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This Month in History: Times were tough in the 1920s on 'The Fill'

November 13, 2013
By TIM KNOX , Pine Island Eagle

"Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home." - Bill Cosby

In the fall of 1927, the swing bridge that spanned Matlacha Pass was opened amid much celebration as Pine Island was finally linked to the mainland. Residents no longer had to travel to Fort Myers by boat, but could drive by automobile, greatly reducing the travel time.

The dredging of shell and sand from Matlacha Pass created a causeway linking the mangrove islands for the road running east to the mainland, and west toward Pine Island. This dredging widened those mangrove islands with high and dry land. The same had occurred with the shell and sand fill that was used to create approaches to the bridge from both sides.

Ed Young and his family soon arrived from Fort Myers and became the first residents to live on the shell fill alongside the road leading to the bridge. He had been hired as the bridge tender. A bridge tender would watch for boats that wanted to pass by the bridge but were too tall to fit under it. The bridge was built so that a portion of it could swing sideways to allow these boats to pass.

Other families also arrived to live on this newly created land around the bridge. Some lived in their cars or in tents. Others built shacks on this "free" land. Times were tough in the late 1920s and "The Fill," as the area became known, offered land for free and great fishing for food. But living there was not easy. There was no electricity or running water. You cooked over an open fire or small gas stove. If you wanted fresh water you had to walk a long distance east to the mainland and carry it back from a well that was located there. During rainy season the shacks leaked horribly.

And I will not even begin to tell you what the bathroom conditions were like. I am not so sure the children that were raised on The Fill were as eager to return home as Mr. Cosby says.

If life was not tough enough, soon a legal battle over who owned the land developed with Lee County. The squatters eventually won out and were granted homestead rights as a result of what is called Adverse Possession. This technical term means land can change ownership without being paid for by living on the property for a period of seven years.


For readers who questioned where the Island Pharmacy was located, it was on the southwest corner of Pine Island Road and Porpoise Point Road. That is an empty lot today. A special thanks to Rowell on the delightful Facebook page Pine Island/Matlacha, Remembers when for pointing out the location for me.

We wish to acknowledge the Smithsonian Archives for its old photos of a soda jerk and the interior of a pharmacy, both of which may resemble what was in Matlacha.


For more history of Pine Island, visit the Museum of the Islands, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.

The museum is conveniently located next to the Pine Island Library at 5728 Sesame Drive off Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1525.

Tim Knox is the museum historian at the MOTI.



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