FROSTPROOF, SNOOK HAVEN, LEHIGH, NOW IT’S CHERRY POCKET?
FISHING SOUTHWEST FLORIDA IN STYLE – 1893
I received some interesting email in the last week or so, about the Lehigh Acres story. Quite a bit of email in fact. Most of the email was complementary. But, from Chuck Stuart in Martinsville, he wanted to know what my motivation was for moving to Florida? Why would I want to live in Lehigh Acres? Then he wanted to know more about what happened to Leonard Lee Ratner, who started Lehigh Acres. The story, according to Chuck stopped suddenly and too abruptly for him. Chuck liked the story, but it didn’t seem finished to him. (LeHigh Acres story click here)
Jack Maynard who lives in Gig Harbor, Washington wrote and said he lived in Tampa for almost 20 years, traveled the state of Florida as part of his job and had very heard this story about Lehigh Acres. Good read.
Linda Lindquist sent me a quick note. She read the article on Lehigh Acres. Linda is a “Computer Doctor” of sorts. She repairs and updates software for home computers and makes house calls. She told me she made a house call to a woman who lives in Lehigh Acres. The customer needed a computer software upgrade. While in the home, the lady told Linda she had been burglarized three times in the last 10 years.
Dorothy Keen-Benedict sent an e-mail wanting to know if I would happen to know what the lot prices are in Lehigh Acres right now. “Has the market come back?” It seems her parent purchased a lot in Lehigh Acres and Dorothy inherited her parent’s Lehigh Acres lot. She intends to sell the lot and use the money for other priorities in her life. I asked her what she was expecting in the way of a selling price. She said she has been waiting for the market to come back to normal and would like to sell her lot for $35,000. I checked all the real estate boards, and I think Dorothy is going to have to wait a little longer. I found plenty of lots ranging from $2,500 – $4,000. With a few in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Sorry, Dorothy.
My story on Frostproof, Florida aroused Nancy Bailey In Anderson, Indiana. (Click for the Frostproof story here) The story post on Frostproof is a 14-minute video, and Nancy said she hadn’t gotten to listen to it yet. “It looks too long. But will later.” Maybe she looked at the story “later” and didn’t tell me. (We can always hope.)
Anyway, she wanted me to be aware of another out of the way place in “Old” Florida. Nancy continued. “In the meantime, have you been to Cherry Pocket in Florida? You need to eat at Cherry Pocket sometime. Best seafood nachos I have ever eaten, and I am not a seafood or nachos fan. Oh yum. Cherry Pocket is in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t get there before I get back to Florida, come see me next year when I get there, we will go together.”
I think the odds of Nancy and I going to Cherry Pocket together a year from now are two, slim and none. So, if I decide to take the bait and take Nancy up on her challenge and visit this Cherry Pocket place, I don’t want to go alone right? Gary Steinhauer and I made the trip to Snook Haven about a month ago. (Snook Haven story click here)
Gary is the one who decided where we would have lunch to renew our friendship. Gary and I worked together in Indianapolis, Indiana at Colonial Mortgage Company in the early 70’s. (Click here for the story – Bound to Happen) Gary moved to Florida about 18 years ago, and I moved to Florida 3 years ago.
So, Gary lives in the St Petersburg area, and I Live in Southwest Florida, Fort Myers. Gary looked for a place about half way for each of us to meet somewhere and have lunch. Gary found Snook Haven. Well, it turns out Snook Haven is a little primitive. We both realized what the place was after we each looked at the location on-line. What are the chances of two charming and polished monied gentlemen like ourselves could enter into the throws and arrows of Old Florida and come away unscathed? So, we talked about it and threw caution to the wind and said let’s go for it!
Because Gary picked “The Snook” for our first get-together lunch, I guess he felt a little guilty or obligated, and bought lunch. That means I should invite Gary to a restaurant of my choice and pay for Gary’s dinner. So, let’s see where is Cherry Pocket is located. Nancy Bailey said it was in the middle of “nowhere.” Where is nowhere?
Cherry Pocket is in the middle of the state of Florida about 45 minutes south of Orlando on the north shore of Lake Pierce. A 2 hour and 15-minute drive for me and 1 hour and 45-minute drive for Gary from St Petersburg. So, I emailed Gary and told him I was scheduling lunch for Tuesday, June the 6th. I told him where and how long it would take him to drive to Cherry Pocket. He emailed back and said, “Just tell me which way to point the Mazda MX5 Miata, and I’m there.” I decided to email this information to Nancy Bailey and told her I wasn’t waiting I was going to Cherry Pocket on Tuesday.
Nancy Bailey: “So, you’re going Tuesday? Let me know what you think. Be sure to try the Seafood Nachos, all homemade. I usually don’t care anything about nachos and especially not seafood nachos. My friend ordered them the first time. I ordered them the second time. Delicious!! Enjoy!!”
