Sam was a tarpon guide in season, and he
operated the marina throughout the year. At one
time or another the marina also served as a
grocery, restaurant, dance hall and fish market.
Sam maintained bait pens full of stone crabs and
supplied area restaurants and winter residents.
Although the boats at the marina were mostly
transient, some of the larger yachts, which were
mostly owned by the Tampa crowd, were docked
there year round.
In addition, Sam Whidden worked full time
during the winter for the Crowninshields as their
hunting and fishing guide. He would take Mr.
Crowninshield bird hunting several times a week,
and they fished on the other days. Mrs.
Crowninshield had leased a private picnic area
on Little Gasparilla, and they spent plenty of time
there, too. In the off-season, he took care of their
The sisters remember riding their bikes down
First Street to the beachfront to visit Mrs.
Crowninshield. They would go unannounced and
were often chased up the trees by her dogs until
one of the staff would come out and rescue
Sam and his little
girls, Isabelle and
Barbara, lived on
Tarpon Street. He
hired a series of
nannies for the
girls while he
worked full time
and usually slept
at the marina.
He was never
the care they
were getting. Finally he gave up on the babysitters
and kept the girls with him. The marina was their
center of activity. In third grade, Isabelle took on
the marina bookkeeping. Barbara, who was in
second grade, did all the cooking.
As Barbara says, “Daddy was fun. Everything
revolved around us girls.” His dry sense of humor
was well known. “He would never let you see him.
But if there was a fussy lady on the dock, he’d
drop a crab in her purse.”
Sam never married again, although the young
widower with the movie star looks received
plenty of attention from the ladies on the island.
Barbara remembers, “There were plenty of them
who chased him for years.” He dated a few
women in Tampa. He loved to visit there and eat
at the great restaurants. “I guess it never worked
out, because he always took Isabelle and me with
The two sisters attended the Boca Grande
School until Isabelle was ten and Barbara was
nine. Then, during WWII, Mrs. Crowninshield
arranged for them to attend the Academy of
Holy Names in Tampa, a Catholic boarding school
for girls. At first they loved it. They had worked
so hard as small children in Boca Grande that the
Academy seemed like a vacation. They attended
school with girls from all over the world.
46 GASPARILLA ISLAND September/October 2018
Above, Isabelle at the gas pump. Below,
Isabelle after graduation from Boca
Grande High School.
In 1940, with no other
marinas in Boca Grande,
Whidden’s was the hub of
activity on the bayou side
of Gasparilla Island.