Just before the Sanibel Island Causeway is a beautiful palm tree-lined peninsula that is a top destination for Southwest Florida travelers. Looking at the sprawling resort you’d never know that Punta Rassa has such a lengthy and diverse history.
Prior to Ponce De Leon’s arrival in the early 1500’s, the area was inhabited by the Calusa Indians, a fierce people who often warred with and enslaved neighboring tribes. The Calusa are the first known shell collectors and used shells in their weapons, tools, décor, and jewelry. Archaeologists have been studying the remaining shell mounds for years to better understand the Calusa and life in Southwest Florida prior to European arrival. The Spanish brought cattle to the area in the mid 16th century before being driven back to Cuba by the Calusa. Fort Dulany was built in 1841 and used sporadically in times of both war and peace.
In the 1800’s Punta Rassa would become an important part of the Florida cattle trade. Jacob Summerlin, who would later be known as “King of the Cattlemen”, established a thriving cattle operation at Punta Rassa in 1858 and began shipping cattle to Cuba. Over 1.5 million cattle were sent 1868-1878. When the Civil War began, Punta Rassa became crucial in supplying both the Confederate Army and local Union Troops with cattle. After the war, the International Ocean and Telegraph Company gained control of the area and ran a telegraph line 110 miles to Havana Cuba.
The 1880’s brought another transition – Punta Rassa became wildly popular for sport fishing, especially tarpon. Accommodations soon replaced cattle pens and fishermen from around the world came to fish for Spanish mackerel, tarpon, and kingfish. After the Tarpon House burned down twice (first in 1906 and again in 1913), travel to the area waned and fishermen went north to Charlotte Harbour instead.
In the 1920’s, the Kinzie family started to run a car ferry to Sanibel Island, leaving from Punta Rassa and docking at Reed’s Landing on the Island. The first ferry only held 7 cars and ran 4 times per day. As demand increased, the Kinzies purchased a larger ferry and continued being the link between the mainland and Sanibel until the Sanibel Causeway was built in 1963.
The Sanibel Harbour Resort was built in the 1980’s in stages, beginning with the tennis complex & spa and ending with the main hotel building. The Resort changed hands several times through the years and the Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa is now owned by Marriott. The Bay View and Harbour Towers are governed by different condo associations and are predominately used for vacation rentals. Resort Harbour Properties manages the lion’s share of rentals today with over 70 units in our program.
Florida Cattle Industry
Old Punta Rassa