Good day to all! Did you know that John Bartholf of New York City was proprietor of the first known store in what became the community of Charlotte Harbor, residing there from 1876 to 1882? The store was at the end of Parmely Street in what is today, Bayshore Live Oak Park.

A Union army captain during the civil war, Bartholf served with African-American troops in Fort Myers after being wounded. Mustered out of the service in January 1866 at Key West, he returned to southwest Florida and married a young woman whose father had been a union refugee on Useppa Island during the war.

At the time, Florida was still under military rule and a desire to re-establish civilian control led to the state constitutional convention of 1868, which gave Republican Gov. Harrison Reed authority to appoint all local officials, rather than them being elected. Around the same time, Florida’s legislature created the state’s first free public school system.

Due to his party loyalty, in 1869, Gov. Reed appointed Bartholf Manatee County’s first school superintendent. At the time, Manatee County included today’s Charlotte, DeSoto, Sarasota and several other counties.

Residing in Pine Level, the county seat some 9 miles northwest of today’s Arcadia, Bartholf was instrumental in opening many new schools in the Peace River valley. He was also named postmaster of Pine Level in 1871 and in 1873 appointed Manatee County Clerk of Court. That appointment led to his interesting involvement in the 1876 presidential contest between republican Rutherford B. Hayes and democrat Samuel J. Tilden.

Florida’s government at the time was dominated by “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags,” derogatory terms respectively for northerners coming south after the Civil War and southern whites supporting reconstruction and the Republican Party. However, in 1876, Florida Democrats saw an opportunity to retake control. Manatee County was strongly democratic so Bartholf resigned as county clerk prior to the election, apparently believing that would prevent Manatee votes from being counted.

In the end though, the election was held, but Bartholf refused to certify the results, maintaining he was no longer clerk. However, his replacement had not been officially installed. It’s said Ziba King, prominent Fort Ogden cattleman, intervened and “gently” persuaded Bartholf to certify the returns with a pistol’s help.

After receiving three different sets of results from Florida’s Republican election officials, Congress appointed a 15-member electoral commission that voted 8-7, along party lines, that Hayes, although losing the popular vote nationwide, carried Florida and thus won the election. I’ll bet you thought the last few presidential elections in Florida, particularly Bush vs. Gore, were unique.

However, Democrats had gained control in Florida and Bartholf knew it was time to move on, taking his family to Charlotte Harbor. A new post office had been established at Hickory Bluff in 1872, but was named “Charlotte Harbor” since it served the northern Charlotte Harbor area. Disliked by early residents, the name eventually stuck. Being one of the few Republicans in southwest Florida, Bartholf was named postmaster in December 1876 during the waning days of Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency.

John also opened the first store in Charlotte Harbor and operated a boarding house while engaging in real estate and cattle businesses. In 1880 he was placed on the Invalid Persons Roll due to deteriorating health blamed on a problematic wound received during the Battle of Fredericksburg. His financial situation had also worsened, so the family moved to Sarasota in 1882, but didn’t stay long. Republicans were not welcome and they were terrorized by the Sarasota Democratic Vigilantes. The Bartholfs then settled in Jacksonville where seven years later John succumbed to a heart attack at age 54.

“Did You Know” appears every other Wednesday, courtesy of this newspaper and the Charlotte County Historical Center Society. The Society’s mission is to help promote and preserve Charlotte County’s rich history. A family membership is only $35 and provides complimentary access to over 300 museums and technical centers nationwide. We are always looking for volunteers and interested individuals to serve as board members. If you believe our area’s history is as important as we do, please call 941-613-3228 for more information.^p

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