Elvis Presley, Richard P. Powell and Matlacha, Florida

Elvis Presley, Richard P. Powell and Matlacha, Florida

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The Matlacha Bridge. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the Islands.

Take a drive through Matlacha today and you’ll see a quirky artists’ community dotted by brightly colored buildings, folks fishing along the bridge, great restaurants and, of course, fish houses and working fishermen.

But did you know that Matlacha started — not as a fishing community — but as a squatters’ paradise? And that it was once the setting for both a New York Times bestselling satirical novel and an Elvis Presley movie?

In the 1920s, the road to Matlacha was little more than a dirt trail when Harry Stringfellow was elected to the county commission. According to local lore, at the time the only way Harry could get to the mainland for commission meetings from his home near Pineland was to take a mule-drawn wagon to St. James City (a three-hour ride) and then take the steamboat to Fort Myers. The trip took all day. So Harry, who served on the Lee County Commission from 1926-1953, and Bruce Scott eventually persuaded the commissioners to build a bridge connecting Pine Island with the mainland. In 1927, the first bridge through Matlacha — a swing bridge purchased from Alva — was completed.

At the time, the area was merely known as “The Fill” for the fill that had been dredged out of the pass to put the bridge pilings on and had not yet picked up the name Matlacha.

Following the Stock Market crash in 1929, squatters began moving on to The Fill — building a hodgepodge of shacks and shanties over the water and wherever they could. Eventually, a true fishing community developed in the area.

At one point, Lee County tried to evict the squatters and a court battle ensued. The squatters eventually won their battle, gaining legal ownership to their homes, and their little fishing community flourished.

That’s where best-selling author Richard P. Powell comes in. Powell was a New Jersey native, a former newspaper and advertising man, who also served on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff during WWII. In 1959, Powell moved to Fort Myers following the success of his novel, The Philadelphian. While many expected his next novel to be a follow on that serious tale of Philadelphia society, this book instead was a satirical showdown between the common man and big government titled Pioneer, Go Home! According to Powell’s tale, New Jersey Piner Pop Kwimper takes a wrong turn as he and his family are on vacation. He runs out of gas and ends up at the fictional town of Columbiana, on the side of the road on the fill where a bridge is being built. They end up staying. Eventually, Pop learns about squatter’s rights, setting up the fight with government. The story, of course, is based on what happened in Matlacha.

In 1962, Powell’s popular book was made into the movie Follow That Dream, starring Elvis Presley as Pop’s son, Toby. While many people think that the movie was filmed in Matlacha, it was really filmed in Yankeetown. So, alas, Elvis probably never slept here!

When I started selling real estate on the Island in 1977, Matlacha was a pretty monochromatic place — the white and gray clapboard buildings erected over the years were still there. Eventually, I opened Islands Realty and established my office in what is now the Matlacha Wellness Center building just inside of Matlacha. It was the first pink building in Matlacha.

A few years later, John Casey came along and wanted to start rehabbing the community. But since the area was such a mishmash of residential and commercial buildings, zoning was a nightmare. Fortunately, Gloria Sajgo, principal planner for the Lee County Historic Preservation Board, helped us get the area designated as a historic district so restoration and rehabilitation could take place. I think Pine Island artist Leoma Lovegrove’s gallery was probably the earliest of the rehabbed buildings and set the stage for the unique, colorful destination we have today.

While you can no longer be a squatter on the Island of Matlacha, there are still plenty of places there you can call home or set up your Island business. Give us a call to learn more about the properties we have listed there.

Summer to Fall — Island Style

September. This is the time of year that Southwest Florida starts marking the transition between our hot and humid summers and our comparatively cool and dry winters.

September begins our transition from our wet and rainy summers — and the mini-lakes that storms sometimes leave behind — to our drier winters.

September begins our transition from our wet and rainy summers — and the mini-lakes that storms sometimes leave behind — to our drier winters.

Historically, it’s also been a time of year when homeowners who were thinking about selling start considering what they need to do to get their homes ready for the snowbirds’ arrival. Typically, snowbirds would arrive around Jan. 15 and stay through Easter.