I decided to telephone Cherry Pocket Steak and Seafood Shak. The phone rang, and a man answered, “Cherry Pocket.”
“Hello, I would like to talk to Richard or Elsie Eten please.”
“They are not here right now, can I help you?”
“Is there a phone number where they might be reached?”
“Can I ask what this is about?”
“Elsie and Richard still own Cherry Pocket right?”
“I was hoping to get a little background or history on Cherry Pocket. I plan on paying a visit, and I was looking for a little history about Cherry Pocket, and I thought the owners might be willing to tell me how it got started.”
“My name is Dan; I’m the bartender, I’ve been working here for 10 years. There is all kind of stories about Cherry Pocket. Can I put you on hold for a minute? Sorry about that, its lunch time and I’m a little busy, I noticed old man Gulliver just walked in. I asked him if he would talk to you. He can tell you what you want to know. Do you mind if I give him the phone?”
The following conversation has been modified slightly to soften the profanity.
As it turned out, Old Man Gulliver’s name is Harry C. Gulliver. I introduced myself to Harry and told him I was looking for a little history on the place. We got off to a rocky start, but in time Harry opened up and said he’s been living in these parts a little over 90 years.
“Harry, I’ve got to ask, what’s story on the name Cherry Pocket?”
Well, way back, the 40’s I think, there was an old coot named Walter Cherry; He thought he was somebody. Cherry fancied himself a fisherman, and a hunter, he wasn’t very good at either. He was always talking about himself. My Ma and Pa didn’t like him very much. Pa called him “Walt” one day, and he got all pissed off. “You call me Mr. Cherry! And that was that! Pa never cared much for him after that!”
“I guess Cherry had a little money, and he wanted everyone to know it! So, Cherry decides to build a kind of trading post, or you might call it, a fish bait, and tackle shop is more like it. It worn’t nothing special when it was first started. It was just a dirty, nasty, old shack with a front door and a back door. It didn’t have to be fancy, cause this place around here was just for men mostly.”
“Harry, I heard that the “Pocket” part of the Cherry Pocket name was because the ground or the water inlet looked like a pocket? So the place was called Cherry Pocket? Right?”
“Yeah, that’s what they keep telling folks. The way my Pa told it to me was, well, let me think, see Mr. Cherry wanted to own everything around here. Mr. Cherry was what he like to be called. He was always saying he had deep pockets and could buy any man out if he was a mind too. So, people around here didn’t like his attitude and started calling him names behind his back, things like money pockets and other names. He didn’t like that very much. And cause his last name was Cherry, and some people only called him “money pockets.” The name was picked up by some hunters, and they started calling him “Cherry’s pockets.” He was always about the money he said he had. He never showed nobody. He was an arrogant SOB. That’s how this place got started; now it’s been changed over time to Cherry Pocket. But, you can believe whatever you want.”
“I have been told stories about cockfighting, gambling, and alligator wrestling.”
“The old coot would do anything to make money and sell beer. He would encourage fishing men to play cards and drink. If he could get enough people all drunk up and gambling, then Cherry could make a bunch of money selling his damn beer. Then someone would get all pissed off and start a fight cause someone got caught cheating at cards. There were lots of fights here.”
“What about cockfights?”
“Cockfights, yeah, they had to be careful about that, but we had-um. Cherry would do anything to sell beer. His place started out small, but he kept adding stuff and then he would add on to the building. Cherry turned the bait shop into a kind of make–shift tavern cause he could make a lot more money with beer than he could selling bait.
“What about the stories of men riding into the bar on a horse and having a beer while still in the saddle?”
“Yeah, that happened a couple of times. But the horse would knock someone’s drink over or step on someone foot, and when you get a bunch of drunked up men all pissed off, they tend to pull a man off his horse and beat the crap out of him and send the horse and the man out the back door on his ass.
“Wouldn’t a horse crap on the floor?”
“You don’t live around here, do you?”
“No, Harry, I’m what you would call a city slicker. Not very smart in the ways of primitive living.”
“Primitive world? It worn’t primitive, it is just the way we live. Free and natural.”
“What is the biggest change you have seen over the years, Harry?”
“Well, this place has got bigger. Every time someone buys this place; it don’t take long for them to realize this ain’t the life for them. We had the hurricane in 04, and it ripped the place up pretty good. When things go bad, around here, they normally sell and get the hell out. This place almost went down for a time. But, I got to hand to Rich and Elsie. They’ve done a good job with the place. They didn’t leave after the big one. Elsie can make some upright desserts. Have you tried-um?”
“Harry, I haven’t been to Cherry Pocket yet.”
“Well, where you at? Minnesota?”
