Haunted Restaurants on FMB?

Yesterday I was surfing the Internet, and I came across an article about haunted restaurants.  This article mentioned the Whale (formerly the Beached Whale and before that the Mermaid Club) as being haunted by the ghosts of Jim and Mary Galloway (I covered their murder in an earlier posting).  Suddenly, I remembered reading about another haunted restaurant on the island: the Holmes House.  This led me down a rabbit hole as I got caught up in trying to learn more about the ghost that was supposed to be the daughter of the restaurant owner who had died (I can’t remember how she was supposed to have died). Unfortunately, I came up empty on the ghost story, but I did learn some interesting facts about this lost icon of Fort Myers Beach. 

The Holmes House was located at the corner of Estero and Chapel Street directly across from Chapel By The Sea.  According to an article in the New York Times, the original building for this restaurant was a five-room beach cottage built in 1919 and used as a retreat for nuns in the Tampa Diocese.   Apparently, from 1919 until 1951 several additions were made to the house but not much else is known until the property was purchased by Dick and Fran Holmes.  This is how the restaurant came to be called the “Holmes House.”   The restaurant was run by the Holmes family until it was sold in 1974 to Donna and Dave Miller.

My family moved to the island in 1953 and developed an odd relationship with the owners of the Holmes House.  They had a dog named Cobina who would take walks on the beach and end up in front of Red Coconut.  The trailer park did not allow dogs in the 1950s, so it did not take long for me to “adopt” Cobina when she made her daily trek down the beach.  We spent hours playing in the gulf, and I made sure she got treats so she would continue to return each afternoon.

Then one day my dad sat me down and told me that Cobina belonged to the owners of the Holmes House, and they did not want her to be coming over to visit anymore because they were getting ready to go back north for the summer and would be taking her with them.

The restaurant was only open during the season.  Apparently, the Holmes Family owned another restaurant somewhere around Cape Cod that they ran during the summer months.  They had their own workers who came with them to help run the restaurants. 

When I was older, we would go there for special occasions, and I do remember the wait staff was made up of African American men who wore white suits and gloves.

I never found out what happened to Cobina, but she never returned to play with me on the beach.

The Holmes House attracted many celebrities over its over twenty years in business.  An article in the News-Press lists Perry Como, Hugh Downs, Myrna Loy and Theodore White as patrons of the exclusive restaurant.

Flash forward to the summer of 1974 when Donna and Dave Miller purchased the premises.  They began to remodel the building adding a Groggery, Boston Tea Room, and a Rusty Scupper Room.  The restaurant could accommodate two hundred people in one seating after the additions were completed.

In addition to changing the looks of the restaurant, the Millers changed the name to “Ye Olde Holmes House.”  They created an eight-page menu including gourmet cuisine like Crab Meat Monaco, chateaubriand, pheasant, and Baked Alaska.

The New York Times article revealed that Dave Miller was a graduate of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.  He was only 22 years old when he opened his first restaurant on Fort Myers Beach.  The Times describes Ye Old Holmes House as a “polish-casual concept that was designated as one of the top ten restaurants in Florida.”  The restaurant was also rated among the top 100 restaurants by Florida Trend Magazine for four straight years according to the News-Press.

In 1985, the Mucky Duck on Captiva suffered the worst beach erosion in its history.  This prompted some of the partners to look for another restaurant to purchase to ensure that the Mucky Duck name would carry on even if the Captiva restaurant were to be destroyed in a storm.  The partners purchased the old Holmes House which had been a Smitty’s Steakhouse after the Millers sold the building.   The Fort Myers Beach Mucky Duck closed in 2002 and the building was torn down in 2005.  The property is still vacant today.  The original Mucky Duck on Captiva has continued to survive thanks to beach nourishments conducted over the years.  Although it was damaged in Ian, the popular restaurant has been restored and is now open again.

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