It’s been nearly two months since the fully renovated and completed Mound House opened to the public, and since then there has been much excitement about the new exhibits, tours and museum store. This week we decided to meet with Museum Director Alison Giesen, who told us a little about some of the fun things happening at the most historic property on our island.
“We are now open from Tuesday through Saturday, we have specialty tours on Tuesday and eco-kayak tours on Wednesday,” she told us. “Our attendance has gone way up, and everyone that comes is so excited to see the museum finally open.”
The history of the Mound House is a long one. The house itself sits on a Calusa Indian Mound, or at least the remnants of one. The original was begun about 100 BC, with most of the area mounds built between 300-600 AD. While the original mound in that location was at one time quite large, it was whittled away by excavations and development. Some say that parts of the mound were carted away and became part of the base material for the Tamiami Trail.
Remaining is the bay front property at the end of Connecticut Street on which sits the Mound House. The elevated site was an attractive home site to those who followed the Calusa to our island. The Ellis Family settled there in about 1870 and in 1906 William and Milia Case built a Tudor style home on the shell mound, adding on three years later. Those structures remain a part of the existing building. Then in 1921, Captain Jack DeLysle, owner and operator of the Seminole Sands Casino, located at the Gulf end of Connecticut, expanded the home. It is this era that is reflected in the current renovation.
The Town of Fort Myers Beach purchased the property in 2000, using funds from the Florida Communities Trust. Since that time, the site has been steadily improved as the Town of Fort Myers Beach has authorized a variety or improvement projects designed to meet the site’s educational mission. These included the construction of a kayak launch area that connects visitors to the Great Calusa Blueway Kayak Trail in Estero Bay, the Shell Mound Exhibit where visitors have the opportunity to walk inside a Calusa Indian Mound, and the addition of landscaping and signage to the grounds so visitors can learn how the native flora and fauna was used by early residents.
Most recently, Giesen and her team have spent countless hours painstakingly restoring the Case home to the way it was nearly 100 years ago.
Giesen and Emily Powlen, Project Manager with SEARCH (Southeastern Archeological Research) have utilized the expertise of many experts in the development of the museum – crafting museum displays, panels and interactive exhibits. The panel art was created by Martin Pate, whose work has appeared in National Parks for over 20 years. The botanical art gracing the interpretive signs on the grounds is the work of native Floridian Megan Kissinger – whose work also appears in the museum’s store, where every item has been carefully handpicked by Giesen based on historical accuracy, uniqueness and educational value.
Now, two months after the opening of the museum, there is much to see and do at this historic property. Stroll the pet-friendly grounds with its native landscaping, visit the observation pier, watch kayaks launch to enjoy the Calusa Blueway Kayak Trail, gaze at the back bay imagining the view filled with Calusa canoes filled with shells. Access to the grounds is free. For a small entry fee, visitors can tour the Mound House Museum and Shell Mound Exhibit.
Once in the museum, be sure to take a leisurely trip back in time via the amazing collection of historical photographs in the second floor Digging Deeper Exploration Gallery display. In addition to the photographs, there are several hands-on exhibits that kids of all ages will enjoy. Or stop by the Cuban Rancho area that gives visitors an idea of what life was like for the Cuban fisherman who would travel to the area for months at a time to fish. Calusa artifacts and tools are on display along with panels explaining the Calusa culture. The Period Room on the first floor offers a look at what the house looked like in 1909. The unique Shell Mound Exhibit next to the house offers a cut-away view of the mound itself detailing the age and history of the mound. Visitors should allow at least a couple hours to fully explore all there is to see in the museum.
There are also a bunch of new ‘specialty tours’ taking place on Tuesdays. One of them – the Calusa Cuisine tour – is featured in this issue. Other tours being offered next month include Environmental Educator Parke Lewis’ ‘Tools of the Calusa’ and Education Coordinator Penny Jarrett’s ‘After Hours Lecture Series’ about nesting birds on Fort Myers Beach.
Tickets to the Mound House museum are $10 for ages 13 and up; $8 for students with a college ID; $5 for ages 6-12, with ages 5 and under free. Tickets for Fort Myers Beach residents are 50% off with proof of residence (license, utility or tax bill). From January 1-April 30 the museum will be open Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-4pm. After May 1, it will be open Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 9am-4pm.
The Ticket Office and Museum Entrance are located in the Museum Store. Parking is at Beach Baptist Church at the corner of Estero Blvd. and Connecticut Street – though a new parking area is under construction at 216 Connecticut. Shuttle available. Call 239-765-0865 or visit the website at www.moundhouse.org for more information.
Keri Hendry Weeg