Title: Tropicalia history: Author captures history of Lee County islands
Author: JL Watson
The faces peer out from the pages, some serious, some comical.
Early photographers captured life on Lee County islands when many of the residents, and the technology that captured that time, were new. The photos in "Lee County Islands" recount a time when life moved at a slower pace, and residents fought daily battles with mosquitoes and the Florida heat.
Author and Pine Island resident Mary Kaye Stevens researched the history of local islands after completing her first book, "Pine Island," in 2008.
"I thought, this will be easy now that I did the first one," Stevens said. "Little did I realize how difficult it would be to get to all these islands."
Some, like Cabbage Key, are only accessible by boat. Others, such as Boca Grande, are accessible by car but require a lengthy trip to get there.
Stevens met with museum employees and family members of the islands' founding residents and made some surprising discoveries: St. James City was the first town in Florida to rely on tourism to support the local economy.
"That was even before Miami," Stevens said.
Thomas Edison, President Theodore Roosevelt and author Zane Grey stayed on Pine Island and took advantage of the area's tarpon fishing.
Mosquitoes were so thick on the islands that one family played the nightly "mosquito game," which required the children to kill as many of the insects as possible, gather them into piles and let their father judge who had the biggest pile and was that night's winner.
Many of the residents' concerns were the same as they are today, but people then didn't have the advantage of 21st-century technology or conveniences. The photos show people who wore long sleeves, even in the summer, and island residents whose only mode of transportation to connect with the mainland was a boat.
"Words can connect generations and experiences," Stevens said. "Even though the captions are brief, there's so much information there that points to how much we're alike."
Julie Talmage read the book and likened it to a local history lesson.
"I didn't know about the African-American school on Boca Grande," she said. "She does a good job of taking historical information, making it very personal, making the people very real."
Talmage said the book also gives a voice to people who were instrumental in settling the area, but whose lives were not previously documented in such a public way.
"It makes hometown people ... stars," Talmage said. "In their own right they created so much history. It's intriguing how much has been going on here that no one knew about."
Tiffany Qurollo said she liked hearing Stevens share stories of local people.
"It takes you back in time," she said.
Qurollo said that Stevens does a good job of connecting with audiences when she tells the stories that she learned from her research.
"She's such a good listener and a good story- teller, and you get them together and you get to the heart of what she's saying. This is a great companion to the first book."
Title: "Lee County Islands"
Author: Capt. Chick Melfi
Publisher: Nautical Mile Magazine
Date: February 2010
"Lee County Islands" authored by Mary Kay Stevens is a grand historical documentary, highlighted by a collection of exceptional photos of the past. It is one of the many Images of America series published by Arcadia publishing, the leading local history publisher in the United States. As one travels through the airports of this country, there are usually displays of Arcadia's Images of America, that reflect the local area.
Lee County is located in the heart of Southwest Florida and is surrounded by many Islands of all sizes and shapes, which have unique historical stories to tell. The history goes back as far as 500BC when the famed Calusa Indians inhabited many of the islands, through the days that the Spaniard Juan Ponce De Leon explored the area, and times when legendary pirates called them home.
Today, much of the natural beauty has been preserved for current day visitors and residents to enjoy. They are some of the most pristine tropical Islands in North America.
Pine Island is one of the largest, including the Key West like Matlacha. Sanibel may be the best known to tourists for it's shelling, as well as the outer Islands of Captiva, Cayo Costa and Gasparilla being more remote slender stretches along the Gulf of Mexico with beautiful sandy beaches. Estero Island, home of Ft Myers Beach, crowds with tourists and spring breakers through the winter months, offering many restaurants and a great fishing pier. Pine Island sound hosts private island Useppa which has a rich history that is reflected in it's Historical Society's Museum, as well as Cabbage Key that boasts, being the place that Jimmy Buffet penned his hit song "Cheeseburger in Paradise".