On Pine Island, one typical buyer was a Midwest farmer who came here to enjoy a piece of paradise after their growing season up north ended. They were looking for a small, inexpensive place on the water where they could enjoy mild winters and all the fishing they could handle. Cherry Estates and Flamingo Bay were popular places for them to settle.

Another type of buyer would come for a visit, decide they liked Pine Island and then start looking around for a vacation home or condo to purchase before they left in the spring — that way, they would be assured of having a place to land when they came back next year.

The recession turned that on its head, of course, and buyers became somewhat scarce. Now, however, with the economy turning around and our up-north neighbors having slogged through two brutal winters, the market is once again heating up here. If you’re planning to put your home on the market, now really is a good time to do it. Home sales are up 10 percent over this same period last year, while inventory on the Island is low. With many of our snowbirds likely looking to purchase homes, it really is turning into a seller’s market.

But there’s more to selling your house than just putting a “For Sale” sign in front of it. There are a few simple, relatively inexpensive things you can do to maximize the return on your investment.

Inspections

Every smart homebuyer has a home inspection done before they purchase a new home. But you don’t have to wait for a potential buyer to have your own comprehensive home inspection done. In fact, hiring your own home inspector — the cost is usually around $300 — can help you find potential problems and give you the opportunity to make repairs before a potential buyer brings their own inspector in. You’ll be heading off any problems and won’t have to negotiate a lower sales price.

It’s also a good idea to have a termite inspection done — usually for around $75. As Floridians, we know termites are pervasive, so it’s important to take care of any small infestations before they become major problems eating away at your investment.

Make Minor Repairs

I’m not suggesting that you spend thousands of dollars upgrading your kitchen to the latest trends in design. Instead, you should make sure the basics are all in working order: the plumbing, the electrical wiring, the hot water heater and the heating and cooling system.

Paint

If it’s been a while since your house had a new coat of paint, now is the time to remedy that — both outside and in.

Take a Good Look at Your Yard

The first thing a potential buyer sees is the outside of the house. Make sure your vegetation is trimmed and neat, your yard is mowed and everything is spic and span.

If you’re unsure where to start, consider having a conversation with a licensed Realtor. We have decades of experience in helping our clients get the maximum return on their home investment. We can help you put your best foot forward, so to speak, and help you make sure that your house is ready to sell.

A New Addition to Pine Island Center

A New Addition to Pine Island Center

Pine Island’s been buzzing recently as residents and visitors have watched the land clearing taking place on the north side of Pine Island Road as you come on the Island, located just before the Center.

The talk reminds me of the surge we saw in development back in the 1980s — a decade that brought us three attorneys, a new physician’s office, a dentist and several banks. There was also the Winn Dixie shopping plaza and residential developments like Captain’s Cove, Captain’s Harbor, the Bocilla Island Club and a few others. The period marked a big change to the Island.

This time around, the development is being undertaken by the Naples-based Power Corporation and is slated to be a mix of both commercial and residential. According to John Agnelli at Power Corp., the 26-acre commercial parcel has about 16 acres that can be developed. There are three lakes now and they’re in the process of adding a fourth and about 10 acres will include a preserve area and a mitigation area.

The development is expected to be anchored by a supermarket and the land will have two outparcels, which could include space for a gas station or convenience store. Agnelli says they’re still seeking tenants for the property.

Agnelli says Power Corp. is still finalizing plans for the residential land, but they currently have a development order for a 156-unit condominium community.

  • You can see details about the commercial parcel in the 2013 Lee County hearing examiner’s report at http://goo.gl/TTwwcn

 

Mullet Madness on Pine Island

Mullet Madness on Pine Island

Pine Island was abuzz last month with the premier of a new documentary produced by our local PBS affiliate, WGCU-TV, which partnered with Florida Sea Grant on a series of documentaries funded by the West Coast Inland Navigation District looking at local, sustainable seafood.

The first documentary in the series, Pink Gold Rush, featured Fort Myers Beach — where I grew up — and its shrimping industry. The latest documentary in the series featured Pine Island… my adopted hometown where I raised my children and where I’ve been buying and selling real estate since the 1970s.

