Sometimes the most important aspects of an area’s shared history are the easiest to forget, but when it comes to Estero, a dedicated group of people is working overtime to make sure that doesn’t happen.
At noon Saturday, The Estero Historical Society will hold its annual “Pioneer Picnic” at Estero Community Park to honor those hardy souls who — in many cases quite literally — helped pave the way for the present-day community that nearly 10,000 residents now call home.
Historical society member Sis Newberry said too many people often mistakenly link Estero’s origins to the arrival of the Koreshans, a religious group that settled in Estero in the late-1800s.
“That’s just not true,” Newberry said firmly. “The Koreshans were the Koreshans, and Estero was Estero. Newcomers don’t know the history of Estero and how rich it is. Between the grovesmen and the fishermen, those were the people who made Estero. It wasn’t the Koreshans, even though everybody thinks that. We’re fighting hard to retain our identity.”
Newberry said the picnic, which is open to the public, would feature storytelling intended to clear up the misconceptions about Estero’s beginnings.
“We like to tell stories,” Newberry said with a laugh. “It’s to honor people who were born and raised here — we’re trying to hold onto that. We’ve had an influx of a lot of new people into our little town, but we don’t want to lose the old people. We’ve been here a long time, and we like us. Of course we want the public to come out and meet these people.”
Newberry, a Lakeland native whose husband was born in Estero, said the community’s history is in danger of being forgotten largely because the segment most responsible for its establishment lacked the financial resources to etch its efforts into the collective consciousness.
“When people work hard to establish something and they don’t have a lot of money for plaques and buildings and boardwalks named after them, the public doesn’t know who they are,” said Newberry, the mother of five, grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of two. “These were everyday, hardworking folks who built the community with each other. If they needed a road, they’d make a road. Sandy Lane was just a way to get from Broadway to Corkscrew, and they made that road out of dirt. They established Estero with no real money to put a gold plaque anywhere. It’s important to remember them, because there’s a lot of money in Estero now, and we don’t want to be squashed. We don’t want to be forgotten. These were hardworking, wonderful people.”
Historical society member Mary Ann Weenen echoed Newberry’s sentiments.
“The Pioneer Picnic was started a couple of years ago to honor the past pioneers who settled in Estero,” Weenen said. “We have several families right here in Estero, and people will also be coming from other areas such as Georgia and northern Florida.”
Weenen said the importance of the original pioneers couldn’t be underscored enough.
“We decided it was time that these people, our forebears, were honored,” she said. “Without them, there would be no Estero. They’re different from the Koreshans. Some of them originally sent their children to Koreshan schools, but then they decided they didn’t like that and they go their own teacher and began educating their own children. The Koreshans played a big part, but we have a mixed group with all kinds of history. We want to honor everybody.”
Weenen said members of the public aren’t required to bring anything to the picnic, but are more than welcome to if they so choose.
“If they want to bring a dish to share, that would be great,” she said. “Last year, someone brought a plum cabbage, and there were other dishes that were staples 100-some-odd years ago. There will be a big variety of food, and we always have a great time. We’ll be the noisy ones — you can’t miss us.”
In the end, Weenen said, the day would be all about sharing fellowship with others.
“It’s a good day, a good afternoon,” she said. “You can make the acquaintance of different people and with the past. Everybody has a different story, and after it’s all said and done, you can sit down and try to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
For more information on the Estero Historical Society, visit www.esterohistoricalsociety.com.
Reach John Osborne at firstname.lastname@example.org.