One of the single largest draws to these Islands going back into the 1800's is the Tarpon fishing. Tarpon also known as the Silver King has had an allure to the rich and famous through the years, continuing to today. The best known Tarpon area in the world is Boca Grande Islands. Every May through July the huge Tarpon migrate along the coast of Southwest Florida, just like clockwork. It is very entertaining, just watching the many fishing boats that drift the pass, fighting this great sport fish. Sometimes they actually leap out of the water and bang up against the sides of some of the fishing boats. Saltwater fishing in the area is very diverse for many species, which throughout the years has provided a livelihood for many residents and provided great seafood meals for all.
I love old photos, as they tell such a big part of stories and are preserved forever. Mary Kay deftly placed the photos in her book, flowing along with her writing. She was able to capture stories of generations of families that continue their lives as residents of the Lee County Islands and those to come back to their roots to visit from time to time. Her being a teacher for many years in the Lee county school system, receiving the teacher of the year award 1997, as well as the golden apple award winner gave her the perfect background to continue teaching in the historical book series.
Mary Kaye and her family reside in St James City on Pine Island and have been in this area since 1972. Her and her
husband were school sweethearts in Mitchell, S. Dakota, before marrying & eventually settling in Southwest Florida.
"Lee County Islands" is Mary Kaye Stevens second book in the Images of America Series, following "Pine Island". I look forward to more of her work.
History portrayed in "Lee County Islands" in a very enjoyable read and is entertaining, as well as informative to residents and visitors alike. There are tidbits from all the Islands and the people who inhabited them. I highly recommend it.
Title: Island Life As We Knew It: Author Mary Kaye Stevens
Author: Staff Writer
Publisher: Gulf Coast Times
Date: January 2010
Mary Kaye Stevens is an incredible storyteller.
Her time spent on the road and on boat rides, visiting places and talking to people is helping shape the future of our area and that’s because Stevens words and images live through the memories of the Lee County Islands.
As a part of the Images of America series published by Arcadia Publishing, Stevens Lee County Islands explores the rich history of the barrier islands skirting Pine Island Sound.
For this author, it is the second book of this kind and it just keeps getting more and more interesting, she says.
“My curiosity and interest in local history brought me to the point of writing about it,” Stevens says. “I believe words can cross time and distance, connecting people of different generations, ages and experiences. But the vintage images tell a story that I hope will inspire readers to preserve their own histories, as well as those of their community’s.”
A native of South Dakota, Stevens’ interest in our area developed while walking down an airport concourse. On her way to visit family in the Midwest, the author spotted the Images of America series on a display and couldn’t put the book down.
“On the flight home, I told my husband, ‘Pine Island needs one of these books. I think I could write it!’,” she recounts. “When we arrived home, I went online to learn about Arcadia Publishing’s book proposal process. And before I even unpacked our suitcases, I had sent off a proposal for my first book, Pine Island.”
Much like in her first book, the Lee County Islands paperback captures the colorful history of this area with more than 200-vintage photographs and information collected from multigenerational island families and local museums.
Covering the history of Pine Island, Estero, Useppa, Gasparilla, Captiva and Upper Captiva and much more, this book was a full time job. Stevens spent long hours exploring the archives of our libraries, museums, historical societies and family collections. She met “real characters” that developed the visual stories she saw in gathered photographs and answered many questions about the identity of our area.
Information in the book goes as far back as the 1800s. Tales of Ponce de Leon, the Calusa Indians, hardscrabble pioneers, famous anglers like Thomas Edison and Teddy Roosevelt, writers such as Richard Powell and Mary Roberts Rinehart, and our beautiful beaches abound the pages of Lee County Islands.
“Vintage images fill each and every page with intrigue,” says Stevens. “The biggest challenge for me was to deliver historical information to the reader in a succinct and entertaining format. But although brief, the accompanying captions are packed with little known trivia and facts pertaining to the area.”
Currently, Stevens is enjoying her days sharing accounts and time with her fans at book signings around town. She is also thrilled to already be hard at work on another book, which she says will include more current photos and a new twist.