The documentary, Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish, talks about how mullet has been our one of our most misunderstood, underrated and underused species. The film included interviews with two generations of one of our hardest working Pine Island families around, the Dooleys. It also featured efforts by restaurateurs — notably Jesse Tincher, owner of Matlacha’s great Blue Dog Bar & Grill, and Ed Chiles (son of former governor Lawton Chiles), who has several restaurants near the fishing village of Cortez, just north of Sarasota — to promote mullet not only as a fabulous fish to eat, but as sustainable, local seafood supporting local families and jobs.

I’ve talked in past columns about the farming that takes place on the Island — from mangos, to palm trees to longans — but I think mullet fishing really epitomizes the Island’s character. Unfortunately, a lot of that heritage has gone by the wayside.

Only a few of our historic working marinas remain — many have been turned into public boat ramps or replaced with larger developments. One of the few left is Jug Creek Marina, on Tortuga Street in Bokeelia, which is owned and run by DCIM100MEDIADJI_0382.JPGmembers of the Padilla and Morton families (and is listed for sale by our team).

The Padilla family has a long and storied history in Charlotte Harbor. They are descendants of Tariva Padilla, native to the Canary Islands, and Jaunita Parez, native to Mexico, who married and settled as one of the pioneering fishing families on Cayo Costa.

In his book, “Fisherfolk of Charlotte Harbor, Florida,” author Robert F. Edic recounts oral histories with Padilla descendants and traces their lives of pioneering and commercial fishing. Edic credits Tariva with the founding of the fishery on Cayo Costa in the 1870s. The Mortons were some of the earliest settlers to Matlacha.

Eventually, that fishery also extended and grew to Pine Island, where it helped support the Island’s founding families. The Museum of the Island recounts some of this rich history and culture and I urge all Island residents — especially our snowbird visitors and our newcomers — to visit the museum to learn more.

And I’d also encourage you to stop by Jesse’s place at the Blue Dog and join him for his special Mullet Monday, where he features different preparations of the Island’s favorite fish. Smoked or fried, there’s no doubt that mullet is one of our best-kept secrets around.

Watch it:

You can watch Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish online at video.wgcu.org and learn more about mullet at taleoftwofish.com.

Restoring a Native Paradise

A friend recently helped to rescue a juvenile bald eagle here on the Island the other day and that got me thinking about birds and bird-y places. I think one of the best places we have for bird watching is Little Pine Island (the stretch of land between Matlacha and the Center on the north and south sides of Pine Island Road) but that hasn’t always been the case.

Back in the 1950s, when Little Pine Island was still in private hands, the owner 2014-07-23 20.19.57dug ditches and drained a lot of the wetlands there to control the mosquitos. With the ground and surface water gone, native vegetation essentially dried up with it. That left room for exotic bad guys — melaleuca, Brazilian peppers and Australian pine — to move in and take over. When those plants moved in, our native animals moved out.

When I came here in the 1970s, there were a few mangroves on the fringes, but Little Pine Island was essentially a forest of Australian pine and melaleucas with not much wildlife there at all.

That started to change in 1974 when two anonymous donors gave The Nature Conservancy’s Florida chapter a little over 2,500 acres of land there. The Conservancy purchased 1,722 adjoining acres and a few months later, the entire island — 4,800 acres — was transferred to state ownership. Around that same time, the federal Clean Water Act was passed, halting the destruction of wetlands and mangrove habitats — both crucial Florida ecosystems.

While the land was protected from development, it remained a thicket of invasive plants that did not provide habitat for our native species. While there were some efforts over the years to try to get the invasives under control, it was sort of like squishing a mosquito in the Everglades — you kill one and there are a million more waiting to take its place. Getting rid of the invasives was like that — a daunting task, to say the least.

But a couple of things happened in the 1990s that helped bring Little Pine Island back to the native state its in today.

First, Florida came up with a new scheme that allowed developers to destroy some mangrove or wetland habitat if they met one of four conditions: restore wetlands on a different part of the site they were developing; restore or create wetlands at another site; donate wetlands to the state or buy credits at a mitigation bank, a degraded wetland that was being restored by someone else.

