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How it was built

Local author talks about book, origins of the Cape

By CJ HADDAD - | Jul 29, 2021

A local author has taken a deep dive into the muddy formative years of Florida cities via his new book and will share some history next week in Cape Coral.

Jason Vuic, Punta Gorda native and author of the June released “The Swamp Peddlers: How Lot Sellers, Land Scammers, and Retirees Built Modern Florida and Transformed the American Dream,” is part of the Cape Coral Museum of History Speaker Series and will have a book presentation and signing at Coral Ridge Funeral Home on Aug. 3 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“I wrote this book as a local,” Vuic said of his point of view while writing the book. “Port Charlotte and Cape Coral were very similar in their origins. They were land sales developments. It’s about how the average Joe got to Cape Coral and Southwest Florida.”

The book details the installment land sales industry that arrived hot on the scene in the 1950s, giving many middle-class pensioners from northern states the chance to relocate to Florida. Suburbs were booming during that era and, often, retirees were unable to afford to move to these new areas outside of major cities. That’s where developers and salesmen such as The Rosen Brothers and Mackle Brothers (Port Charlotte) stepped in.

In some instances, for only $10 down and $10 a month, buyers would receive a graded home site that would be waiting for them in a planned community when they were ready to build. The result created communities such as Cape Coral, Port St. Lucie, Deltona, Port Charlotte, Palm Coast, and Spring Hill, among many others, defined as “sprawling exurban communities with no downtowns and little industry but millions of residential lots.”

Vuic compared how these early communities were formed as a variation of Levittown.

“Cape Coral was one of them. Port Charlotte was one of them,” he said. “I wanted to write a book kind of about where we’re from. It’s a modern history of Cape Coral and Southwest Florida, and how it was built.

“It’s planning decisions and building decisions made in our lifetime that have created our history.”

As Vuic recounts, these communities did allow generations of northerners to move to Florida cheaply, but at a price: high-pressure sales tactics spawned fraud; poor urban planning fathered urban sprawl; developers cleared forests, drained wetlands, and built thousands of miles of roads in grid-like subdivisions, which, decades later, played an impactful role in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.

He details false promises from developers like The Rosen Brothers (not so much in Cape Coral) when it came to plans for areas such as River Ranch, Golden Gate and Remuda Ranch.

“That’s when the criminality kind of began and people got ripped off,” Vuic said. “When the Rosens got in trouble it wasn’t Cape Coral that was the ‘swamp peddling’ and other people did the same thing.”

Museum officials are excited to host Vuic for his insight into the history of how the area came to be.

“It is wonderful to have another resource for our archives that looks at the development of Cape Coral through a scholarly lens,” said Cape Coral Museum of History Executive Director Janel Trull. “Vuic’s ‘The Swamp Peddlers’ delves into what was going on throughout Florida during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s and helps the reader understand why things happened the way they did not only here in Cape Coral but throughout the state.”

Vuic said the book has already been popular with many Southwest Florida and Cape residents who took part in early land sales and development.

“It kind of explains the Cape Coral they grew up in that was kind of weird in the 1960s and explains kind of what happened and how their Florida developed.”

Gary R. Mormino, author of “Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida” said, “Jason Vuic’s book crackles with colorful characters who bought land by the acre and sold it by the foot to Americans in search of second acts and the Florida Dream. ‘The Swamp Peddlers’ provides a cautionary tale: actions have profound consequences. What will our grandchildren think of our hubris?”

Vuic also is the author of “The Yucks!: Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History” and “The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History.” Vuic is a graduate of Wake Forest University and holds an M.A. in history from the University of Richmond and a Ph.D. in history from Indiana University Bloomington.

The Speaker Series is free to attend, and officials urge individuals to RSVP to Coral Ridge at 239-772-7037.

Coral Ridge Funeral Home is at 950 Chiquita Blvd. For more information on the Cape Coral Museum of History, visit www.capecoralhistoricalmuseum.org.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj