Rich in tradition and sustained with a goal of excellence, the Useppa Island Club has set standards designed to protect the long legacy of this beautiful island. The history of the island however, is much deeper than the Island Club alone. Long before the days of Barron Collier, Useppa played an active role in the emerging new world.
Continuously inhabited for ten thousand years, Useppa was home to the Calusas, whose civilization arose to become one of the most sophisticated native societies to have evolved in North America. Useppa was a major stronghold of the Calusa tribe, where native people developed a complex society complete with extensive use of tools, use of the natural resources of the surrounding sea, and both cultural and religious development.
Pirate Named Jose Gaspar
Centuries later, the waters around Useppa and the surrounding barrier islands are popularly thought to have been populated by fierce pirates. Legend has it that in the late 1700s, a pirate named Jose Gaspar kidnapped the Spanish princess Joseffa de Mayorga. When his attempts to capture Joseffa’s heart were met with contempt, Gaspar used Useppa Island to imprison the proud princess, and the isle came to be known as “Joseffa’s Island.”
Barron G. Collier
After centuries of occasional use by fisherman and hardy adventurers, the island was acquired by Chicago streetcar magnate John M. Roach in 1894. Roach built a residence to escape the cold winters of his northern home. Soon his tycoon friends discovered his island hideaway, and convinced him to build a hotel on Useppa so they could also share in his good fortune. One of Roach’s guests was the legendary New York advertising executive, entrepreneur, and Florida land owner Barron G. Collier.
Collier eventually developed much of Southwest Florida, and built the famous “Tamiami Trail” highway between Tampa and Miami. He fell in love with Useppa on his first visit in 1906 and acquired the island, turning it into a classic turn-of-the-century getaway for many industry giants, political bigwigs, and even Hollywood celebrities who escaped to Useppa for tranquility, elegant accommodations, first-class cuisine, and unsurpassed tropical beauty. Thus began the modern tradition still with us today.
In 1908 the Izaak Walton Club was founded, solidifying Useppa’s important role in the area’s world-famous tarpon fishing industry, and for some years Useppa served as the private vacation estate of Collier. Notables who frequented Useppa during the “Golden Years” included the Vanderbilts, Herbert Hoover, Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Gloria Swanson, Shirley Temple and Zane Grey. After Collier’s era, the island was abandoned and was later used by the U.S. government as a base for the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba.
Gar Beckstead, Useppa’s current owner, purchased the island in 1976 and set upon the task of restoring it to its former elegance. New discoveries and the island’s unique beauty led to the re-opening of the Useppa Island Club in 1976.
Useppa will always maintain the Old-Florida style of elegant charm that its history dictates. The Useppa Island Club and its individual property owners continue to be driven by a vision of excellence founded on the island’s centuries-old tradition of gracious hospitality, and its long legacy of historical significance.
Barbara L. Sumwalt Museum
Today, Useppa is not only restored to its fabled elegance and pristine beauty, it is now recognized as being even grander and more refined than in years past. The island’s Barbara L. Sumwalt Museum chronicles Useppa’s history and serves as a base for archaeological exploration of the island.
The Useppa Island Club continues to thrive as a private island club and to provide a most exceptional island experience for its members and their guests.
Click here to view the Historical Society’s website
Click here to view a gallery of historical Useppa images through the years