Second, Mariner Properties wanted to begin developing South Seas Plantation on Captiva. Doing so would mean that they needed to undertake a whole lot of restoration. In 1996, Florida gave Mariner permission to begin restoration of Little Pine Island and to develop it as a mitigation bank that other developers could also use their credits to help restore. It was one of the first mitigation banks in the state.

I still have a vivid memory of seeing a multitude of egrets return to the site as soon as Mariner started clearing out the exotics and filling in more than seven miles of drainage ditches.

Bill Lester, a St. James City resident who’s been leading walking tours of the Island’s High Marsh Trail for years, has a list of about 80 native plant species that now live on the Island. And with those native plants have come the native animals.

According to Kevin Erwin, the Consulting Ecologist on the site who led its restoration, wildlife monitoring has documented at least:

  • 11 species of mammals
  • 108 bird species, including 51 wetland-dependent bird species
  • 17 species of native reptiles
  • Seven species of native amphibians
  • 13 species of native fish
  • And approximately 95 aquatic macro-invertebrate species

Compare that to Erwin’s pre-restoration assessment, which found only four mammal species, 43 bird species (including 20 wetland-dependent bird species) and five native reptiles.

And bringing back this slice of native Pine Island didn’t cost taxpayers a dime. All restoration, maintenance and monitoring costs are paid for by Mariner; 7 percent of the revenue generated from the sale of mitigation credits was returned to Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park (which is the official owner of Little Pine Island). Another 5 percent, about $1.5 million, was also set aside in a trust fund for the perpetual maintenance and monitoring of the site.

Maybe one day, we’ll have a bike path that connects Little Pine Island to Matlacha and the Center (see my last column for more information on that). Until then, I’d encourage you to take a tour of your own along the two-mile trail.

Pedaling a Pine Island Amenity

There are lots of reasons to love Pine Island: spectacular sunsets, great birding, golf, boating and paddling trails among them. But one of my favorite amenities has to be the 16-mile bike and pedestrian path that runs from St. James City to the northern tip of Bokeelia. I think it’s one of the best and safest places to pedal whether you’re a casual rider or a more seasoned bicyclist.

It’s certainly been one of my favorite rides since it was finished and every time 8123873_origI take a ride, I give a silent thanks to Pine Islander June Hildreth for envisioning the path and doing the lion’s share of the work to make it a reality.

After June and a small band of helpers had the idea, they started trying to make it a reality. They found out that through the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) the county was set to receive funds for bike/pedestrian paths. June’s group gathered Pine Islanders’ signatures on a petition calling for a bike path on the Island, which let county staff and elected officials know there was support for the path. That petition helped make Pine Island’s a priority project and get the county and federal funding set aside to make it happen.

That was in 1992. .In addition to seeking signatures on petitions, volunteers also helped to secure support from property owners along the path for easements that would allow the bike/pedestrian path to cross their properties.

By 2005, the path commonly known as Stringfellow Trail was completed thanks to a combination of county and federal funding.

To recognize June’s efforts, the Kiwanis Club of Greater Pine Island named a gazebo adjacent to the bike path (south of the Palms of Pine Island, formerly known as Pink Citrus) after her.

I thought of the bike path again not too long ago when I was biking from the Center down toward Matlacha — a harrowing ride that had me keeping my eyes glued to the white line the whole way to make sure I wasn’t going to accidentally veer into traffic and become road kill. It was definitely not one of my favorite rides.

My white-knuckle trip led me to the March meeting of Lee County’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee to ask why there isn’t a path from the Center to Burnt Store Road — something safe that would connect cyclists, joggers and walkers from Pine Island to the rest of Lee County.

There, I learned that funding has been set aside to complete just such a trail, though it isn’t scheduled to happen until 2021 — five years from now. According to our representative on the committee, Ileana Sisson, what we really need to shorten that timeline are champions who will take up the cause to advocate for the connection to be completed.

The Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee meets from 3 to 5 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month in the Lee County Public Works Building, 1500 Monroe St., Fort Myers, Fla., 33901. The meetings are held in Conference Room 3C, 3rd Floor.

Meetings open with opportunities for people to make statements and ask questions. I spent my three minutes advocating for the need to extend the path from Pine Island Center through Matlacha to Burnt Store Road and I invite like-minded Pine Islanders interested in the idea to stop in and make their voices heard, too.

