Punta Gorda is a city in Charlotte County, Florida, United States. As of the 2010 census the city had a population of 16,641. It is the county seat of Charlotte County and the only incorporated municipality in the county. Punta Gorda is the principal city of the Punta Gorda, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area and is also in the Sarasota-Bradenton-Punta Gorda Combined Statistical Area.
Punta Gorda was the scene of massive destruction after Charley, a Category 4 hurricane, came through the city on August 13, 2004. Charley was the strongest tropical system to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and the first hurricane since Hurricane Donna in 1960 to make a direct hit on Florida’s southwest coast. In the immediate years following the storm, buildings were restored or built to hurricane-resistant building codes. The new buildings, restorations and amenities concurrently preserved the city’s past while showcasing newer facilities. During this time, Laishley Park Municipal Marina was built and the Harborwalk, Linear Park and various trails were created throughout the city for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
“Spirit of Punta Gorda” monument commemorating the landfall of Hurricane Charley
The name Punta Gorda (“Fat Point”) has been on maps at least since 1851, referring to a point of land that juts into Charlotte Harbor, an estuary off the Gulf of Mexico. It was in the late 1800s that early settlers began to arrive in what is the present-day Punta Gorda area.
Frederick and Jarvis Howard, Union Army veterans, homesteaded an area south of the Peace River near present-day Punta Gorda about a decade after the close of the Civil War. In 1876, James and Josephine Lockhart bought land and built a house on property which is now at the center of the city. Approximately two years later Lockhart sold his claim to James Madison Lanier, a hunter and trapper. Lanier with his wife lived there until 1883, when 30.8 acres (12.5 ha) were sold to Isaac Trabue, who purchased additional land along the harbor and directed the platting of a town (by Kelly B. Harvey) named “Trabue”.
Less than ten years after the first settlements in the area, railroads rolled into the town of Trabue in June 1886, and with them came the first land developers and Southwest Florida’s first batch of tourists. Punta Gorda became the southernmost stop on the Florida Southern Railroad, until an extension was built to Fort Myers in 1904, attracting the industries that propelled its initial growth.
In 1887, 12 years after the first settlers trekked to Charlotte Harbor, 34 met at Hector’s Billiard Parlor to discuss incorporation. Once Punta Gorda was officially incorporated, mayoral elections took place and a council was formed. The first mayor, W. H. Simmons, was elected. The new city was renamed Punta Gorda.
Phosphate was discovered on the banks of the Peace River just above Punta Gorda in 1888. Phosphate mined in the Peace River Valley was barged down the Peace River to Punta Gorda and Port Boca Grande, where it was loaded onto vessels for worldwide shipment. In 1896, the Florida Times-Union reported that phosphate mining was Punta Gorda’s chief industry and that Punta Gorda was the greatest phosphate shipping point in the world. But, by 1907, a railroad was built direct to Port Boca Grande, ending the brief phosphate shipping boom from Punta Gorda.