Gopher Hooks and Other Obsolete Tools
Articles: Sarasota History
When I was four or five years old I found out that our next door neighbor, to the east, Mr. Pennington, who was a carpenter by trade, had a gopher hook. His daughter, Anna Frances, around my age, showed it to me and told me what it was. At that time, around 1939, we lived on Glengary Road. This was out in the country about three blocks south of Bee Ridge Road. My grandparent's house, where we stayed, was on 1 ½ acres of land.
The next door neighbor to the west was Mrs. Moore who lived on about two acres fronting The Trail, US 41, where she had a large orange grove behind her house alive with free-range chickens. She sold eggs for a living. The building she used for her hen house had been originally the first school house in the county (or at least that's what my mother told me. It was on the corner of Glengary and 41). It was a one-room schoolhouse just like we have seen in old western movies. My Mother said that the teacher in that school was Mrs.Turbeville. Later, her son Ezra was one of my mother's classmates.
To get back to the gopher hook, Mr.Pennington had a pretty typical one. It had a wood handle similar to a rake or hoe handle about four feet long from which protruded an iron rod 1/4"- 5/16" in diameter about 18" long with a hook at the end. It was used to reach down the gopher hole and grasp the Florida Gopher Tortoise or 'Gopher Turtle' or locally called, Gopher.
The turtle was pulled out, taken home, and butchered for meat. It yielded a meat similar in many ways, to beef, enough for supper for a family of four. Fried, or stewed and eaten with grits and collard greens it made dinner for a vast portion of Florida residents during the Great Depression.
The Florida Depression started in 1926. It was very deep and devastating to its population well before the Great Depression started. 1929 was just another year in Florida. The economy of the state did not really recover until the early 1950's when the returning soldiers from World War II started buying houses and the second Florida building boom began. Prior to that, the newest houses and buildings were mostly built in 1925 and 1926.
I knew many people who survived the poor times by eating raccoons, Gopher turtle, sea turtle and alligator tail. Some of those earlier residents could even describe the taste of sea cow (manatee). Another thing I remember from those days, the early forties, is getting in Granpa's car on late Sunday afternoon and driving out Stickney Point Road onto Crescent Beach and heading north (to about where the public beach sits) and having a big picnic supper.
Most of the beaches of Florida were driven upon then and even airplanes landed on them sometimes. I witnessed a dirigible flying by more than once, before World War II. North from Bee Ridge Road along the Trail, stretched the Palmer Groves. Orange trees grew beside the highway halfway to Webber Avenue. The groves went east along Bee Ridge past where Tuttle Avenue crosses and becomes Swift Road. Somewhere along Bee Ridge Road near Shade Avenue was a house especially built for The Doll Family, a quartet of Circus midgets who worked for the Ringling Brothers B&B Circus. The doors were about 5 feet high, the furniture all half size. It was a doll house; long gone now.
Just north of Glengary past Mrs. Moore’s at Roselawn was a tiny grocery store a predecessor of the Seven Eleven stores of today. And just beyond that going towards Bee Ridge Road, was the Sunrise Tourist Court owned by some French people named Thourez (pronounced Tooray).
To the east of our house, on the other side of Pennington's was nothing but pine woods. They stretched more than a half mile to Phillipi Creek. The name of Phillippi Creek is itself another story. Many years ago, a Cuban fish camp sat on the shore of the Creek near where it empties into Sarasota Bay. The present site is Phillippi Mansion County park. The camp was owned by a Cuban or Spanish man whose first name was Felipe.The creek was named Felipe's River after him or maybe he named it after himself. Anyways, the woods were thick forest all the way to the creek.
To the South of my grandparents' home across Glengary was an open pasture connected to the house and pasture which used to stand where Chili's is now. The house was owned by Mr. Hobbs who owned a dairy in the area and now rented the house to my friends, the Page family.That included Mr. and Mrs. Page, his brother C.L., two daughters and my friends and schoolmates, Lloyd and Bobby.
To the west, across the Trail, Glengary was a block long ending in pine woods. A footpath wove thru those woods toward Sarasota Bay. My grandmother's good friend, Mrs. Johnson, (Charlie Ball's grandmother) lived in a big house on the bay. My sister Nancy, Gramma and I would walk through the woods to the Johnson's. They had a fair size orange grove, a long stable or multi-car garage with dozens of old defunct cars. Their house was cluttered inside with stuff stacked everywhere. In the kitchen was an upright piano. The space under the keyboard was completely filled with paperback books from floor to the keyboard. They must have had every issue of old pulp magazines like True Police Stories, Fantastic Science Fiction and Zane Grey's Wild West Cowboy Stories. In the dining room was a very large dining table. Under this table, leaving no room for legs and feet, were stacked magazines and newspapers from floor to table. They could have conducted the World War II paper recycling drive from that room alone.
Back at the Trail, on Glengary were three or four houses between the highway and the woods on the north side of the street. On the south side was a field and some more pine trees. Mr.Morrison owned this land and sometime during the War, started growing beans and vegetables there. Bobby and Lloyd Page, their sisters and I, picked beans for Mr. Morrison getting ten cents for each bushel of stringbeans. We did not last at the job because we were only about 9 or 10 years old.
Just north of the four houses on the north side of Glengary, the area now occupied by Best Buy and Barnes and Noble was a trailer park. I think it was called Sunset Trailer Park. In the late 1950 era, Montgomery Ward bought the trailer park and the houses along Glengary's north side and built a large department store. After that company went broke, the current shopping center was built. One memory I have of the trailer park remains. My cousin Donny was playing in the yard of my grandparent's home. He had a piece of cast iron sewer pipe about 2 inches in diameter and some cherry bomb firecrackers. He called me over. He said, "I found out that if I light a cherry bomb and throw it down this pipe then throw a green orange on top of it, then it will fire this orange out of sight." He then proceeded to do it. He had fired two or three like that when suddenly a sheriff deputy's car pulled into the yard. The deputy sheriff said to us, "Son, there are some very angry people over at the Sunset Trailer Park who called me to investigate. Some one has been bombarding their trailer homes with green oranges and broke a window or two. Stop now and I won't tell them who did it!" Needless to say, firing ceased.
One thing we did to have fun was making and flying kites. We made them of newspaper, string, sticks and paste made from flour and water. One of our neighbors collected string. One time we flew a homemade kite about five feet high and three feet wide with a tail about 8-10 feet long made of rags with at least half a mile of string out. We put messages on the string and the wind blew them up to the kite. I have no idea where we learned how to do that. Maybe Mr Page or his brother C.L. told us.
Sometimes we would walk east out Bee Ridge to the bridge over Phillippi Creek where we would swim while constantly on the lookout for water moccasins.They are aggressive and will head right towards people. Sometimes we would walk south on 41 down to the ranchland pastures which are now The Landings. There were tall pine trees with eagle nests in them. All children are born with the knowledge that eagles will swoop down and carry you away, so we walked there with our eyes peeled, alert and ready to run if an eagle threatened.