December 20, 2014

Ahead of the Curve

Finding Our Hidden History 

Attention, all armchair archeologists. If your passion for the past has led you to all the major Southwest Florida historical sites and now you’re seeking something more unexpected, here’s how to find the overlooked bits of yesterday just outside your door.

1

Marks the spot We’re all accustomed to looking up for our street signs, so it’s easy to ignore the three-foot concrete post at the corner of Third Street South and Third Avenue South. But this unassuming obelisk is Naples’ last existing original street marker, erected in the 1930s and later saved from removal through the efforts of Denyse Mesnick, the granddaughter of popular Naples mayor Roy Smith. www.naplesbackyardhistory.org.

2

Otter’s oddity It’s often said they don’t make things like they used to, and Marco Island’s one remaining outhouse, tucked away in the tiny Otter Mound Preserve on the island’s south side, only affirms that adage. Built in the 1950s by, ahem, convenience-minded gentleman Ernest Otter, this small pecky cypress building has evaded hurricanes and development to become one of Marco’s most curious antiques. www.themihs.org.

3

Backyard battlefield The "Fort" in Fort Myers provides a clue to the city’s historical significance. Not as obvious is the site of the 1865 attack on Fort Myers that was one of the final fights of the Civil War. The area is now a peaceful, picnic-perfect public green space between the Southwest Florida Museum of History and the Fort Myers-Lee County Public Library. www.swflmuseumofhistory.com.

4

Tree’s company Naples’ oldest banyan tree is still growing strong outside Tecopa Cottage, the home of noted local artist Paul Arsenault and his wife, Eileen. Nicknamed "Beardy Banyan," this beautiful botanical has been casting cool shadows on hot days since Pennsylvania cotton broker R.L. Sloan planted it in 1916. Gordon Drive and 12th Avenue South.

5

Celluloid surprise Hollywood glitterati often made Naples their private playground, but in 1951, Gary Cooper proved it wasn’t all sun-and-fun. Cooper played the part of Capt. Quincy Wyatt, a soldier facing the dangers of the Everglades. The flick’s dramatic highlight was shot near Doctor’s Pass, when 20 acres were torched so Wyatt could flee a Seminole war party. View a clip at the Collier County Museum, 3301 E. Tamiami Trail.

6

Two-step into the past If you’ve wondered what it was like the night Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice heroine Elizabeth Bennet formed such a strong opinion of Mr. Darcy, then head to an English Country Dancing class at the Wa-Ke-Hatchee Recreation Center in Fort Myers. True, it’s not a ball at Netherfield, but with live musicians and dance steps that were popular hundreds of years ago, you wouldn’t know it. 6:30–8:30 p.m. every Tuesday; free to join.

7

But, Sears-iously Never let it be said that Sanibel Island’s settlers tried to take the easy way, because "Morning Glories" is irrefutable evidence of the opposite. This blue, two-bedroom Sears & Roebuck prefab home arrived on Sanibel in 1925 via railroad and in 30,000 pieces, purchased for $2,211 by islander Martin Mayer. Most amazing? It’s actually one of two Sears prefabs from this era; the other is still privately owned.
www.sanibelmuseum.org.