“Now Harry, why would you think I’m from Minnesota?”
“Cause we get a bunch of guys fly in on a seaplane from Minnesota. You said you were a city slicker.”
“No, I’m not from Minnesota. I live in Fort Myers. A couple of hours south. Are you in there a lot?”
“I’m in and out. Sometimes I come in. Just ask Dan, the bartender, he knows how to get a hold of me. I don’t get around quite like I used to.”
“Thank you, Harry, thanks for talking to me.”
“Yep, okay Bubb!”
The anticipation of driving north to Cherry Pocket was heightened. At the beginning of June in South Florida, we start getting regular showers, almost every day. So the threat of rain was on my mind. I decided to make the 2-hour trip with the top up on the Solstice GXP mean yellow hot rod. I would travel the back roads and weave my way to the tiny burg, town, whatever it is, called Cherry Pocket.
WE HAVE ARRIVED AT CHERRY POCKET
FIRST LOOK INSIDE
WELCOME TO CHERRY POCKET
LET’S SIT HERE
Florida has what is called “off-season.” The snowbirds, for the most part, have headed back north. It was a Tuesday; there were 8 people in the tavern when we arrived. Not too unexpected I guess. Gary and I sat down at a table and ordered our drinks. I got up to take more pictures of the place.
ON THE MENU – SEAFOOD NACHOS $10.49
It was time to order. And there on the menu was Nancy Bailey’s favorite, Seafood Nachos. I kept looking at the items on the menu and knew I wasn’t in the mood for Seafood Nachos. So, I went with the Beer Battered Shrimp. Gary was having problems deciding too, and finally said, “Yeah, let me have the Shrimp too.”
BEER BATTERED SHRIMP – $11.49
Gary asked me what was new in my life. I thought for a moment and said, “Well, the high school class reunion In Indianapolis is coming up in August. Gary, said he just got back from Indianapolis from attending a graduation.
Gary then commented on my Lehigh Acres Story. You know after reading your story on Lehigh Acres, I remembered back in early 2006, Bev told me she owned a lot in a community called Rotunda. We had nothing to do that day, so I suggested that we go and take a look or try and find the lot. Rotunda is a community in Sarasota, and so we drove south to have a quick look. When we got there, we went to the sales office and asked if they could tell us where Bev’s lot was located? The guy looked at the big map on the wall and said, “Well, for goodness sakes, that lot is right behind our sales office.
“Gary, now this is early 2006 right? The housing market is still hot?”
“Right, the market was going gangbusters, it was crazy what people were paying for homes. So get this, we walk out of the office and walk behind the model and are standing on the lot just looking around. We turn around, and the sales guy comes out and asks us if we would be interested in selling the lot? Gary said he looked at Bev and didn’t say anything. Bev asked the sales guy what he would be willing to pay for the lot. The sales guy says I’ll give you $35,000.”
“Wait how big is this lot again?”
“It’s just an average size 1/2 acre lot I guess. Nothing unusual, except it was in an area where a lot of building was going on around the model home.”
“So, what did she say? Did she sell the lot to him?”
“She told the sales guy she might be interested in selling. But, she wanted to think about it. She asked for his business card, and he asked for her name and phone number. We got back in the car and went to lunch and talked about what she should do. She asked me my opinion, and I said, I would ask for more money.”
“More money? Okay, so what happened after that?”
“Yeah, well the sales guy called Bev about a week later wanting to know if she was still interested in selling the lot. Bev told him that she needed more than $35,000 dollars. He told her he would go as high as $45,000 dollars. Bev looked at me, and I shook my head, “Tell him not good enough.”
“Really you turned down $45,000 for a vacant lot?”
A couple of days later, one of the builders in the Rotunda community called and said he was willing to give her $65,000 for her lot. Now, this was getting scary.”
“You have got to be kidding me! So, she sold to him?”
“No. I told Bev “Tell him no, not good enough.”
“Are you nuts?”
“The builder called the next day and upped his offer to $92,000. I told Bev, take the money and run. As you know, the market went to hell in late 2006 – 2007 and was really in the tank by 2008. So, Bev was lucky and got out at just the right time.”
It had started raining while we were eating. We were finished with our meal, so I asked the waitress if she would bring us a dessert and two forks. “Hang the budget.”
Yes, the dessert was delicious. The meal was just the right size portion for me, and I felt satisfied. The rain had finally stopped, and it was time to call the lunch to a close. We each had a two-hour drive back home, with the promise of more showers on the way. So, chalk one more lunch up to “Old Florida” and Cherry Pocket. Will I go back? Yeah, I would if the right person in Anderson, Indiana calls me next year and says, join me in Cherry Pocket for Seafood Nachos.
ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR OUR NEXT OUTTING?