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Special celebration to note Pineland’s 110th anniversary

September 4, 2012
Pine Island Eagle

On Sept. 6, 110 years ago, the Pineland community received its name, which will be celebrated throughout the remainder of the year and next year.

According to an article written by Randall Research Center Director Dr. Bill Marquardt, only about three dozen people lived on Pine Island at the beginning of the 20th century.

Due to the "Great Freeze of 1894-1895," which devastated citrus trees in north Florida, many individuals established new grooves in south Florida, including on Pine Island. One of those individuals who lost his grove to the freeze was Thomas Moore Stafford, a Civil War veteran who moved to the island to start a grove. He was the father of Minta Martin.

Article Photos

Photo provided by W. Hanson
The Pineland Post Office about 1925. It is situated
adjacent to the home built by Ruby and Percy Gill.


Marquardt also wrote in the article that Minta Martin established the Pineland name and the community's first post office in 1902, after she and her husband, Henry, bought 19 acres from the Glover family in 1900 for $100.

Regina Poppell, who became the postmaster of the Pineland Post Office in 1996, said St. James City acquired a post office before Pineland opened its first one in 1902.

Poppell said due to Pine Island not having a lot of roads early on, the post offices were located near the water so a boat could run the mail and the supplies to its destination.

Poppell said Martin was the postmaster until 1905 when Stafford took over the position.

She said the original post office was apparently located by the water until sometime in the 1920s when it moved to its very close location of where it is now.

Ruby Vance Gill, 35 in 1922, moved to Pineland with her husband, Percy, and became the postmaster.

They built a two-story home and bought several acres of orange groves along Pineland Road. Ruby eventually built a new post office next to her home.

Poppell said the post office is still the original building with some added square footage. She said the old combination boxes are still located within the building as well.

"I'm just really happy that I am here and I plan to stay here," she said. "I have a really nice community to work with, you know everyone who comes through the door."

A building that has been a part of Pineland since 1926 after Graham Wilson and Mary Rutherford Wilson purchased property, has since been purchased by the Wells family and is now known as the Tarpon Lodge.

The Wilsons moved to the island from Philadelphia because they both loved to fish and wanted to build a fishing shack. The shack ended up being an 18-room waterfront home with 6,900 square feet. Two identical his-and-hers boathouses over the water on the edge of the property were also built.

The home, named "Gra-Mar Villa," was only accessible by water and a shell road.

The Wilson family purchased a total of 70 adjoined acres with their final land buy in Pineland in 1930.

In 1945, the home and surrounding area were converted into an upscale post World War II facility, "Pine-Aire Lodge," that appealed to sportsmen and paying customers.

Another change of the property occurred in 1955 when the American Bible College purchased it, and renamed it "Pala Mar," so it could be used for a Christian retreat and clergy training site. "Pala Mar" means "Big House by the Sea."

Again in 1980, the use of the property changed when the Medical Management Institute purchased the 3.03 acres. From 1981 to 1996, the Cloisters was in operation as a privately-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

The Cloisters constructed the Island House building in 1986 for dormitories, as well as more office space and a gazebo.

Rob Wells, general manager of Tarpon Lodge, said it is a really interesting piece of property.

His family, who has lived on Cabbage Key since the late 1970s, purchased the property in 1999.

"It was unoccupied for a number of years when we purchased it," Wells said.

He said since his father is an avid angler, he had the idea of an old Florida "step back in time fishing lodge" in mind when he saw the now Tarpon Lodge.

"I was working out of town in New York at the time and started working on the property shortly after we purchased it," Wells said.

In 2000, the Tarpon Lodge and restaurant opened to the public. A year later the lodge received historic designation from the Lee County Historic Preservation Board.

Unfortunately the property suffered extensive damage in 2004 when Hurricane Charley made its way across the island. The two his and her boathouses were relocated to another site on the property, connected and mostly rebuilt.

Over the years, Wells said it has been great coming into contact with individuals who have memories of the lodge throughout its different stages.

He said they have been able to come across some historical information.

The Wells family is currently applying to be on the National Historic Registry.

"It will be great for the whole property and the original house," he said. "An exciting opportunity for us and an educational one for us."

Wells said through the process they have come to learn that some of the history was based on hearsay instead of pure fact. He said it has been an interesting process to navigate through true fact and preserved fact.

The Tarpon Lodge still has the original oak floors in the main lodge, as well as the original heart pine floors on the second floor. The original fireplace is still located in the lounge area, as well as the original door hardware, interior window casings, baseboards and crown moldings of the original little fishing shack.

In order to remember the great history of Pineland, the Randell Research Center, along with Museum of the Islands, will celebrate its anniversary by focusing on parlor chats, which will focus on the early years of Pineland. Area residents, who have a long history on the island, will lead the chats or it will be led by experts in the field, who will be announced as soon as possible.

The series will be held Oct. 9, Dec. 4, Feb. 5 and April 9 from 10-1:30 a.m.

The informal discussions and storytelling will be held for the public at the historic Ruby Gill House. A $5 charge is requested to attend the chat, which will include refreshments and door prizes. Free admission will be provided for members of the Randell Research Center and the Museum of the Islands.

A membership drive for the Randell Research Center is also being held from September 2012 through February 2012 for those who become a family level member or renew that membership, which is $50. Those who register will be eligible to win the Pineland Prize Package, which includes a variety of gifts from the Pineland business community - a free stay at the Tarpon Lodge and a free boat launching and parking at the Pineland Marina.

In honor of Pineland's 110th birthday, Tarpon Lodge will be offering specials until Oct. 31. They include a buy-one get-one free overnight stay from Sundays until Thursdays only. The offer is only good for reservations called in over the phone.

The other special is Wine Down Mondays and Wednesdays from 5-7 p.m. for half price off select bottles of wine.

 
 

 

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