LWRWC Walks Back in History at Gasparilla Inn
On Friday, February 12, 2016, 33 members of the Lakewood Ranch Women’s Club took a memorable trip, aboard a private charted tour bus, to the beautiful Gasparilla Inn & Club located on Gasparilla Island on the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest and most renowned “old Florida” resort hotels.
This famous classic resort was originally constructed for wealthy northerners during the time when Florida became a fashionable travel and vacation destination. Walking through The Gasparilla Inn’s pillared entrance into the lobby you experience the feeling of Florida as it was meant to be.
The Inn is over 100 years old, perfectly maintained and run with precision, charm and a reverence for preserving the glory of its famous historic past.
Most of the ladies opted to join a historical guided tour of the Inn before the scheduled elegant luncheon in the Banyan Room. Courtesy of our excellent and knowledgeable tour guide, Tina Malasics, who serves as the Inn’s Operations Assistant and Membership Coordinator, the club members experienced a wonderful “walk back in history” that transported them into Florida’s colorful and glorious past.
Tour Guide Tina Malasics Gave Comprehensive History
Tina began the tour by explaining that she was ‘voluntold” to develop a history program at the resort which has since become her passion. She shared the colorful and somewhat questionable legend of the infamous Spanish pirate, José Gaspar, who was born in Spain in 1756 and served in the Spanish Navy, only to desert and turn to piracy in 1783.
Gaspar was a Spanish nobleman who achieved a high rank in the Spanish Navy and became a councilor to King Charles III He was popular in the court, but his meteoric rise caused jealously and he was falsely accused of being involved in the theft of the crown jewels. To escape arrest, he commandeered a ship and vowed to exact revenge on his country when his family was executed.
Gasper allegedly fled to the virtually uninhabited west coast of Spanish Florida about 1783 and turned to piracy aboard his ship, the Floriblanca. Gaspar established his base on Gasparilla Island and was soon the feared scourge of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where he plundered dozens of ships and amassed a huge treasure in the period coinciding with the second Spanish rule of Florida. Most male prisoners were killed or recruited as pirates, while women were taken to nearby “Captiva Island” where they would serve as concubines for himself and his pirate crew, or be held for ransom from their families.
Tina explained that Gaspar wanted to be king of Florida and captured a Mexican princess named Useppa to be his future queen. According to the legend, Useppa, consistently rejected Gaspar’s advances until he finally attacked, raped and beheaded her in a fit of rage when she continued to refuse his proposal of marriage. Gaspar instantly regretted the deed and took her body to a nearby island, where he buried her and named the island Useppa in her honor.
Similarly, Sanibel Island is said to have been named by Gaspar’s first mate, Roderigo Lopez, after his lover whom he had left back in Spain. José Gaspar met his end in December 1821, the year that Spain sold the Florida Territory to the United States. Gasparilla decided to retire after almost 40 years of plunder, and he and his crew were dividing his vast treasure at his base on Gasparilla Island.
During this process, the lookout spotted what looked like a large British merchant ship, an opportunity too good to ignore. But as they approached in the Floriblanca, the intended victim lowered the Union Jack and raised an American flag, revealing the pirate hunting schooner USS Enterprise. In the battle that followed, Gasparilla’s ship was riddled by cannonballs and in danger of sinking. Rather than surrender, Gaspar wrapped an anchor chain around his waist and dramatically leapt from the bow, shouting “Gaspar dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!”
Most of his surviving crew were captured and subsequently hanged, but a few escaped. Gasparilla left 10 of his most trusted men with the pirate treasure chests while he took the rest of the crew in pursuit of the merchant ship. The ten men witnessed the battle with the USS Enterprise from shore. Seeing the Floridablanca go down, then loaded the chests into a longboat and slipped, unnoticed, up the Peace River to a place called Spanish Homestead. The ten pirates spent the next day burying the remainder of the chests in different spots along the streams and swamps of Peace River. They then burned their longboat and disappeared forever, apparently never to return. $30 million dollars in gold and jewels still remains undiscovered in the Peace River area. The legend of buried treasure still lures visitors as the tale is handed to subsequent generations.
Key Areas of the Famous Inn
The balance of the tour consisted of a look at key areas of the famous Inn as the tour guide highlighted the history of the lovely resort known for its impeccable service and its unique historic old Florida atmosphere. Tina explained that the Gasparilla Inn’s founders and patrons understood the delicate challenges of building the village without destroying the natural wonders of the island, from its fishing preserves to sugary sands.
Through the years, this spirit has been passed on from generation to generation of owners, guests and residents on the island. A good representation of the Social Register and financial tycoons and politicians of the day, at one time or other, have been guests at The Inn over the years. The resort employs more than 325 people on a seasonal basis and continues many of its original traditions, including afternoon tea during Social Season. The Inn is presently owned by the William Farish family. William Farish is a former United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James, and his wife, Sarah, is the only daughter of the late Bayard Sharp.
The tour culminated on the beautiful terrace that overlooks the spectacular golf course and club house area and has a breathtaking view of the gulf.
After the exciting historical journey, the ladies adjourned for lunch and dined on Smoked Tomato & Basil Bisque, Chopped Caesar Salad with Herb Roasted Chicken Breast and a delicious Gasparilla Key Lime Pie with Tropical Fruit Salsa & berries for dessert. Service was impeccable and the elegant ambience made for a delightful experience.
The remainder of the day was spent exploring the delightful shops that are frequented by the Inn’s rich and famous guests. There are approximately ten charming stores and merchandise ranges from chic island fashion to gorgeous jewelry. One unique shop caters to the needs of pampered pets and a decedent ice cream shop tempts visitors with irresistible treats. Everything is within walking distance of the Inn. The weather was glorious, the scenery, breathtaking, and the what could be more fun than shopping for ‘treasures’ in the company of good friends.