Pine Island and its surrounding islets have always been a world apart from the rest of Southwest Florida. For years, the islands were accessible only by boat, and many still are today. The building of a road bridge across tiny Matlacha to the mainland has linked the modern world to the islands, but has not spoiled their unique, off-the-beaten track character.

The Museum of the Islands, on Pine Island, is housed in what was once the island’s first (and only) public library, built by volunteers in the early 1960s. It contains artifacts, photos, historical documents and even a shell collection, and stands today as a small, but informative place that holds knowledge about the history of the pioneers and early settlers of Pine Island.

As has been established in this column about other places I’ve visited, it was not easy being one of the first people to live in this part of the world. There was no existing infrastructure (of course), the weather was stifling and the bugs were prevalent—and LARGE. But early Pine Island families, like the Padillas, who moved to the area from Mexico in the mid-1800s, persevered.

I learned in the museum that not surprisingly, Pine Island was not only a fishing village, but also relied heavily upon agriculture. There is an exhibit in the museum that features some antique farming equipment and one can only imagine how difficult it was to produce anything with those rudimentary tools, but those early settlers did it.

Before the Museum of the Islands opened, the St. Petersburg Museum donated to them a collection of antique showcases, crafted of wood and glass. Their presence gives the museum kind of a Victorian feel as you walk through it, and the space is bigger than it appears in the front.

There are showcases featuring period dress, jewelry and other artifacts, as well as family trees and photos from early families like the Padillas. There is even a portrait of George Washington made completely out of beads. It took Mrs. Sarah Kuster 10 years to complete it, which she did in 1874 as a gift for her daughter. And Flo Varner apparently excelled in her work with pine needles, which earned her many winning ribbons at the St. James Hobby Club Bazaars back in the day.

Seeing how resilient and talented those early Pine Island settlers were made me feel just a little inadequate. I can’t imagine that I have enough talent in any artistic field that my work would still be around in 100 plus years. And words on a page don’t count. You know that in another 100 years, we will all be communicating with our minds. I just saw it on an old “Twilight Zone” episode, so I know it’s true.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at


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