Tom Hanson: What's so historic about old houses in Bonita?


The sign coming into the city reads: Welcome to The Historic Bonita Springs.

What’s so historic? If there was a historical tour of Bonita Springs, there would be one guarantee. It would be short.

Bonita Springs just doesn’t have much history. It’s a fishing village that even changed its original name from Survey to become a tourist trap and a retirement community. The lack of a significance hasn’t stopped properties from being deemed historical.

The city compiled a report that lists 300-plus structures, buildings and homes that are eligible to become historic. Nineteen have been designated voluntarily by their owners as historic.

But are they historic or just old?

Give me, “Teddy Roosevelt slept here,” or, “Thomas Edison put down a few cold ones there after inventing the light bulb.” I’d even take, “One of the Bushes went to the bathroom here.” But many of these homes are nothing but dumps.

My opinion was a bit swayed after taking a tour of the sights with Charlie Strader, the president of the Bonita Springs Historical Society.

The first stop was the Nutting House on the southwest corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Tennessee Street. Strader pointed out the impressive Miami-Dade pine that allowed the house to be moved to its current spot. Once inside, the original cypress wood framed walls and floors were both nostalgic and refreshing.

I asked Terry Schmidt, the master carpenter working for owner Chris Busk on the project: “But did Betty Crocker cook in this kitchen?”

Schmidt put me in my place showing me a board with the name E.T. Nutting carved on it. He explained that Nutting was an original citrus farmer in town. Now, I must agree that this is historic.

“It’s very possible that Edison or (Henry) Ford got drunk in here,” Schmidt said. “Because back then there was a very small population down here and everyone kind of knew everyone.”

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Busk has put more than $500,000 into the Nutting House restoration. Strader said that’s a great value. “This house will appreciate more than the next McMansion built down the street,” Strader said.

But will history buffs appreciate the renovation of a home built into the 1920s?

Talking about something built in the 1920s, Bonita Springs Elementary isn’t on the list. Yes, it’s on the national list but shouldn’t that be one our beloved treasures? Strader agreed.

At first glance, the Bowers Briggs House on Dean Street should be demolished instead of being moved around the corner to make room for the new Imperial Parkway. The roof is falling in. The porch is ready to crumble. But then you hear the story that Al Capone may have — and I’ll emphasize may have — stayed here and you may reconsider.

Strader and I came to an agreement that what the city is trying to do is preserve a sense of community. There is nothing wrong with that. But don’t call it historic. Some of the structures aren’t even original to Bonita Springs. There’s the Haldeman House that came from Naples.

And saving 300 structures might be too much. If that’s the case we might as well change to sign to: Welcome to Old Bonita Springs.

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E-mail Tom Hanson at

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