Celebrating 40 Years of Land Conservation

This fall, Lee County voters will have the opportunity to tell county commissioners whether we wish to continue Conservation 20/20, a land-buying program that acquires, restores and conserves lands here. The program, created 20 years ago, is funded through a voter-approved half-mill tax that supports purchases of lands that are critical to our local water supply, flood prevention, habitat preservation and passive recreation. (That’s $5 for every $100,000 in home value.)

According to a recent story in The News-Press, the program has acquired and preserved 3449219_orignearly 25,000 acres of land in the county, including a number of properties right here on Pine Island, notably the Pineland Site Complex, the 8-plus acres where the Randell Research Center’s offices are located, and the more than 900-acre Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve, which has its trailhead at 6351 Stringfellow Road.

But did you know that Pine Island residents have been working to preserve lands and habitat and our Island way of life for much longer than 20/20 has been around? In fact, one of our leading land preservation groups, the Calusa Land Trust, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

When I came to Pine Island in the 1970s, we had a couple of county-owned parks and the county pool and tennis courts were just being built at Pine Island Center, but there weren’t many parks or trails for residents to enjoy.

That changed in 1976 when residents Fred and Diane Johnson provided land on Calusa Island. Their contribution of a 60-acre black mangrove forest and eight acres of tropical hardwood hammock led to the creation of the Calusa Land Trust. The Calusa Island Preserve was followed by the Dean Preserve on the eastern tip of Bocilla Island.

But the Calusa Land Trust really got going with acquisition of the Big Jim Creek Preserve — a 325-acre parcel that protects most of the northwest tip of Pine Island. I was pleased to donate my time as the listing and sales agent for that property (saving the Trust from paying any sales commission) to help support this acquisition and today still love taking my canoe out to paddle around in the preserve’s mangrove forest. What can I say? It’s just a super-cool place and I am truly grateful for the work that Ed Chapin, Bill Spikowski, Alison Ackerman, Rick Moore, Rad Hazen and many others have done over the years to keep the Trust growing.

Today, the Trust has 500 members and continues to work to acquire lands to protect the beauty and natural diversity that is a hallmark of this special Island. Membership dues and donations help the trust purchase lands; volunteers help to maintain the properties by removing exotic vegetation, planting native species, creating trails and more. Donations and bequests help the Trust purchase properties and they often partner with 20/20 and other groups to purchase important parcels on the Island. The lands aren’t always expensive to buy, but they can be expensive to keep up and so the willingness of the Trust to take over stewardship of properties gives added support to parcels under consideration by the 20/20 program.

According to Ed Chapin, the Trust’s Chief Land Steward and Ranger, the Trust is today the steward for 2,100 acres on the Island worth more than $3 million. (To see a map of the Island’s preserved areas, please visit the Calusa Land Trust website at calusalandtrust.org.)

To me, that just speaks volumes about the importance that many Island residents place on protecting and preserving the natural habitats of the Island and we should all celebrate the Calusa Land Trust’s 40th anniversary.

Join a Work Party

The Calusa Land Trust has work parties on the second Saturday of the month (except August). The next is scheduled for March 12. Volunteers interested in helping remove exotic vegetation will meet at 9 a.m. at the new Wigert-Barron Preserve at Barrancas and Aura Lane (near the county boat ramp). Bring your own hand tools and be sure to dress appropriately — long sleeves, long pants and closed-toed shoes are recommended. Bring water to drink and don’t forget your sunscreen and a hat. The workday lasts until about noon.

For more information, please call Ed Chapin, the Calusa Land Trust’s Chief Land Steward and Ranger, at 239-218-7531.

Looking Ahead to 2016

When one year ends and the next begins, I think it’s kind of fun to look at where we’ve been and think about where we might be going. In Island real estate — as across the nation — we’re coming off a few volatile years where we saw property values drop and then, finally, begin to rebound.

It was probably hard for many of us to watch as the housing market plummeted between 2006 and 2008 and we had a glut of houses on the market. It was several years before even the speculators came calling as they shopped for deals on houses and lots. We saw lot prices go from about $60,000 an acre, down to $11,000 to $14,000 an acre.

