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Local writing book on Pine Island’s early years

By Staff | May 20, 2009

Dedicating his free time to collecting old photographs and visiting with folks who have called the barrier islands home, Capt. Kirk Walter is currently composing his first book.
Walter is a captain aboard the Tropic Star, which takes visitors and residents on excursions around Pine Island Sound. During each journey, Walter would tell his passengers tales of years gone by and the people and places that made up the area.
“Many people enjoyed my talks and felt that I should chronicle them in a book so that this part of history would not be lost,” he said. “After having spent a lifetime in the education field, the last thing I wanted to do was write a book, but I could see this part of history vanishing and decided to put what I have learned down on paper.”
The book is essentially a snapshot of an era that has attracted very little focus and is sure to be a learning experience for all who read the completed work. Walter said it is his intention to have his readers feel as though they are sitting in his boat and drifting around Pine Island Sound listening to tales about the history of the area.
“The original purpose was to give the reader an understanding of what life was like during the latter part of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. The approach I had in mind was to use oral histories straight from those who lived during that time period,” he said. “The flaw behind this initial approach is the fact that many of the folks who could have provided information have either been spirited away by God or by well-intentioned relatives who have taken their loved ones home, usually up north, and unfortunately they often move without leaving a forwarding address.”
According to Walter, his book captures the flavor of the places like Cabbage Key, Punta Blanco and Cayo Costa. The working title of the book is “Goat Boat,” which was inspired by a picture Walter is planning to use for the cover.
“The image I selected shows a boy and his sister along with two other girls and a goat. It is said that the goat would stand on the roof of one of the buildings at Collier Boat Works and when the school boat returned in the afternoon, the goat would jump off the boat to greet the children,” he said. “This may sound cute, but that wasn’t the case. The goat would head for the small children and try to butt them with his head while the older children would fend him off so that the smaller kids could flee to safety. This went on every day when the kids arrived home from school so I have dubbed him the ‘boat goat.'”
Walter has been fortunate enough to have met several people in the area who worked and lived in the area during that particular time in history.
“I had the good fortune to meet Taylor Stout, whose family started the first Inn on Cabbage Key and attended the school that once stood on Punta Blanco,” he said. “From that point it seemed that every person I spoke with would tell me their story and then refer me on to another person. The best part of researching this book has been the opportunity to meet these people and by the second visit, we have become friends.
“I even had a call recently from a woman whose husband I had interviewed to tell me that he was in the hospital,” Walter continued. “I told her that I would like to go visit him but I didn’t want him to think I was just trying to get more information. She said he would love for me to visit so I went to the hospital right away and we sat and chatted like old friends for at least 45 minutes.”
Finding it difficult to interview enough original residents, Walker is incorporating other sources into his book as well.
“This is now based on a mixture of firsthand accounts, excerpts from newspaper accounts, written documents from past and current residents, computer searches and materials from institutions such as Randell Research Center, the University of Florida at Gainesville, West Coast Inland Navigation District and the Museum of the Islands at Pine Island Center,” he said. “The Museum of the Islands is a true treasure trove of information.”
Walter also said his book will be valued for its educational and entertainment aspects, and is not to be considered a “scholarly” effort.
“This effort was never intended to be a scholarly work designed to meet university requirements or even high school requirements. It is meant to provide information about an area and some of the people who lived in that area,” he said. “It is designed to preserve a small piece of history. I’ve attempted to footnote whenever I had the information that was provided by a particular source and provide additional resources so that if readers desire to do more in-depth investigating, they can.”
In addition to speaking to more people who resided or had relatives or friends who lived and worked on the barrier islands during the early 1900s, Walter is also seeking photos from the era. He is particularly interested in photos of the school house that once stood on Punta Blanco and the buildings that once housed Collier Boat Works.
Those who would like to contribute to Walter’s project are encouraged to call him at 573-7245.