People visit Matlacha Island every day, but only a handful are mindful of our unique history and heritage.
Prior to 1926, there really wasn’t an island here in Matlacha. Rather, there was a collection of mangroves, and then fill was dredged up from Matlacha Pass in order to create a bridge and roadway connecting Pine Island to the mainland.
As an island was created to support the roadway and the approaches to the bridge, people came to make homes on the fill. Why would anyone do that? Well, shortly after the bridge was completed, the stock market crashed. The Great Depression followed.
As the Great Depression worsened, people lost their jobs, their livelihoods and then their homes. It’s impossible to be homeless anywhere, but it’s deadly to find yourself homeless in the northern states during the dead of winter. And so unemployed, homeless, down-on-their-luck northerns started making their way south. Some found their way to the new isthmus of land which became known, appropriately, as The Fill.
Some lived in their cars. Others lived in tents. The lucky ones pieced together shacks and shanties with thatched roofs in between the mangroves that lined our shores. While their living quarters weren’t great, the fish and oysters that lived in our local waters were abundant. With no jobs or income, having an assured source of food spelled the difference between life and death.
But the folks who settled Matlacha weren’t esteemed as pioneers. To the contrary, they were labeled squatters and the police tried to make them leave. They refused. They persisted. They fought for every inch of soil they reclaimed from nature in those difficult years between 1929 and the start of World War II. Every day was a struggle. But eventually, they earned the right to keep and to homestead the land on which they settled.
With this, then, as background, we Matlachans prize our independence. We also zealously protect every mangrove, every shoal, and every inch of our one mile by one mile island. No, we’re not true-huggers or liberal conservationists. Quite the opposite. What’s important to us is maintaining our unique small time, old town character, first as a community of crusty old hardboiled shrimpers and mullet fishermen and now as quirky but tough-minded artists, musicians and authors.
Of course, we find ourselves under siege from a number of sources. Cape Coral wants to annex sections of Pine Island Road leading into and out of the island. There’s also a matter of the environment. For decades, Cape Coral has allowed developers to dredge canals that empty into the waters surrounding Matlacha and Pine Island. The water from these canals has changed the salinity of our waters and stormwater run-off that enters these canals contains staggering concentrations of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. Mixed and mingled with the nutrient-laden freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee, the water from Cape Coral’s canals has reduced the number of fish produced during spawning season in our estuaries, ruined our fishing and killed off the scallop and oyster beds that once thrived in our waters.
But we just don’t treasure what we have out here on Matlacha Island. We’re proud of what we’ve built as well. And we want to share it not only with family and friends, but visitors and other guests.
So, come pay us a visit. We’ll make you feel welcome and we’ll do all that we can to make your visit memorable. And when you come, by all means spend time at Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens. You’ll have a really good time.
Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens is located at 4637 Pine Island Road, Matlacha, FL 33993. We are open 11:00 a.m. t0 6:00 p.m. most days. But call ahead to check on hours and availability. Our number is 239-938-5655.