But by 2011 or so, the buyers were starting to come back in force — large bank-owned 5362689_origtracts were being snapped up, homes started selling once again up north, freeing up cash. That, combined with a few frigid winters meant that the snowbirds were finally coming back, looking for second homes or for investment properties. Since then, we’ve seen available homes and, now, lots just being gobbled up.

In fact, 2015 convinced me that the markets and the economy really have started to regain solid footing. Just looking at our own numbers for the year is somewhat telling — while our total number of listings has been down, our overall sales volume was up 11 percent (based on information compiled from the Florida Gulf Coast MLS, Inc. for the period of 1-1-14 to 12-22-14 and 1-1-15 to 12-22-15). That tells us that prices are going back up and that inventory — houses and lots available for sale — is down.

What does that mean for Pine Island buyers and sellers? I think it’s a good market no matter which side you’re on — a sort of equilibrium, if you will.

Sellers who waited to put their homes on the market are now seeing their homes sell quickly and their investments realized. Buyers are still able to find affordable properties priced appropriately — though they do have to act fast. And despite the recent interest rate bump, rates are still low and mortgages remain affordable.

Will we have another market correction? If history is any indication, the answer is yes. Florida has seen boom and bust cycles many times over the last 30 years.

But one thing I know from my decades of experience here: There are only so many waterfront and wooded homes and lots here. That means Pine Island will never be a bad investment with its unique, laid-back lifestyle.

Fall and Winter on Pine Island

I’ve been here so long, it might seem like I’m a Florida native but I actually grew up in Minnesota. There, we didn’t worry about the cold, ice and snow in the winter because we didn’t really know any different. Cold, icy and snowy was just how it was. Back then, our biggest concern was how thick the ice on the lakes was because we knew we’d be getting new skates for Christmas and wanted to make sure we could use them.

When I was 16, my mom and I moved to Fort Myers Beach to live near my grandparents and uncle and my outlook on fall and winter took a turn — for the better. I know many of our northern friends think that we don’t have seasons here in Southwest Florida, but I beg to differ. You just have to have a keen eye to see the changes.

November marks the start of the time of year when our local waters start cooling down, our seasonal birds begin migrating from northern climates and we celebrate the holidays in true Island style.

In fact, some of my favorite seasonal changes involve the wildlife in Southwest Florida. For instance, we’re starting to see more wood storks, the belted kingfishers coming down from northern homes, king mackerel are showing up and the mullet are starting to run. (I mean, is there anything better than locally caught & smoked mullet spread with crackers?)

Manatees are also on the move. When waters start cooling down, manatees 3153326_origmigrate to warm-water spots where they can spend the winter. So now is the time of the year for boaters to make note of changes to manatee speed zones and to keep an eye out to avoid hitting them. (FWC has a handy guide of changes online.)

And white pelicans are showing up by the hundreds from their colonies in the northwestern U.S. and western Canada. Unlike the brown pelicans that call Florida home year ‘round and their dive-bomb approach to picking up fish, these seasonal visitors often gather in large groups, herd the fish together, then dip their heads in the water to pick up their meals. These are some of my favorite birds to see because I know it means the holidays are just about here.

The holidays on Pine Island will really kick into high gear with the 6th Annual Holiday House, scheduled for Dec. 3, 4, and 5 at the Tarpon Lodge, 13771 Waterfront Drive, Pine Island, Pineland. Family night begins at 4 p.m. on Dec. 3 and then at 5 p.m. Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive for pictures with the kids. They’ll be coming by boat, of course, because how else would Santa travel in Florida? Holiday House, which is a fundraiser for the Beacon of Hope, includes sales of holiday themed goods, including works from our wonderfully talented Pine Island artists. A $10 donation gets you in the door.

And while the Junior Olympics isn’t necessarily a holiday happening, it does mark the winter season for me. I’ve been involved with putting the Junior Olympics on since my own kids were growing up out here. Now I’m having a great time seeing the next generation compete. (Junior Olympics, for kids in K-5, is sponsored by the Pine Island Kiwanis Club and takes place on Dec. 12 at the ball fields at Pine Island Center.)

