Living

Fathers and Sons: Preston and Bertram Pinder

Bertram Pinder and his son Joe in front of the Matecumbe Club. The club was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.
Bertram Pinder and his son Joe in front of the Matecumbe Club. The club was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.

Preston Brooks Pinder was the grandson of the original Upper Keys Pinders, Richard and Sarah, identified as Indian Key farmers in the 1870 United States census.

A man of strong religious convictions, Preston acted as foreman during construction of the Matecumbe Methodist Church. Not only was he a member of the church for 50 years, he also served as its pastor for a time. Preston was also one of Matecumbe’s earliest fishing guides, though one who refused to fish on Sundays.

Born in 1875, Preston was 31 years old when he took out his first bonefishing client. 

According to an interview published in Sports Illustrated Feb. 2, 1959, Pinder’s first client was William Thompson Martin, an 83-year-old state senator from Kentucky. The year was 1906. The senator had served as a major in command of the Jeff Davis Mississippi Legion, an elite Confederate cavalry unit, during the Civil War. 

Pinder poled Martin around in his wooden skiff over the seagrass flats surrounding Upper Matecumbe in search of bonefish and was paid $3 a day to fish the senator from sunup to sundown. 

In the 1920s, Preston Pinder served as a fishing guide to members of the Matecumbe Club, built in 1919. The club was founded by 11 members of the New York Cotton Exchange. The exclusive club, referred to by locals as the Millionaire’s Club, was once found at the end of Upper Matecumbe’s Johnson Street, named for one of the club’s early presidents. One club member and client of Preston’s was so impressed by the guide’s faith (and refusal to fish on Sundays) that he donated $4,000 to build a Sunday school for the church.

Preston’s first born child was Bertam Pinder. Bertram was also involved with the Matecumbe Club, serving as the property’s caretaker for a dozen years. The following quotes were taken from an interview with Bertram and provide interesting insights into early life in the Matecumbe community:

“We had to go to Planter about once a month to get mail and groceries. We used to get our mail at Planter. There was a side-wheel steamer named the <i>Shinnycock<i> that ran from Miami to Key West. It was approximately 75-feet long. When the post office opened at Islamorada, we got mail every day.”

“When I was a boy of 15, we got our first screens. They were black iron. Before that we used slatted blinds and closed them to keep the mosquitoes out. We just had to stay indoors after dark. We burned insect powder to kill them. I laugh when someone tells me they couldn’t sleep because of a mosquito in their bedroom…. I used to have hundreds around my bed.”

“Before the railroad, we raised pineapples, tomatoes, and limes and shipped them to Key West where Mallory Lines shipped them to New York. In going to Key West, if there was an east wind we could leave in the morning and arrive before sunset. We went down Hawk Channel and at Honda switched to the Bay. In a flat calm, it could take a week.”

“We used to get ice from Key West by rail. It cost $1.50 for a 300 pound block from the Thompson Ice Company. We had to pay the freight also.”

“In 1905 the first tourists came — the McFerrens and Senator Martin from Louisville, Kentucky. They chartered a boat to deliver their mail and supplies once a week from Miami.”

“We cleaned our cisterns once a year or when the water got real low, five or six inches. We’d scrub it with dehydrated lime and water with a broom. Then we’d wait for it to rain. We had a pitcher pump in the kitchen. The water kept cool in the cement cistern, 70 or 80 degrees in the summertime. We used stick sulfur to keep larvae down, and later used brick to filter the water. It was porous and kept them out. The maddest I ever saw my daddy was once when one of us left the top off the cistern and a cat fell in and drowned. All that precious water wasted.”

“Sponging was best in the back lakes in the bay. Cotton Key Lake, Lignumvitae Lake, Shell Lake. The sponges from the bayside were better grade. We sold an average 8-inch sponge for $1 in the 1920s.”

“The first grocery store here was owned by Clifton Russell’s father. He got his supplies from Key West.”

“The largest rattler I ever saw was killed on Key Largo about 1925. It had 19 rattles and a button and was as big around as your thigh. There were no coral snakes on the Keys. I only saw two rattlers on Matecumbe from the time I was born until 1935. After the storm the island swarmed with them.”

Brad Bertelli is a published author of four books on Florida and Florida Keys history. He is the curator of the Keys History and Discovery Center, located at the Islander Resort. His column will appear every other week in The Reporter. Reach Brad with comments and questions at WhyPanic@aol.com.

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