Mound House

Es­tero Is­land’s con­nec­tion to the past

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY TOM HALL

As shells crunch crisply be­neath their de­signer sneak­ers, a group of vis­i­tors walk and lis­ten in­tently to do­cents Bill and Su­san Grace as they weave spell­bind­ing tales about the plants, ar­chi­tec­ture and ar­chae­ol­ogy of Mound House. Es­tero Is­land’s old­est stand­ing struc­ture, this cul­tural site that rests on an an­cient Calusa In­dian mound has be­come a trea­sured and well- pre­served link to the past.

In 1906 Wil­liam and Milia Case built the quaint Tu­dor- style wood struc­ture, start­ing with just a kitchen and din­ing room. At the time they were re­sid­ing on a house­boat and needed a place to cook. Three years later, they added a liv­ing room, brick fire­place and a sec­ond- story sleep­ing loft. In 1921, rum run­ner and casino owner Capt. Jack DeLysle en­grafted an en­tire sec­ond story and built an over­size tiled bath­room con­sid­ered out­ra­geous at the time. He ex­panded the up­stairs bed­rooms and wrapped the north and east sides of the up­per level with a porch to take full ad­van­tage of the bird’s- eye view of Man­tan­zas Pass. The scope of DeLysle’s ren­o­va­tions is in­trigu­ing given that he never ac­tu­ally owned the property.

For more than 1,100 years, Calusa In­di­ans made their home on this sec­tion of Es­tero Is­land, build­ing an el­e­vated mound out of oys­ter shells as a place of honor for their chiefs, nobles, mil­i­tary lead­ers and high priests. In the 1700s, Cuban fisher folk es­tab­lished ranchos on the site, dry­ing and salt­ing drum, pom­pano, sea trout and tur­tle for ex­port to Spain. Safe from high tides and storm surge, the mound’s el­e­va­tion is un­doubt­edly what first at­tracted the Cases and in­duced them to make the lo­ca­tion their per­ma­nent home.

“Mound House has had this tremen­dous draw and served as an epi­cen­ter dur­ing all these dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods,” notes ar­chae­ol­o­gist Theresa Schober, who served as Mound House’s ini­tial ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “So [ fol­low­ing its ac­qui­si­tion in 2000 by the town of Fort My­ers Beach] we looked at the var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties of people who would have an in­ter­est in the site and made a

con­certed ef­fort to tell Mound House’s story through mul­ti­ple me­dia.”

Schober and her de­sign team set­tled on four in­ter­lock­ing dis­ci­plines. First was ethno- botan­i­cal land­scap­ing. David Sacks, de­scribed by Schober as the most phenom­e­nal land­scape ar­chi­tect on the planet, and a team of re­search in­terns chose 120 species to pro­vide vis­i­tors with a walk through time ex­pressed in plant­ings. “When you go to a typ­i­cal botan­i­cal gar­den, all you get is the species name and some­thing about the plant’s philo­log­i­cal ori­gin,” Schober ex­plains. At Mound House, do­cents also tell vis­i­tors how the plants were used in the past. The Calusa, for ex­am­ple, made nee­dles and thread from the spiny mar­gin and heavy spike of century plant leaves; they made mats and bas­kets from cab­bage palms and traps for song­birds from the sticky sap of gumbo limbo trees.

Sec­ond, the Shell Mound Ex­hibit was cre­ated. When re­mov­ing the house’s swim­ming pool, which the last own­ers of the Mound House, Wil­liam and Florence

Long, built in 1958, a swatch of an­cient Calusa shell mound, 65 feet long and 7 feet deep, was ex­posed. Rather than pre­sent­ing un­ex­plained strata of oys­ter shells and earth, the ex­hibit treats vis­i­tors to an au­dio- vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence that in­cludes a light- syn­chro­nized 12- minute video. The ex­hibit also fea­tures a mu­ral. Artists stud­ied the mem­oirs writ­ten by Her­nando de Es­calante Fon­taneda, who lived in cap­tiv­ity among the Calusa for 18 years af­ter be­ing ship­wrecked at the age

of 13. The in­for­ma­tion they gleaned from his mem­oirs— what the Calusa wore, how they built their struc­tures, how and what they cooked, and how their so­ci­ety was

con­structed— is de­picted in the mu­ral. Thirdly the team fo­cused on his­toric preser­va­tion. With funds from the Florida Di­vi­sion of His­tor­i­cal Re­sources, the res­i­dence and garage are be­ing re­stored back to their 1921 con­fig­u­ra­tion and grandeur. When com­pleted in the fall of 2014, the res­i­dence will house mu­seum-

FOR MORE THAN 1,100 YEARS, CALUSA IN­DI­ANS MADE THEIR HOME ON THIS SEC­TION OF ES­TERO IS­LAND, BUILD­ING AN EL­E­VATED MOUND OUT OF OYS­TER SHELLS

AS A PLACE OF HONOR FOR THEIR CHIEFS, NOBLES, MIL­I­TARY LEAD­ERS AND HIGH PRIESTS. Mound House over­looks Man­tan­zas Pass, where vis­i­tors meet at pic­nic ta­bles for

a one- hour tour of the his­toric site.

Do­cent Su­san Grace tells sto­ries about life on the mound as she es­corts guests through the Sub­ter­ranean Shell Mound Ex­hibit. Be­low: Land­scap­ing plants were care­fully selected to match the his­tory of Mound House.

Back in the days be­fore air con­di­tion­ing, the sec­ond- story porch al­lowed in­hab­i­tants of the Mound House to en­joy cool­ing breezes off the wa­ter.

From left: Mound House sup­port­ers, Ju­dith Cas­sidy and Peg Egan, with ar­chae­ol­o­gist and co- cu­ra­tor Theresa Schober at the re­cent ArtCalusa Ex­hibit.

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