the Englewood area — which was then in Manatee County — saw only a trickle of new settlers arriving. It remained an isolated, self-sustaining, self-supporting little community.
The 1910 census, the first to be taken, determined there were 75 full time residents in the Englewood area and 50 additional winter visitors, most of whom came to hunt and fish. The large number of investors and settlers that had been expected — due to the lure of the profitable lemon growing — had never arrived.
But that 1910 head count was up from the 1897 General Directory of Manatee County that listed Englewood as having 52 residents, so the area was growing, slowly.
The area that was to become Englewood saw it’s first settlers, the William Goff family, in 1878. In 1886 Grove City was platted by John Cross, an entrepreneur, who had grandiose ideas for a grove town aimed at lemon growing. Lemons were in high demand at that time for treating scurvy and influenza.
In 1896, three enterprising young men from Chicago, the Nichols brothers, platted the town of Englewood having purchased 2,000 acres of land north of Grove City from Cross. Their intent was to also establish a lemon growing community.
However, 1895 marked the end of the lemon dreams for Grove City and the Englewood area. Two back-to-back hard freezes hit the area, the lowest temperature was an unheard-of 14 degrees. The young citrus trees were all killed.
The Nichols brothers, who had platted the town, had huge plans for developing the community into a grove town with home and citrus-growing sites. They built a grand hotel overlooking Lemon Bay, catering to prospective land buyers which even included an elegant ballroom.
But with all their elaborate planning, they forgot one thing: They apparently didn’t address the matter of roads to and from their new town. There weren’t any.
‘Englewood was mostly woods’
Since the town had been planned and built without any roads connecting it to the outside world, in 1910, the area still relied on boat transportation as the main means of travel and for delivery of supplies and shipping of local produce. To compound the problem, the talked-about railroad that was to travel through Grove City and Englewood never materialized.
With no roads or railroad, communication and travel to and from the Englewood area was extremely difficult and hindered the growth of the area.
Between 1910 and 1920, Englewood continued to be a widely spread-out, disjointed community of homesteads, many separated by several miles and the numerous creeks. An early visitor was asked what he remembered about his first trip to Englewood in 1919.
“Well, there isn’t too much to remember,” he replied. “Englewood was mostly woods.”
Woods cattle, as they were called, roamed freely, going wherever they choose, including yards and gardens. “Open range” pertained to the cattle industry’s longtime legal practice of allowing cattle to roam freely without fences, often terrorizing homesteaders.
Wild hogs were plentiful and played an important role in the lives of the early settlers, furnishing them with not only fresh meat but lard with which to cook. Quail, doves, wild turkeys, squirrels, rabbits and deer were hunted by the early settlers, which added some protein to their mostly seafood diet. It was legal to take sea turtles in those days, and common for families to take one or two a season, canning much of the meat.
Also plentiful were the enormous amounts of mosquitoes.
There are many early descriptions of clouds of mosquitoes so thick and black they looked like storm clouds coming right at you. As one early pioneer put it, “They was some kind of terrible!”
One of the more successful methods used against them were smudge pots. Rubbing on rancid bear grease or gar fish oil infused with different plants worked well if you could stand the odor. What everybody did was to carry with them everywhere they went a fan made of a palmetto frond to swat at the mosquitoes. When you went inside a house you just left it outside.
It was tough living.
But the early settlers all had one thing in common: They were looking for a new life and were willing to work hard — very hard — to obtain it for themselves and their families, and at the same time give to a community they were building from scratch.
Garden and sea
Today’s Englewood is often described as having evolved from a sleepy little fishing village. Well, that’s not quite true. Most of our early settlers arrived prepared to venture into agricultural projects, not fishing.
But all the newcomers immediately became aware of the unbelievable richness of the Gulf, Lemon Bay and the many creeks going through Englewood. Delicious seafood was just there for the taking, and they were soon supplementing their food stocks and income by fishing.
Many started giving up farming altogether for a life on the water and became “fisher-families,” some working for the Chadwick family which ran a very successful fish business in Punta Gorda. The Chadwicks also had a fish camp at Stump Pass in Englewood where fish were stored before being taken to Punta Gorda.
Some of the early pioneering families were extremely successful at farming. Today it’s hard to imagine the Gottfried family’s lush pineapple, tomato and celery fields where Merchants Crossing Shopping Center is. Or in the north part of town the Anderson family’s large fields of okra, turnips, peppers, cucumbers and guava trees. The Goff family successfully grew large amounts of rice in the slough behind where the Englewood Charlotte Library is located today.
During the era of 1910 to 1920, the town it’s self started to build. There was an one-room school, a sawmill, a couple of places where rooms could be rented, even a small hotel that catered to sportsmen, a livery stable, a post office.
In 1918, The Lemon Bay Woman’s Club was formed.
In 1916, Pete and Florence Buchan purchased property on Lemon Bay. They built a large two-story building with family living quarters on the second floor. They opened a supply store, the only one in town. Buchan built a dock that extended 250 feet into the bay.
With still no roads into Englewood, all the town’s supplies arrived by sailboat at Buchan’s dock. The compound became known as Buchan’s Landing. It soon was also what you might call the social center of the town where you got the latest news and gossip as you shopped.
Buchans Landings was the first sizable and prominent commercial venture in Englewood.
In 1914, Buchan had started fighting for a road into Englewood. By then, first automobile had arrived in Englewood, and it was obvious there would be more. In 1917, the first section of an Englewood road was finished, opening the door to continued growth.
Despite the lack of amenities — no doctor, library or bank, church services but no church building, no electricity or telephones, no ice plant — and despite the alligators, mosquitoes, the summer heat, the often heavy rains and storms, and endless other challenges — the intrepid Englewood settlers kept coming. They beat the odds that were heavily against them, and they did indeed make the area a very fit place to live.
But change was in the wind for the small, isolated Englewood area as the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s was quickly approaching.
Diana Harris is a Sun columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.