Lit­tle Yel­low House, a base­ball toss from Mid­point Bridge

RSWLiving - - Contents - BY GLENN MILLER Free­lance writer Glenn Miller is pres­i­dent of the South­west Florida His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, 10091 McGre­gor Blvd., Fort My­ers. 239-939-4044, swfl­his­tor­i­cal­so­ci­

Lit­tle Yel­low House, a base­ball toss from Mid­point Bridge

I’m sit­ting at a large con­fer­ence table in the small Sara Nell Re­search Room of the South­west Florida His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety on a mild spring Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

His­tory is all around me, vir­tu­ally jump­ing out, scream­ing to be no­ticed. On the walls. On shelves. In fil­ing cab­i­nets. In dis­play cases. Ev­ery­where. Crammed into what so­ci­ety mem­bers lov­ingly call the Lit­tle Yel­low House on the cam­pus of the Lee County Al­liance for the Arts in Fort My­ers, we pre­serve his­tory.

We have bound vol­umes of The News-Press go­ing back decades. There are lo­cal maps and his­tor­i­cal quar­ter­lies and thou­sands upon thou­sands of pho­tos of ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­body, from Thomas Edi­son to glad­i­o­lus farms, from Henry Ford to Terry Park.

I’m cur­rently the South­west Florida His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s pres­i­dent. It’s a sa­cred duty help­ing to pre­serve South­west Florida his­tory and what we do to­day wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with­out pre­vi­ous board mem­bers.

I like to think of our or­ga­ni­za­tion as ei­ther the grand­fa­ther or grand­mother of re­gional his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties. We’ve been around since the early 1960s and the files we’ve built ex­ist be­cause of the ded­i­ca­tion of peo­ple vol­un­teer­ing be­fore us, who saved pho­tos, maps and news­pa­per clip­pings. They didn’t do it for money. We don’t do it for money. We’re a small non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion op­er­at­ing en­tirely by vol­un­teers. We do it be­cause we love his­tory and South­west Florida. We spend time in the Lit­tle Yel­low House keep­ing his­tory alive and shar­ing it with re­searchers or the merely cu­ri­ous. Our re­search cen­ter is prac­ti­cally at the foot of the Mid­point Memo­rial Bridge. One could stand by our back steps and eas­ily throw a base­ball to a ramp lead­ing to the bridge.

On a re­cent Satur­day three peo­ple no­ticed our door open and wan­dered in to look through the Lit­tle Yel­low House. Only

one of the three spoke English. She ex­plained they were from Cze­choslo­vakia, which I know is now split into two coun­tries― Slo­vakia and the Czech Repub­lic. I don’t re­call which of the two is their home. I showed them around and re­galed and per­haps even bored them with his­tory anec­dotes.

That’s what we did over the win­ter when a Texas writer named Jeff Guinn popped in to re­search a book. That’s what we did when a film crew from the Tampa Bay area vis­ited, seek­ing pho­tos on Fort My­ers’ spring train­ing his­tory. Leg­endary au­thor Wil­liam Faulkner said a long time ago, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”

We keep South­west Florida’s past alive in the Lit­tle Yel­low House, which has been on the Al­liance cam­pus since 1984. The build­ing was moved here from Cot­tage Street in down­town Fort My­ers where it had pre­vi­ously been the Fried­man Law Of­fice. I’ve been on the board for three years and prior to that of­ten popped in to re­search his­tory sto­ries. Every visit re­veals some­thing dif­fer­ent.

I just walked across the room and took a binder off a shelf of 1917 news­pa­per clip­pings from what was then called The

Fort My­ers Press. On Oct. 17, 1917, there was an ad for a Mary Pick­ford silent movie called The Pride of the Clan. It was play­ing at the Ar­cade Theatre, which still stands and is now the home of the Florida Reper­tory Com­pany.

Our shelves are brim­ming, pos­i­tively groan­ing un­der the weight of books. Our col­lec­tion in­cludes Fort My­ers city di­rec­to­ries dat­ing back to the 1920s, Fort My­ers High School year­books go­ing back to 1914. There are nov­els and mem­oirs and ref­er­ence books.

We’re open only a few hours a week but there is no ad­mis­sion charge. His­tory is free.

But keep­ing the lights on is not free. We have bills to pay. Elec­tric­ity and wa­ter, rent and in­ter­net, inkjet car­tridges and prin­ter pa­per. We don’t re­ceive gov­ern­ment funds. The doors re­main open through do­na­tions, grants and mem­ber­ship fees. Even board mem­bers pay mem­ber­ship dues. We’re not here to make money. We’re here pre­serv­ing his­tory for the next re­searcher or stu­dent to walk through our doors seek­ing an­swers to a South­west Florida his­tory ques­tion. Or maybe just cu­ri­ous tourists from Slo­vakia. Or was that the Czech Repub­lic?

The Lit­tle Yel­low House is spe­cial to all of us. A fel­low board mem­ber de­scribed it as a “sanc­tu­ary.” It’s where we pre­serve his­tory, which isn’t dead and isn’t even in the past, at least here by the Mid­point Bridge, in the Lit­tle Yel­low House, a place with a big mis­sion, one we con­sider sa­cred.

Every visit re­veals some­thing dif­fer­ent.

The Lit­tle Yel­low House stores a trove of maps, his­tor­i­cal quar­ter­lies, news­pa­per clip­pings and thou­sands of photographs.

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