The History of African Americans in Charlotte County
By Florida Division of Historic Resources Staff
Punta Gorda Railroad Depot & Museum and St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church are notable sites in Charlotte County.
Florida has a rich and diverse history of African Americans. Landmarks and legacies exist in various locations throughout the state. The following historical sites can be found in Charlotte County. While some of these sites can be visited, other listings are marked "private" and are not open to the public.
The George Brown House
27430 Cleveland Avenue (Private)
This large 1924 bungalow was built by George Brown, a talented African American carpenter and local businessman, as a home for himself and his second wife Tommie Fulford Brown. Reportedly, in 1910, he had built a two-story home on nearby Riverside Drive and Scott Street, but rented it to whites after residents objected to Cleveland's only African American owning the largest house. He rented another house, bought all of Block 1 -- north facing Cleveland Avenue in 1916 and eventually built this home. Damaged during Hurricane Charley in 2004, it was renovated extensively in 2006.
Cleveland Steam Marine Ways
5400 Riverside Drive
George Brown came to the Peace River area in about 1890 with Captain Albert F. Dewey to work for a phosphate mining company. During the 1890s, he was superintendent of buildings for the Desoto Phosphate Mining Company in Liverpool, near Arcadia. In 1916, Brown founded the Cleveland Marine Steam Ways, where he built, outfitted and refurbished steamboats, schooners and barges, as well as luxury yachts for affluent white residents of the Charlotte Harbor area. Brown was an "equal opportunity" employer, hiring whites and blacks and paying equal wages for equal skills. The building is now a recreation hall for a mobile home park.
The Blanchard House Museum of African American
History & Culture of Charlotte County
406 Martin Luther King Boulevard
This 1925 house was originally built for Joseph Blanchard, a black sea captain and key member of early Punta Gorda’s business community, and Minnie, his mail-order bride. Upon the death of Blanchard’s last surviving daughter, African American community historian, Bernice Russell, purchased the Blanchard House. Since Russell’s death, the museum has been operated as an open access, educational institute devoted to the procurement, preservation, study and display of artifacts and materials related to the culture, contributions and history of African Americans in Charlotte County. (941) 575-7518.
New Operation Cooper Street
650 Mary Street
This is the original site of Baker’s Academy, Charlotte County’s first African American school. Located in the East Punta Gorda Historical District, in the 1960s, this site was a gathering place and recreation center for the black community. (941) 639-3034.
Punta Gorda Railroad Depot & Museum
1009 Taylor Road
The Atlantic Coast Line Depot, built in the Mediterranean Revival architectural style, was the southernmost station in the U.S. when it opened in the late 1920s. Segregated bathrooms and waiting areas as originally designed, and a refurbished ticket office are part of the exhibit. Rotating exhibits display the historic and cultural impact of the area’s aviation and fishing industry. (941) 639-6774.
Adapted from Florida Black Heritage Trail, published by the Florida Department of State, in partnership with VISIT FLORIDA, copyright 2007. For more information on the history of African Americans and African American sites, please visit flheritage.com. Additional information can also be found at: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/milesmedia/floridablackheritage/