- The land on which Rotonda sits was owned originally by brothers William and Alfred Vanderbilt. William was a former Governor of Rhode Island, and both brothers were direct descendants of the renowned Cornelius Vanderbilt. Known as “The Commodore,” he founded the New York Central Railroad and originated the first ferry connecting Manhattan with Staten Island.
- The brothers acquired the Rotonda land (36,000 acres) in 1952, with help from Charlotte County agent N.H. “Doc” McQueen. They called it “2-V Ranch” where they raised Santa Gertrudis cattle. This is a special breed mixing Hereford and Brahma, meaty but still tough enough to withstand Florida weather and mosquitos.
- The Vanderbilt’s dug wells to get their water, many of them in a well field along Boundary Boulevard. It sits there today, behind a Gulag-style fence installed more recently by Charlotte County Utilities. The Vanderbilt’s also built a dam on Coral Creek by the northeast corner of Windward. This separated the Gulf’s salt water from the ground-filtered fresh (though brackish) water their wells provided.
- The brothers paid $700,000 for the 36,000 acres of Rotonda land. They sold 10,000 acres of it almost immediately. Eventually, Alfred owned most of it and sold it to Cavanagh Leasing Corporation of Miami in 1969 for $19.5 million, when ranching became uneconomical.
- Yes, there was a Rotonda East. It straddled Florida’s Palm Beach and Martin Counties. In the 1960s, Cavanagh reportedly sold about 18,000 acres of mostly swampy land there for up to $6,000 an acre. But suddenly the new ecology awareness took hold, bringing tougher country building and zoning codes. Cavanagh’s plan to drain Rotonda East into the St. Lucie Canal was rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers. Rotonda East died stillborn, so Cavanagh came here and launched Rotonda West.
- Cavanagh’s CEO, Joe Klein, liked the idea of a round community. It may be apocryphal that Klein said, “If we built it square, fewer would have come here. Rounder is softer and more romantic.” Well, somebody said it. So Rotonda is a unique circular community at its core, draining outwards to Rotonda River.
- Klein’s company kept changing its name to fit his objectives. It started as Cavanagh Mercantile in the early 1960’s, became Cavanagh Leasing Corporation in 1968, then having launched Rotonda, it became Cavanagh Communities Corporation in 1970. While this suggested experience developing “communities,” in reality it was a land sales business. Even before Rotonda adequately took root, Cavanagh was directing profits from Rotonda lot sales into casino/hotel building in Atlantic City.
Note: “Rotonda: The Vision & The Reality”, authored by Jack Alexander, copies are available for $6.00 at the Rotonda West Community Center, 3754 Cape Haze Drive, Rotonda West 33947, (941) 697-6788.