Blanchard House, Part of Punta Gorda’s Rich African American History

February is Black History month. 

Punta Gorda has a rich and diverse African American heritage.  The city is the proud home of The Blanchard House Museum of African American History and Culture. 

Blanchard House was originally built in 1925 for Joseph Blanchard, a local African American sea pilot and a key member of Punta Gorda’s business community, and his wife Minnie, his mail-order bride from New Orleans. When Joseph and Minnie built their little house, life was simpler and time moved much more slowly. On warm, sub-tropical days we can imagine them sitting on their front porch waving to friends and neighbors as they passed by.  Joseph and Minnie are buried in Lieutenant Carl Bailey Cemetery, along with some of Charlotte County’s earliest African-American pioneers.

Blanchard House was purchased by African American community historian Bernice Andrews Russell in 1997 after all the Blanchard heirs were deceased.  Following Russell’s death, in 1999, the house was donated to the Bernice A. Russell CDC by her daughter, Dr. Martha R. Bireda and her children.  Originally located at 623 Fitzhugh Avenue, it was moved to its present location on Emancipation Day, May 20, 2002.  The Blanchard House Museum, established in 2004, was the vision of Martha Andrews Russell.

The “history” portion of the Blanchard House. Only exhibits in the John Allen Gallery (right front in photo) change yearly. Photo courtesy Judy Schnabel

The Blanchard House Museum is an open access, educational institution devoted to the procurement, preservation, study, and display of artifacts and materials related to the history, culture, and contributions of African Americans in the settlement and development of Charlotte County. It is established not only to be a repository of treasured objects, but also a community gathering place to reflect, celebrate, encounter, and display the talents of local artisans. The Museum’s Permanent Exhibit displays the history of African Americans in Charlotte County, as well as the history of the Blanchard family.  The museum’s main gallery exhibits tell about Punta Gorda’s early African American pioneers, work life and leisure time in the Trabue Woods community before desegregation.

Honoring the month of February as Black History Month, the Blanchard House Museum, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Charlotte County’s Racial Justice Committee, are presenting, among other initiatives, a 5-part series on racism. The series includes four films and one live performance of Racial Monologues.  There will be a representative team from the Museum and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship leading the post-film discussions.  The films include a chronicle of Jackie Robinson’s personal experience in becoming the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, and a 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary chronicling the history of racism in the United States.  The program is free and open to the public.

Members of the Blanchard House Museum Board of Directors honored Dr. Bradshaw with a luncheon at River City Grill for his support and wished him a wonderful retirement. Dr. Bradshaw retired from Florida Gulf Coast University after serving 10 years as its president. FGCU is a strong supporter of the Blanchard House. Dr. Paul Thornton, professor at FGCU (back row, far right) represents FGCU on the Blanchard House Museum Board of Directors. Dr. Bradshaw is pictured front and center. Photo courtesy Judy Schnabel

The Museum operates from September to May every year.  In 2018, it will close on Emancipation Day, May 19, and reopen on Saturday, September 22.  Each September a new exhibit is opened in the John H. Allen Gallery.  This year’s new exhibit will feature The African Roots of Southern Cooking.

Blanchard House Museum is open Tuesday to Friday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Special group tours can be arranged for Saturdays by calling (941) 575-7518.  It is located at 406 Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Blvd, Punta Gorda 33950

Local Democrats attended the opening of the Jim Crow exhibit. L-R Jim Nolan, Mari Usera, Judy Schnabel and Susan Williams. Photo courtesy Judy Schnabel

Blanchard House Museum is an important historical venue for the Punta Gorda community and visitors at any time of year, but particularly in this Black History month it is an excellent place to visit, relax and contemplate.