The first parlor chat Tuesday morning at the Calusa Heritage Trail classroom attracted a room full of individuals who wanted to learn about Pineland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In order to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Pineland, the Randell Research Center, along with Museum of the Islands, decided to host a series of parlor chats.
Dr. William Marquardt, Randell Research Center Director, led the hour and a half discussion that stemmed from the question of why people wanted to live in Pineland so many years ago.
As Randell Research Center Director Dr. William Marquardt took individuals on a journey through the late 19th century to early 20th century during Tuesday’s parlor chat, he continually referred back to a map to give the audience an idea of where everything took place.
The conversation began with the Calusa people.
According to Marquardt, they had the second largest town of all Calusa sites on the island, which was named Tampa. He said the Calusa people, who lived in a rich environment, occupied the area until 1710. After 1710, they no longer lived in the area due to not having resistance to European diseases, the Spaniards trying to covert the Calusa, as well as the Calusa being enslaved and killed.
Marquardt said in the late 1600s the Spanish lived on the island, due to them sailing into the Southwest Florida waters with more than 30 Cuban vessels to fish for the lucrative mullet. He went on to say that they netted the mullet during mullet run season, which was in October, November through February or March.
Mullet was a good resource for them because they are full of fat and are very nutritious. In the Pine Island Sound area, the Spaniards established fishing ranchos, which were otherwise known as palmetto shacks or huts. Marquardt said there were four fishing ranchos in Pine Island Sound.
He said the ranchos were reasonable for someone who was going to live there for a few months because it kept them out of the rain thanks to the roof. Many people, Marquardt said, planted gardens and got married and established a residence on the island all year round.
During the years of 1835-1842, Marquardt said it was hard to live in Pineland because of the hostility and the tremendous wars that took place.
"There were very few people that lived on Pine Island and specifically here," he said of Pineland.
Marquardt then went into PowerPoint slides, which highlighted the different people that called Pineland their home and changed the area.
The Spanish and English people established permanent fishing villages because of the lucrative mullet industry, he said, which in 1880 resulted in more than 2 million pounds of the fish. Sponges were also sought after, he said.
In the 1870s and 1880s, anglers figured out that tarpon could be caught on a reel, which attracted more people to Southwest Florida.
Smithsonian archaeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing visited the area three times between 1895 and 1896.
It was not until his journals were published, Marquardt said, that they understood the full story of what Pineland looked like.
"A wealth of information," he said of the journals, adding that there are "extensive descriptions of where he walks, what he sees and what he does in the locations."
The "Great Freeze" changed the island due to recorded 17 degree weather that was sustained for a period of time. Marquardt said the "Great Freeze" occurred before one of Cushing's visits
"When he stands on mounds there is no vegetation, everything turned brown," he said of what he learned from his journals.
Due to the freeze, Marquardt said many people moved further south, which included Pine Island to begin the citrus industry again.
Between 1896-1908 there was a great increase in planting of citrus on Pine Island. Marquardt said in 1907, VJ Honc of Czechoslovakia moved to Pine Island and began to plant mangos. By 1919, mangos were well known and commercially successful.
He also shared information about the number of people who lived on the island in the early 19th century.
"By the end of the 19th century, only about 36 people lived here," he said.
In 1910, there were 78 people in 20 households within the Pineland district, which may have included Bokeelia as well.
He told the crowd that the Calusa were totally water-oriented and they navigated everywhere they went by boat, and the Europeans were agricultural.
Between 1916-1926, portions of the Pineland shell mounds were used for roads.
By the end of the parlor chat, Marquardt brought the audience into present day and how the Randell Research Center came about. He said property was purchased by Donald and Patricia Randell, which continued to accumulate in the 1980s.
The University of Florida was gifted 53 acres from the Randells in 1996 to create a research and education center.
The second parlor chat will be held Dec. 4, from 10-11:30 a.m., at the 1924 Ruby Gill House, 7450 Pineland Road, in Pineland. The chat will address "Lonely Outpost or Settler's Paradise?"
Gladys Schneider, a founding member of the Museum of the Islands, will lead the second chat, due to her expertise in historic architecture. The interactive chat will provide individuals with the opportunity to bring their questions, ideas and information with them.
The chat is free for members of the Randell Research Center and the Museum of the Islands and $5 for non-members. There will be refreshments and door prizes provided.
Advanced registration is encouraged by calling 239-283-2062.