Children everywhere get caught up in the excitement and fun of the Christmas season celebrations. Starting with school vacation to helping with decorations, baking special cookies and of course, Santa. In the 1930’s and 40’s in Pass-a-Grille, this time of the year had a very special meaning for the community youngsters.
Silas Dent, the “Cabbage Key Hermit,” known for his white beard along with his isolated lifestyle, would dress in a Santa suit, pack a huge sack with candy and presents, and row his boat over Boca Ciega Bay.
Docking at Merry Pier on 8th Street, (his favorite docking spot) he would be greeted by children and parents all so happy to see “their” own Santa! Silas would spend the day entertaining the kids, handing out his goodies, telling stories and making sure everyone had a festive time.
Silas, brother Noah, and father Willis Dent landed in Pass-a-Grille from Douglas, Georgia somewhere around 1900. After living in the town for several years, they homesteaded most of Cabbage Key, now developed as Tierra Verde. The family moved in a herd of milk cows, planted gardens and even gave sugar cane a try. But the cows didn’t like island life, so when developers came around the Dents sold out their holdings.
Silas bought 10 acres of farm land in the Largo area and set up a dairy farm. But the peacefulness of the island brought him back and making a deal with the new owners he moved back to his thatched hut in the palmettos and pines of Cabbage Key. He lived alone but welcomed many Pass-a-Grillians to visit, often cooking up his latest fish or crab catch and making palm cabbage salad. He liked people and children but had little time for civilization.
During the year he sold fresh fish and crabs along 8th Street, entertained visitors with stories and sold many of his hand made palmetto “skeeter” switches which were always in high demand.
But playing Santa was a special time for Silas Dent. He liked to call his own shots for socializing but Christmas meant a lot to this man.