Getting Spooky with Southwest Florida Walking Tours
If you are looking for a little scare this Halloween season and want to get out and enjoy these cooler evening temperatures, we have a bootiful idea for our Suncoast Post readers. Have a penchant for the paranormal? Enjoy strolling along pristine roads with jaw-dropping historical architecture, dotting a waterside city? Like being outdoors for sunset and enjoy the lore of places you know and love? If you said, “Check, Check, Check!” then you must join up with Southwest Florida Walking Tours.
These days, I do not pass up an opportunity to hang out in Punta Gorda, mostly because all the restaurants we have visited are great choices, so it is just an easy idea to head that way. A Haunts and History Tour sounded unique, and my hopeful thoughts beforehand panned out when the weather turned out to be breezy and comfortable. What I did not plan on was just how engaging our guide, Steve, would be. With a group of about ten people, it takes skill to not only keep everyone moving and safe, but to keep it interesting, fun, and factual. Steve was all of these. Learning about so much of Punta Gorda’s rich history was really wonderful and has only added to my burgeoning love for this neighboring town. The magnificent homes, gardens, paranormal stories, and friendliness of those who own these old treasures was remarkable. You also get to stop in to PG Social House mid-tour for a quick candy and water pick-me-up , which is never a terrible thing. Oh, and the way these neighborhoods deck out for Halloween? Icing on a spooky, super cool, something I will repeat, evening.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Evie Alexander, owner of Southwest Florida Walking Tours. She gave us great background information on why these tours are so special and how they really give you vantage points you would not normally be privy to. Tours run from October 2021 through April 2022. Evie thinks you should definitely add a tour to your Fall/Winter itinerary. We could not agree more!
How did Southwest Florida Walking Tours get its start?
Around Christmas of 2017 I was trying to book a food tour to entertain out-of-town visitors. There wasn’t any availability, so I called and spoke with LaVerne Roberts, the owner. She told me she was closing the business. We chatted a while and before we hung up, she said, “The business is for sale if you know anyone who’s interested.” I didn’t sleep all that night! I was nearing retirement age and realized the tour would be a nice part-time venture to keep me physically active in retirement. I called the next morning and bought the tour on December 30, 2017. But at the time I was still working full-time and couldn’t do the daytime tours. So, that’s how an evening tour came up. During the summer, the company I worked for was acquired by a large investment firm that re-organized and closed the division I worked in. That’s how things work out! So, I added back the culinary tours in fall of 2018. LaVerne remains my most loyal cheer leader!
The Haunts and History Tour was so much more than I anticipated. Between the historical architecture found in Punta Gorda combined with the natural beauty of the surrounding water and downtown, adding in the information about paranormal activities, it was a quick two hours! Can you tell me what kind of preparation and training goes in to preparing a guide to not only impart all of that information, but to do so in a way that engages the crowd?
Steve is the most reliable tour guide I have worked with! This season he will manage the Haunts & History Tour, and I’ll run the Long Lunch Tour. Personally, I started studying Punta Gorda before signing the walking tour sale contract with LaVerne. I went to Indian Spring Cemetery and researched the most prominent of the deceased. I found that historical research is my passion. Since then, I have published two books. Ghost Stories of Punta Gorda and Love Stories of Punta Gorda. The books are available locally at Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda Mercantile, Sandman Book Company, Becky’s Garden Shoppe and a few other stores, as well as Amazon. I also offer a self-guided tour of Indian Spring Cemetery (since the county does not allow tours there). SW Florida Walking Tours
Steve, however, has an amazing memory. He read the books by Lindsey Williams and US Cleveland, Vernon Peeples and other local historians, and truly internalized the material. Additionally, he took it upon himself to walk through the downtown and neighborhoods, talking to people to learn their personal paranormal experiences. He visited all the local historical organizations and made connections with them. It took him about three months to develop the route and a season to really get it down.
Many of the homeowners and business owners seemed excited and very welcoming of the tour group coming through. How much community involvement is required to make it a cohesive experience for the tour guests?
Yes, the residents and business owners love the tours! There are times when residents are outside or come outside to interact with the tour. It’s not planned. Just spontaneous!
I always say that walking tours are like performance art. Every tour is unique. It depends on the people who are taking the tour and whatever random thing happens. There was a tour last year when it poured rain unexpectedly. One lady grabbed the little doggy poo bags that are located in the park for us to put on our heads! We huddled under the trees and on porches. We all got soaked, laughed, and had a very memorable experience!
Steve mentioned a Food Tour coming up in Punta Gorda, can you elaborate on this tantalizing tour as well as give us insight into other tours you offer?
This year we’re offering Haunts & History on Saturday evenings, and the Long Lunch Tour on Wednesdays. The Long Lunch Tour requires advance planning. I have to be able to let the restaurants know what time we are arriving, how many guests we have, and we decide what the food sample will be based on any food preferences or dietary restrictions that have been conveyed. On that tour we do a lot of sightseeing in between food samples. I let the folks at the Historic Courthouse and Artisan’s Atelier know when we’re coming.
With all the activities available in the surrounding communities, why should someone consider going on a walking tour?
Many of the people who visit Punta Gorda are here to enjoy our wonderful winter climate. In fact, from the very beginning in 1883, the town founder, Isaac Trabue envisioned what he called a “villa town” and winter vacation resort. He convinced the railroad to come to Punta Gorda and provided the land for a magnificent hotel that drew wealthy Northerners here. A walking tour offers modern visitors the same opportunity to enjoy our renowned climate combined with light physical activity and entertainment.
For me, one thing I really love is that when you’re on foot, you’re not restricted to the one-way direction of automobile traffic. I love walking down a one-way street in the ‘wrong’ direction! You see things you don’t see when you’re in your car, anxiously navigating your way around town. I can’t tell you how many locals who come on a tour will exclaim, “Of all the years I’ve been coming to Punta Gorda, I never noticed this place!”
The tours are a fun activity to entertain your out-of-town guests and to celebrate special occasions. We’ve had birthday party tours. We’ve even had a team building tour for a business that opened a new branch in Punta Gorda.
Last question…Is there a building or home in Punta Gorda that Steve would say “Absolutely not!” to spending the night?
To the best of our knowledge, the ghosts in Punta Gorda are benevolent and genial. Steve has spoken to local paranormal organizations who have told him of some malevolent spirits, but they won’t disclose the locations. He might have reservations about that …
For more information and to book a tour, please visit Southwest Florida Walking Tours – Explore the history. Enjoy our hospitality.
Photos courtesy of Southwest Florida Walking Tours