In 1921, a severe hurricane hit the west coast of Florida near Clearwater Beach. Its tidal surge sliced a long barrier island in two: North Hog Island and South Hog Island.
Today, we know them as Honeymoon Island State Park and Caladesi Island State Park.
Hurricane Pass, the appropriately named inlet, takes Gulf boaters into St. Joseph Sound and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between Palm Harbor and Dunedin, just north of Clearwater. Caladesi Island to the south is accessible only by boat, but it has a marina with floating docks and water and electrical hookups, a restaurant, and kayak trails through the mangroves. A hiking path leads to what used to be the home of Henry Scharrer, who came to the U.S. from Switzerland when he was a young man.
In 1888, Scharrer worked in Tampa and bought a used sloop. During a shakedown cruise, a storm blew up so he sailed through a pass just north of Clearwater Beach and anchored in the calmer water behind Hog Island. The storm left but Scharrer admired this beautiful place with a safe harbor and stayed. He built a cabin, raised hogs, caught fish, grew vegetables, and having “proved up the land, became a U.S. citizen.”
From time to time, Cuban fishermen visited Scharrer to trade goods and exchange gifts. They loved Hog Island, too, and had described it as caladesi (beautiful bayou). Hog Island became one of Florida’s original tourist attractions, and Scharrer gave walking tours of the island to snowbirds. He met and married Kate McNally from Ireland, and they had a daughter, Myrtle. Sadly, Kate died when Myrtle was only seven, but her daughter quickly took over her mother’s chores, including gardening, gathering food, preparing meals, and baking bread. She also loved to explore Hog Island from the beach to the backcountry.
Myrtle Scharrer Betz died in 1992 at the age of 96. Fortunately, she wrote about her Hog Island memories which can be found in the book, Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise: The Story of Caladesi Island.
Be sure to take time to pull in to Hog Island the next time you’re cruising by and enjoy a hike through history.
By Bill AuCoin, Southern Boating August 2018