The Marco Island Historical Society groundbreaking was held Saturday, March 15 on South Heathwood Drive across from the Marco Island Library. Watch »
Saturday was an appropriately historic day for Marco, as ground was broken for the building that will one day house the remnants of the island’s history.
It has been a long time in the making, but it is a beginning of sorts for the Marco Island Historical Museum. The seeds have been planted, a group of deeply committed citizens have nurtured and cared for it, and though it has a ways to go before it can bear fruit, volunteers and supporters expressed elation and excitement Saturday to see the first buds appear.
A bustling invitation-only crowd gathered across the street from the Marco Island branch of the Collier County Public Library to toast the start of construction for a new three-building facility, the fifth museum under county management that many have anticipated as the “jewel” of the system. The name was revealed Saturday, chosen by donors Jon and Sonja Laidig, whose $1.5 million donation to the $4.5 million campaign helped the project surge ahead to $3.1 million raised just at the end of 2007.
Florida State Senator Burt Saunders and Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala were both present to show their avid support for a project they said they have followed through the half decade or so it has taken to reach its most recent milestone.
“I feel like I was with it from the very start,” Fiala said. “The reason I have such a passion for it is this is where the history of Collier County began. Our county is playing a great role in this by donating the land, and afterwards, we’ll run it for them, we’ll carry the insurance, we’ll staff it.”
When, four years ago, a handful of members from the Marco Island Historical Society approached Fiala to ask for $25,000 from tourist tax collections, she helped find something infinitely more significant. The land adjacent to the library on S. Heathwood Drive, valued at about $3.4 million, was pledged to the project at the start.
“I don’t know of any other organization in Collier County that the commission has pledged to give them ($3.4 million) before the start of the campaign,” Fiala said in her comments during the ceremony.
Saunders, like Fiala, expressed a deep appreciation for the tireless efforts of the historical society, which still must work to raise $1.4 million to complete the whole complex. Among the 67,000 nonprofit organizations registered in Florida, the Marco Island Historical Society stands out as a special group.
“Southwest Florida is the best place to represent in the state of Florida, and it’s not because of the beautiful beaches or the golf courses — though that helps — but it’s because of the wonderful people,” Saunders said to the crowd, capping off the afternoon’s scheduled comments.
Saunders, who was a member of the Florida State House of Representatives when Marco Island became a city, said the museum is not only important because of the unique history of Marco, but it is important for the growth of Marco Island as well.
“I think it’s important for the maturity of the city to have a museum to record the history of the city,” he said.
For Betsy Perdichizzi, co-chair of the society’s capital campaign, the day was filled with emotion.
“This is a significant day in Marco Island history, because Tommie Barfield had a community center, and the island has finally come together to build a museum,” Perdichizzi said. “This day would make Tommie Barfield very proud.”
As society member and pilot Dick Sherman buzzed overhead in his small plane, waving at the celebrants, Perdichizzi paused to collect herself and wave back at the plane. She walked around the ceremony with an ever-present grin, shaking hands and sharing congratulations.
While she still has work to do and funds to raise, the hardest part is over, and it is nearly time for her to hand the remaining work to the county. Once the facility is built, the county will take over responsibility for staffing, maintenance and insurance.
Ron Jamro, director of museums for Collier County, said on Saturday that the historical society simplified his job, taking true ownership of the project and working without pause to make a museum on Marco possible.
“I have never seen a historical society that was so committed,” Jamro said. “They’ve made it easy. The lion’s share of the work is done.”
Survey work on the site will begin in the coming weeks, with the construction to begin in June or July. The buildings will begin to be raised in late 2008 to early 2009, with the main building slated to be complete by late 2009.
The entire complex will consist of three buildings, one main structure, a second “living history hall” for meetings and performances and a third administrative building. That third building will be constructed as the funds become available. All buildings in the complex will be connected by walkways, partially encircling a man-made lagoon.
County Public Services Administrator Marla Ramsey said this will be the first museum facility that is ready to serve the public from the get-go. Other museum sites in Collier County, such as the Naples Depot, have been acquired and are continuing works in progress as the county makes them more suitable as historical sites to support regular traffic.
“Every museum in the county has a different theme,” Ramsey said. “Each one of the themes is a little bit different in that it brings in the different elements. The theme in and of itself is going to bring a lot of attraction to this area.”
The Marco Island Historical Museum will place an emphasis on archaeology and the recovered artifacts of this area. To drive that point home, a special surprise awaited the dozen people who lent a hand to turn the first shovels full of dirt at the site: “artifacts” were placed in each plot where they dug their shovels in.
Those wielding shovels delighted to find old conch shells just beneath the soil — a promise of the many more artifacts that would find their way home as the Marco Island Historical Museum becomes a reality.