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Someone with a Good Idea

Despite all the various pieces of property we had acquired I still wanted one nice large piece of land. In the late part of 1962, I became aware of just such a piece of ground and it had riparian rights (it was on the waterfront). This land was a city block on Stock Island. In January 1963 we closed a deal with the First National Bank at the north end of Duval Street. I got a mortgage on our duplex on Johnson Street, made a down payment on the land and agreed to make payments until the total sum of $22,000 plus interest had been paid.

When we made this deal to buy these lots my wages as an electrician was $2.95 an hour. I held a master electricians license from the City of Key West and a journeyman's card in the union but I worked for others instead of contracting on my own. I was so cramped for money and the land was so low that I wasn't sure just what to do with it at first. I would have liked a trailer park but even the sewer lines were going to cost $8,000. This was out of my reach as I didn't like being in debt. Then someone suggested a campground which sounded like a good idea as we could get started with a lot less money.

In a year or so I had become acquainted with the prominent citizens of Stock Island. We formed a Stock Island Businessmen's Association and I was quite active in it. We started the Stock Island Volunteer Fire Department and I served as the first president. We decided to form the City of Stock Island. I had to pay ten dollars to get a license to operate a campground in the City of Stock Island. About six months later the City of Key West was able to have the legality of the formation of the City of Stock Island declared null and void on some technicality and Stock Island was returned to the County. I now had to buy a license from the County to operate a campground under the heading of a "special use" in Monroe County. This proved to be one of the most important things to come out of this whole affair.

The first time Elsie and I came out to lay out the building for #1 bathroom we found a foot of water all over that particular area. Buying fill was a terrible drain on our finances and continued to be just that for about the next twenty years plus. But... it was so low it had to be done. When we got the washroom built it was hooked up to a septic tank. In those days we did just about all the work ourselves even to digging the hole for the septic tank. There was a place downtown at the corner of Simonton and Petronia where laborers used to hang out. Often I would drive down there and pick up a man for a few hours or a day or two.

When we first opened, camping fees were $1.50 per night. Our biggest night during the 1963-1964 winter season was seventeen camping units. I had a small house-trailer and most nights I slept there while Elsie and the kids stayed in the house in town. I quit my job as an electrician and worked full time at the campground. It wasn't easy as any spare cash was put in to fill for the campground. We bought a new 12'x 60' house trailer and parked it near the gate and the family moved to the campground in 1964.

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