The Museum of the Islands

Growing up on Fort Myers Beach back in the 1960s and 70s, I fell in love with the island lifestyle. There’s just something special about being surrounded by water and knowing your neighbors. After college, I came back to Southwest Florida and opened and operated a health food store. I later found my way into real estate, working with a broker in Bonita Springs. The more I learned about the region, the more I was drawn to Pine Island. In fact, the first piece of property I bought on the island in 1977 was my own first home.

The house was a tiny cabin — my wife, Joan, called it a shack — next to a Calusa mound. The cabin — complete with burlap ceilings — had been part of a 20-acre commune (yes, there was a commune here!) in Pineland and had been built by the commune’s members. As my real estate career got started, I did a little bit of everything — including totally remodeling the buildings that we know today as the Tarpon Lodge. The Lodge was originally built in the 1920s by the Wilson family and then became the Pine-Aire Lodge. In the 1980s, I helped remodel it before it became a rehabilitation center called The Cloisters. Today, thanks to the dedication of the Wells family, the Tarpon is one of the jewels that showcases our island’s rich fishing heritage.

This month, we’re also celebrating the 25th anniversary of another island jewel — The Museum of the Islands.

As one of the few full-time Realtors on the Island back in the 1980s, I had a front-row seat to all the changes taking place here back then. Some of our oldest homes and buildings were being replaced by newer structures and many artifacts documenting our community’s rich history and its oldest families were being lost — just thrown in the garbage. I collected what I could, as did my good friends Elaine Jordan and Jim Bone, but there was only so much we could store — our own homes were bursting at the seams.

At about the same time, the Lee County Commission had decided to replace our library with a new and bigger building — the one you still see today at Pine Island Center. The plan was to tear the old building down and use that space for parking.

Instead, Elaine, Jim and I got to thinking that the old library building would be the perfect place to house all of the island history we had been collecting. So we petitioned County Commissioner Porter Goss (this was after his first retirement from the CIA and before he became a Congressman) and Bill Hammond with Parks & Rec and asked whether we might convert the old library building into an Island museum.

It took a little lobbying on our part and I think it probably helped that we reminded them that Island residents had pitched in pennies to build the original library back in the 1960s (yes, school children really did donate their pennies) and that I was president of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association at the time. Eventually the county agreed to turn the building into a museum — the Museum of the Islands.

We’re fortunate that some very wonderful people then stepped forward to take over the effort — donating time and money to update the building, gathering additional artifacts, organizing and curating the collections and even getting other museums to donate display cases for the items collected. The Randell family, Betty Katz, Gladys and Dale Schneider and Naomi Brewer are just a few who were instrumental in those early days — it would be impossible to name everyone who played a role in getting the Museum off the ground.

Naomi herself has remained with the Museum for 23 years now as the driving force that helps keep it going and we have a wonderful corps of volunteers who help, too. If you haven’t yet visited our little gem, please consider doing so this season — Naomi and her volunteers would love to tell you more about the island and its residents — from the earliest Calusa to some of our most well-known families. Please also consider becoming a Museum member or making a donation to help support its collections.

—Mike Shevlin has been a Pine Island Realtor since 1981. In 1985, he established Islands Realty, which he later sold to Century 21 Sunbelt Realty. In 2001, he established Team Shevlin under the Sunbelt banner and today works with Carlyn Herring and Erin Lambert. To talk to Mike about Pine Island real estate or to suggest a topic for his monthly “Local Knowledge” column about life and living on Pine Island, please email mike@teamshevlin.com.

Visit The Museum of the Islands

  • Hours: The Museum of the Islands is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays from Nov. 1 through April 30 and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. (Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from May 1 to Oct. 31.)
  • Admission: Just $2 for adults and $1 for children; memberships start at just $10.
  • Address: 5728 Sesame, Pine Island Center
  • Information: 239-283-1525