Of course, I can’t forget to mention how things light up on the Island during the holidays. The lighted dolphins will be going up soon on the Matlacha Bridge and, personally, I’ll take palm trees dressed up in white lights and water skis over skates and ice any day of the week.

A Good Ghost Story

If you’re like me, you love a good ghost story. Most of us have probably heard the one about the escaped asylum patient with a hook for an arm who terrorizes young amorous couples parked on the local lovers’ lane. For the more literate among us, there are always tales by Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allen Poe.

But what about tales closer to home? Since it’s October — with Halloween ruby-gill-house-2just around the corner — I thought it might be fun to explore a Pine Island story or two.

There have long been rumors of paranormal happenings at Capt’n Con’s Fish House at the northern tip of the Island. The stories were fueled by rumors of a hanging tree located behind the restaurant and the unfortunate — and unconfirmed — drowning death of the daughter of an early settler in the nearby water. People have reported seeing ghosts out of the corners of their eyes or having feelings of being physically pushed.

I can’t say I know much about that, but a ghost hunting group investigated a few years ago and couldn’t confirm the haunting.

The Adams Estate is supposedly another haunted Island location. The Estate sits atop the Adams Mound, a Calusa Indian mound that would been constructed starting after about 800 AD, when the native population began growing dramatically and they began engineering the landscape by building mounds and digging canals.

The site was part of a Calusa Indian village for more than 1,500 years and archaeologists believe the mound could have been used as a ceremonial location and that its pond was possibly a portion of the original moat that would have surrounded the mound.

Coal Magnate Frank Adams had the main house constructed in 1911 and he planted many species of plants and trees on the property that he had collected during his travels. In the 1970s, the Adams Mound property became a religious retreat and then became rental homes and a single-family residence.

Having lived next door to it back in the 1970s, I can honestly say I never put much stock in any of the talk about “weird” feelings associated with the area. I always just enjoyed the beauty of the property.

But there is one story that will always stick with me about the Ruby Gill House — which today you might recognize as home to the Randell Research Center. Ruby and her husband Percy Gill moved to Pine Island back in the 1920s. In 1924, Ruby became the postmaster (the post office was next door, after all) and she served in that role until 1957. During her life, Ruby was instrumental in helping to bring electricity to Pineland and was very active in the community. Ruby died in the 1960s.

Eventually, the house was bought by Jean Jones Mitchell, who lived in it for a time then rented it out. Back in the 1980s, one of those renters was a young man named Dave Holmes, who some of you might know as the former editor of the Pine Island Eagle.

According to Dave, within the first month that he and a friend moved in, he started having some weird experiences. While he was in bed one night, he heard what sounded like an old woman weeping and shuffling around the room in her slippers. That happened two or three times during that month and o at least one occasion, he said he could feel hot breath on his face — as if someone was in the room with him. Of course, as these things go, when he turned on the light, nothing was there.

In another instance, Dave said he was inside the house and all of a sudden the outside shutters started banging away against the house, making it sound like there was a heck of a storm raging outside. But when he went outside to take a look, it was dead flat calm — no breeze, no storm, no nothing. He also said he found a mysterious splattering of blood on the floor and wall in a bathroom that could not be explained away.

 

Later that year, Dave and his buddy hosted a Christmas party at the house. Jean Mitchell was there and she and Dave got to talking about the house. Dave didn’t mention his experiences but did he get a surprise when Jean started recounting her experience in the same bedroom Dave was using of an old woman weeping and shuffling around the room in her slippers! Jean also told him she had found blood on the floor and wall in the bathroom.

 

Eerie, right? So is Ruby Gill still weeping her way around the house? I doubt we’ll ever know for sure, but it is fun to scare up some old Island ghosts once in a while.

 

Speaking of ghosts and ghouls: Don’t forget about the Greater Pine Island Kiwanis Club Fall Festival and Trunk & Treat from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, at the Pine Island Elementary School, 5360 Ridgewood Drive. The event is free for all Pine Island Elementary School students and their families and includes bounce houses & plenty of treats. And don’t forget to turn your porch light on to welcome trick-or-treaters on Saturday night and, if you’re out and about, keep an eye out for the kids.