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New book chronicles early history of Bonita Springs
By Mark S. Krzos   - 02/11/2009

News Press

Chris Wadsworth, a News-Press columnist, and Allison Fortuna, a local teacher and member of the Bonita Springs Historical Society, have teamed up to chronicle the early history of Bonita Springs in a new book released by Arcadia Publishing.

The book "Images of America: Bonita Springs" was released last month and the two authors will attend a book signing event and answer questions from 5-8 p.m. Friday at the Liles Hotel inside Bonita's Riverside Park.

Wadsworth said the book was borne out of a love for local history.

"I'm a history buff and always liked finding out more about where I live," he said. "I've seen these books by Arcadia for years now. They're not best-sellers, but they found that they can sell enough of them to make a profit."

Wadsworth said he then took a look at the communities and cities that other authors for Arcadia had covered and thought Bonita Springs would make a solid addition to the collection.

"They were the ones that suggested I get in touch with the Bonita Springs Historical Society," he said. "So I called up Charlie Strader and he was on board and then put me in touch with Allison.

"We spent all last summer researching, looking at old photographs and writing captions," he said.

What went into the book is mostly photos chronicling the people and places that shaped Bonita Springs for generations.

"We were looking for photos that were visually interesting," Wadsworth said. "But we also wanted to give people an idea of what Bonita looked like back then so they could how it has changed."

The photos that stood out the most for Wadsworth was the cover shot and the first photo inside.

"I think my favorite was the second photo in the book," said Wadsworth, describing the photo of a young boy sitting next to his mother aboard a small boar and peering into the mouth of a giant snook.

The boy in the photo is the recently-retired and former Bonita Springs Fire-Rescue Chief Dan Gourley.

"I thought that photo of mother and son was really emblematic of old Bonita," he said. "We really wanted it for the cover, but we knew we couldn't use it because of the shape of the photo."

The cover photo was more of a mystery. It shows five people smiling in front of a chickee hut near the water.

"I really liked it because the people are smiling and they don't look dour like a lot of the Arcadia covers," Wadsworth said. "But we didn't know who any of the people in the photo were."

So Wadsworth and Fortuna went to longtime Bonita historian Jean Hogue and asked her if she knew.

"She said, 'Well, that's my mother and my uncle,'" Wadsworth recalled. "She got really choked up when we told her that was going to be the cover."

Inside the book, readers will find photos of a near desolate Bonita Beach, plenty of photos of the Everglades Wonder Gardens, the Liles Hotel, Bonita Springs Elementary School, the Imperial River, pioneering families and the devastation brought to Bonita by a wicked hurricane by the name of Donna.

"It's not supposed to be an exhaustive history of Bonita Springs," Wadsworth said. "It's meant to be more like a family album of Bonita."

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