Still enjoying the notoriety gained with the success of her book "Images of America: Pine Island," St. James City author Mary Kaye Stevens is set to launch her new book, "Images of America: Lee County Islands," later this month.
As a part of the "Images of America" series published by Arcadia Publishing, "Lee County Islands" explores the rich history of the barrier islands skirting Pine Island Sound. Much like her first book, Stevens spent countless hours collecting photographs and conducting interviews with multigenerational island families to compete her project.
"I spent a lot of the time on the road as well as on boat rides, visiting various places and talking to a lot of people," said Stevens. "As a result, I have made a lot of new friends and got to hear a lot of amazing stories."
A former educator, Stevens has always had a fondness for history.
"I have always loved reading, visiting museums and listening to stories," Stevens said. "I had the opportunity to meet some real characters and enjoyed every minute of research. It was very rewarding to get to know more about the islands and if I had not been so familiar with Useppa, I would say it was perhaps the most interesting, however, I knew very little about Estero, so I actually found it to be the most interesting."
Stevens said she worked on her project at least 40 hours a week over the course of seven months. Her book covers the history of the main islands in Pine Island Sound, Gasparilla, Cayo Costa, Captive and Upper Captive, Sanibel, Estero, Pine Island and Useppa, as well as some of Lee County's keys and lesser islands. The photos and stories collected by Stevens date as far back as the 1800s and much of her information came in a variety of forms.
"I began by having an announcement in the Pine Island Eagle looking for people who are mulitgenerational residents. Then I spent time exploring the archives of several historical societies on each of he islands as well as museums and libraries," Stevens said. "Of particular interest to me were the photos and stories about the school boats and when and why many of the schools were closed. Some of those I spoke with talked openly while others were very reserved. I found I needed to be very flexible and had to go to where the pictures took me, but it was worth getting to turn these stories into the words in a book. I also learned that while all of the islands share a lot in common, over the decades they have still been able to maintain their own identities."
Once "Images of America: Lee County Islands" appears on bookshelves, Stevens will by kept busy with book signings and lecturing engagements. The first of which will be at Barnes and Noble on Dec. 1.
"I find the book signings and lectures to be very exciting. I actually have more materials than I could use for the book, so these events provide an opportunity to share them with people who want to learn more about the islands," said Stevens. "Getting to return to writing about Pine Island, I also was able to use some material that I didn't have room for in the first book and I was able to write more on the Honc family and their long rich history on the island."
Another aspect of intrigue for Stevens was not just the people, but some of the items captured in the photos.
"In one photo there is a family heading toward the mainland in a small boat. I noticed a little girl holding a teddy bear that looked familiar and after doing some research found that it was a Steiff bear which would indicate that this particular family was very affluent," Stevens said. "In the center of another photo there is a metal Coca Cola cooler and after looking it up I was able to accurately date the image."
Containing 129 images, "Lee County Islands," a soft cover book, retails for $21.99, and companion postcards cost of $7.99 for a package of 15. The book and postcards will be available through Arcadia Publishing by visiting: arcadiapublishing.com or calling (888) 313-2665. "Pine Island" and "Lee County Islands" can also be found at Barnes and Noble, the Museum of the Islands on Pine Island, One for the Book on Del Prado Boulevard in Cape Coral and via the Internet on the Amazon or Borders Web sites.