Mystery of Palmetto Island: Our Backyard on the Water is Full of History and Surprises
Apr 25, 2018 08:00AM
The group fell silent and her question made me smile. No one seemed to know where the island that she called Palmetto was located. After no one responded, I answered, “It is about 7 miles to north of our current location.”
The island in question was first known and inhabited by Calusa. There is evidence of their presence on it from 100 B.C. to A.D. 1570. Many islands in the area were seasonal camps for the Spanish and Cuban fisherman and it is likely they were also on Palmetto Island.
In 1899, Palmetto Island was owned by a gentleman named Otto Stellrich for six years—until he was delinquent on his $2 annual taxes. Then came a variety of squatters, who made moonshine on the island.
In June of 1936, Palmetto Island was purchased for $14,500 by Alan Rinehart and his wife, Gratia Houghton Rinehart. Alan’s mother, Mary Roberts Rinehart, was a best-selling author who is said to have coined the phrase, “The butler did it!” She was also a war correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post and in 1947, spoke about breast cancer by encouraging women to get breast examinations.
The island changed hands in 1944, when Larry and Jan Stultz purchased it. Through 1969, the Stultzes rented out its cottages and ran a restaurant that was open to the public. That year, the island was bought by Jimmy Turner, who owned other Southwest Florida islands, and its operations were managed by Bob and JoAnn Beck.
Since 1976, Rob and Phyllis Wells have owned and run the historic island’s operations ever since. And by now you may have figured out that today the island is known around the world as Cabbage Key!
To bring things full circle, Palmetto Island’s name was changed to Cabbage Key in 1944 by the Stultz family. The woman on the boat who asked, “Where is Palmetto Island?” was none other than world-renowned ichthyologist Dr. Eugenie Clark, nicknamed the “Shark Lady.”