BY KAREN GRACE AND THE HISTORIC CENTER OF BOCA GRANDE – The start of the du Pont family in Boca Grande took place in 1916 or 1917 when Louise (du Pont) and Frank Crowninshield rented the cottage from Frank’s brother (Benjamin) on the gulf. In the years that followed, Louise and Frank bought land on First Street and Gulf Boulevard, the street that once stood in front of today’s waterfront homes, but has since eroded. Eventually, they expanded their property to include six cabins as well as a main house and a stable.
Ms. Crowninshield has become a benefactor of many Island institutions and individuals. She provided ownership of the island’s school, now the community center, and raised funds to equip a school for black families at a time when schools were separate. She supported the presence of a doctor on the island and ultimately the creation of the Boca Grande health clinic.
Many children on the island report swimming in the Crowninshield pool, having tea with Louise, attending picnics and receiving her support for their higher education. Davis Hammond, a descendant of Crowninshield, remembers arriving on the train for a vacation on the island and how his great-aunt Louise organized their entertainment.
Louise’s brother, Henry Francis du Pont, and his wife Ruth Wales du Pont built a house in the 1920s, as did Hugh Rodney Sharp and his wife Isabelle Mathieu du Pont Sharp (his father was Henry Francis’ second cousin and Louise) who built the Hacienda, the estate behind the white wall of Sixth Street and Gasparilla Road. Later, George Weymouth and his wife, Deo du Pont Weymouth, came to Boca Grande. Deo’s father was also the second cousin of Henry Francis and Louise.
Henry Francis du Pont’s family included his daughters, Pauline Louise du Pont Harrison and Ruth Ellen du Pont Lord, both of whom had homes on Gilchrist. Henry Francis was known as a collector and a horticulturist / gentleman farmer. Her daughter, Ruth, wrote in her book about her father that Henry Francis was “always ready to investigate the progressive and the new. In gardening and agriculture, he was “an innovator and a leader”. He cultivated rare plants and experimented with the multiplication of plants. His bold decisions revolutionized farming and dairy production practices. He was also the founder of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library in Delaware.
Ruth Lord herself was also an innovator, earning an undergraduate degree at Vassar where she was a valedictorian and her Masters in Education at Yale in a time when wealthy women did not often attend college. In addition to writing a book about her father, she has also co-authored a book, “When Home is No Haven,” based on her work at the Yale Child Study Center, where she focused on child care issues. children. She was also the co-founder of the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven.
The Sharp family had a major impact on Boca Grande. Hugh Rodney Sharp Sr., known as Rodney, was “a frustrated architect” according to his son Bayard, who thought the Spanish style suited the island.
Like Henry Francis du Pont, Rodney was particularly interested in gardens, both in Delaware and Boca Grande. The gardens of the Hacienda are covered in the book “The Golden Age of American Gardens (1890-1940)”. The Hugh Sharp Jr. family continues to own and reside at the Hacienda.
The Sharp sons, Hugh and Bayard, and a group of investors purchased the Gasparilla Inn in 1961 and Bayard’s descendants continue to own the inn. Bayard was also an integral part of the development of the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association and the enactment of the Gasparilla Island Act in 1979.
That same year, Bayard bought the pink elephant. Hugh and Bayard attended the Boca Grande health clinic and then traded riparian land for the railway right-of-way and donated the latter property to the community for today’s bike path.
Another cousin of the Bridge, Dulcinea (Deo) of Weymouth Bridge, has contributed to the history of the island by overseeing the operations of the San Marco Theater which has shown first-run films in support of the Clinic and by painting the Temptation murals. There she depicted the island as she knew it in the 1940s and 1950s, painting some of the people who enjoyed beaches, fishing, and the town of Boca Grande. Later, Kathy Futch added many names to Deo’s painting. Homer Addison, builder and original owner of Temptation and friend of Deo and her husband George Weymouth, said when the murals were finished Deo left the paints and brushes behind and inspired him to start painting , a hobby he loved for many years.
The descendants of Du Pont continue to own homes in Boca Grande and add their support to many activities in the community.
To learn more about the history of Boca Grande and Gasparilla Island, visit the history center website https: bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com, like us on Facebook, or make an appointment to visit the center of story at 170 Park Ave. or call 964-1600. The History Center welcomes comments from all. Please send your comments or questions to [email protected]
The Archives of the History Center also invite the community to lend photographs, documents or other materials that they will digitize and return to the lender.