Manatee County

“The Wendys” of Longboat Key

A Glimpse into Early Life on Longboat Key – Bradenton, FL

Published Sunday, November 16, 2014 12:05 am
In 1919, a foursome of women moved to a cement home, similar to the one pictured, in Longbeach Village.Photo: Manatee County Historical Archives

LONGBOAT KEY — Today, Longboat Key is known for its swanky high-rise condos, lavish mansions and five-star restaurants, but the village didn’t always look the way it does now. Before bridges connected the island to the mainland, it was very sparsely populated, with only the hardiest of fishermen surviving in small shacks during the mild weather months.

People from all over the county still enjoyed the island, however their visits were limited to daytrips via steamer or overnight camping trips where they arrived via sailboat.

During WWI, life on a 16-mile-long tropical island, then located completely in Manatee County, was beginning to take shape with newly constructed homes popping up and people relocating to the island to live year round.

In 1919, a foursome of single women broke the mold of what it meant to be a pioneer, and shocked the local population when they decided to put down roots on the north end of the island in Longbeach Village. (The neighborhood is currently located near Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub and Moores Stone Crab Restaurant).

Not only were conditions rough at the time, but unmarried women coming down to live without the accompaniment of men was almost unheard of.

The women traveled to the island from Xenia, Ohio and selected a newly constructed cement house surrounded by beautiful coconut palms for their home. They named the house “The Wendy” after their favorite Peter Pan character.

Soon the townspeople caught wind of the name, and lovingly began calling the ladies of the house “the Wendys.”

People wondered how the four women would survive. Back then, the town was made up of families where patriarchs fished for a living and constructed new buildings while their wives attended to housework inside their small fishing shacks along Sarasota Bay.

Fishermen haul in seine nets on the north end of Longboat Key circa 1918.Photo: Manatee County Historical Archives

However, the Wendys were not short of talent and had successful careers before making their way south.

Edna Wolfe was an established life insurance agent, while her companion Catherine Buckles, was an excellent cook. Gertrude Kendig worked for Wolfe’s business while Nada Gowdy was a jewelry maker.

In no time, the Wendys had made new friends and were quickly becoming prominent members of the community.

Wolfe showed off some carpentry skills by building unique furniture, while Gowdy cooked up the best fish the townspeople had ever tasted and created beautiful jewelry out of the shells. Kendig surpassed many of the townsmen in her fishing abilities and Buckles seemed to hold down the fort and unify the crew.

Many of the townspeople knew Miss Kendig as “Gertie the Fisherwoman,” because she kept track of fishing migration patterns and learned the holes and ledges of Sarasota Bay. So successful were her fishing abilities, that the Wendys kept a full icebox of fish at all times of the year.

While the Wendys adapted to the land and sea, they never did get used to the pesky insects that plagued the island. The bugs were their only complaint about living in paradise.

During their 38 years on the island, the population grew from 12 to about 300.

After the island became unrecognizable, the Wendys disappeared into obscurity. However, the legend of the Wendys lives on in local folklore.

Stay tuned next week as we examine some of the other early Longboat Key pioneers.

The information in this article was taken from a 1980 interview conducted by the Manatee County Historical Society. During the interview, Mrs. Gordon Whitney (Laura Colvin Whitney) reads several old, undated newspaper clippings concerning the early pioneers of Longbeach and Longboat Key. 

The story of the Wendys was extracted from an article written by Dan F. Prew of the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

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