Take a Step Back in Time

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Estero Island Historic Society

On Saturday, December 12th, from 4 to 6 PM, the Estero Island Historic Society (EIHS) will host its annual Christmas Open House and Bake Sale at The Historic Cottage located at the entrance to Matanzas Pass Preserve on Bay Road. Decorated for the holidays, with homemade baked goods and sea grape jelly available for purchase, the old-time Florida atmosphere really takes you back in time.

The Society’s members dedicate much time and passion toward the preservation of our island’s history and its significant structures, as well as working creatively and tirelessly towards bringing this history to life through a very meaty multi-dimensional education program. Class trips from area schools; an ongoing presentation, part of a required course for every FGCU student, serving several thousand young men and women every year; the wonderful ‘Footprints in Time’ self-guided tour of the island’s history using a smart phone and QR codes, placed in historically significant locations around the island; the guest speaker series presented at the Library in season; the cottage itself, jammed with books, photos, maps and various artifacts; special events like the Christmas Open House next Saturday.  All of this is in addition to gathering, vetting and cataloguing bits of historically significant memories – the flotsam and jetsam that come floating down the river of time into their care.

The Island Sand Paper has published many stories over the years about the Society, and has spotlighted many of its members, among them town notables Jo Hughes (wishing Jo a fast recovery – history can be a dangerous business!), AJ Bassett, Fran Santini, Penny Brown and her late husband Joel. These folks have personally witnessed decades and decades of growth and change on Fort Myers Beach. You can visit the Historic Cottage on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10 am to Noon), or visit their website, esteroislandhistoricsociety.org to learn more about our local past. You might even ask one of these amazing women to tell you a story from their own past on the island. Either way, perhaps you will come away with a deeper understanding about the way long-time residents and natives of the island feel about our little town and its future.

We caught up with EIHS President Russ Carter at his home this week. Carter, now in his fourth term chairing the board, has been an islander with his wife Susan (Namaste!) for about thirty years. They have lived in the same quaint little house on Pearl Street for nearly all of that time. The structure was awarded an Historic Cottage designation from the Town several years ago.

Carter says being president is mainly about ‘controlling all these rebellious eighty-somethings who get out of hand,” he deadpans, then laughs, with obvious affection for the women who have been the backbone of the EIHS since its inception. “No, basically, you’re just a caretaker, trying to keep the lights on.” But we learn Carter does a lot more than that.

As part of their annual guest lecture series, Russ Carter turns entertainer, and guarantees anyone who comes to his lectures will learn something about Fort Myers Beach history they didn’t know. “For instance, the World War II battle that took place here, very few people know about that. And Ponce de Leon – very few people realize that he was actually killed here, even though he died in Cuba,” explaining that a Calusa warrior hit him with a poison lance that didn’t instantly kill him. He survived the boat ride and died on Cuban soil. “And did you know, when the Calusa first greeted Ponce de Leon, they spoke in Spanish?” With these teasers, Carter demonstrates just how rich and often dramatic our local history can be.

Most people try to match their personal interests with their community service fulfillment. Artists and musicians donate their talents to their favorite causes, the eco-minded will often volunteer for beach and waterway cleanup efforts, many work tirelessly all year to help children and families in need. The assumption that Russ Carter got involved in the EIHS because of a burning passion to know the history of our island was soon laid to rest.

It seems the first stake the Carter’s put down on the island was a pair of multi-family homes, and Russ would load up his lawn mower every other Sunday and drive to the property to do yard work and general maintenance. When the Davis Cottage (now the Historic Cottage) was moved from its original location on the Gulf front to the Bay Road location, Carter read about it and, after figuring out where Bay Road was, decided to stop by to see it. “It was a Sunday, so of course it wasn’t open,” he recalls about that first visit. Closed up tight with no one around, Russ saw that the grass around the cottage had overgrown and needed mowing. “So I mowed it.” This became a routine every other Sunday for the next year and a half or so. One week after some torrential rain, Carter was forced to wait until Wednesday to do his yard work. “So, I pulled up to the cottage and started taking the mower out of the back of my truck, and this woman comes out on the porch and yells, ‘Stop!’ It turns out it was EIHS member Barbara Keene. Through their subsequent conversation, Russ learned about the Society, and how the mystery of the mown grass had intrigued the group’s members and several town and county officials since Russ’s first trip to the cottage. He was invited to join the Estero Island Historic Society, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jo List

Estero Island Historic Society Guest Speaker Series 2016

Beach Library Community Room

January

Jan 11, 2016  7:00 PM Local historian and attorney Hank Hendry

Jan 26, 2016  1:30 PM Russ Carter

February

Feb 8, 2016    7:00 PM Writers John and Mary Lou Missall

Feb 17, 2016  7:00 PM Author Robert Macomber

Feb 26, 2016  10:30 AM Russ Carter

March

Mar 14, 2016  7:00 PM Cindy Bear, Randell Research Center

Mar 24, 2016  1:30 PM Russ Carter

EIHS Annual Christmas Open House and Bake Sale

Saturday, December 12, 4:00 – 6:00 PM

161 Bay Road, Fort Myers Beach