MARCO ISLAND — Hundreds of people descended on the Calusa Indian village of Marco Island Thursday night.
Greeting the approximate 300 visitors to the Marco Island Historical Museum complex, which is being constructed to resemble the elevated shell mounds and water surroundings of Marco’s yesteryears, were several community leaders, including Harriet Bedell, the Episcopalian Deaconess sharing stories of her missionary work for the Calusas in the Everglades beginning in the 1930s.
A closer look at Bedell revealed it was actually the modern-day leader in the historical community, Marion Nicolay.
“I just think it’s so fascinating. It looks so real. I’m really into the Incas, the Mayas and the Calusa Indians, studying them. I absolutely love it,” said Priscilla Tyson, a former Marco resident visiting from her new home outside Ocala.
“It’s going to look like you’re upon your own little Calusa Island here,” Tyson added.
Visitors were pleasantly surprised at how far the Marco museum’s construction has come since the first walls went up in early 2009.
“It’s phenomenal. I saw the property before it was developed and when I saw the plans, I said ‘no way,’ ” said Jere Fluno of Marco.
“You still have to visualize some of it because there isn’t all the water surrounding it yet,” he added.
Although there aren’t many artifacts in the museum, and the complex will open later than some hoped due to the hurdle of raising money for exhibits, most visitors were pleased to see unique architectural details in the approximate $4.5 million construction project.
“The museum is not just what’s on the inside. Here, it’s on the outside as well. When you walk here, you immediately feel like you’re a Calusa,” said Patty Carnes, a member of the Marco Island Historical Society board.
Karen Saeks of Marco was similarly pleased, considering that despite changes from a grand opening to more of a soft opening, there was plenty to see.
“It’s enough of a show for now and I understand fully they couldn’t have all the exhibits. It actually allowed them to have more people here,” Saeks said.
Most of the people present at the sneak peek event were donors to the project and watched it develop from a dream several years ago to a reality.
“My father, Lee Lindberg (former President of the Marco Island Historical Society) was the guy who gathered the snow, made the snowball and pushed it down the hill,” said Cheri Vollhaber of Minnesota.
There were many people with stories like that, sharing pride in the community project.
“I know how hard they’ve worked for what we have. We have a such unique culture here and history to tell. Maybe when the recession turns around, Collier County will be able to step up and donate some more money. Clearly, by the number of people here, they feel the same way,” said Marielle Kitchener of Naples.
The museum will be open for community use throughout the year, said new Marco Island Historical Society President Craig Woodward. A full grand opening with exhibits may be next winter, when the height of tourist season returns and after more money has been secured, said Bill Perdichizzi of the historical society.
Art, architecture and a time capsule filled with recently collected artifacts are among the features visitors can feast their eyes on for now.
Among the art, is a six-foot bronze Calusa Cat by artist Carl Wagner of Naples, which was unveiled on the shell mound Thursday evening.
Fine hard woods, thatched roofs and shell components throughout the architecture of the three buildings, all of which set elevated on the shell mound surrounded by meandering water, make the museum unique to the county.
“Marco Island is unique. The story is unique too ... And we are the only ones in the country who will tell it,” said Alan Sandlin.