By Gary Mooney
While the iconic Mound House on Fort Myers Beach traces its history back over 2,000 years to the ancient Calusa Indians, the first-ever publication about the museum complex is brand new! Noted author Patrick McKeown recently released “The Mound House: The Crown Jewel of Fort Myers Beach!”
McKeown is Professor Emeritus in the Management Information Systems (MIS) Department in the Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia, of which he was the founding department head. He authored or coauthored over 30 textbooks in management science, computer science, and management information systems. Pat retired in 2003 to Fort Myers Beach to enjoy fishing, biking, reading and becoming a Mound House Docent. Married to Carolyn for over 50 years, they have a son, daughter, and two grandchildren. While he wrote many textbooks, this is Pat’s first historical foray.
“While Carolyn and I moved to Fort Myers Beach in 2003,” he recalled, “we had just minimal knowledge about the Mound House. About three years ago, however, we took the Mound Key boat tour, then went through the Mound House underground archeological exhibit, and I found it all so fascinating that I applied to become a volunteer and Museum Docent, as I actually love history more than many aspects of my professional career. I grew up in Florida and my Dad was a historian, so we talked all the time about Florida history, and not many places have a longer Florida history then the Mound House.”
It was his volunteer and Docent work that inspired him to write “Crown Jewel.” “I was at a Docents meeting two years ago, when Alison Giesen, the Mound House’s outstanding Executive Director, made the offhand comment that she would love a Mound House book to sell at the Museum Store, and because of my extensive publishing experience, I thought, ‘I can do that!’ I mentioned it to her after the meeting and she exclaimed, ‘Oh Yes!’ I then worked up my outline and research plans and went to work. I am extremely proud of the final product, as it is my first ‘coffee table book.’”
Previously Unknown Elements
Even though Pat was already a Docent, he learned many previously unknown Mound House elements. “As a Docent, I generally am in the Mound House parlor or living room, where I relay stories about those locations. Since researching the book, I now have great appreciation for the engineering feats of the Calusa Indians, who constructed features like the Mound House mound, built the manmade Mound Key island from sea level up to 30 feet high, and dug the Pine Island canal, all by hand and the use of shells, without any modern tools or construction equipment. Then there was the impact of the Koreshan Unity, not only in Southwest Florida and on Estero Island but on the Mound House property, as they actually owned it for a time and called it ‘Middle Carlos.’”
To Pat, however, the most amazing aspect is the purchase of the house and property by the initial Town Council of Fort Myers Beach in the late 1990s! “Even though the Town was not yet one year old, they secured a State of Florida grant and closed on the site three years later, and we are so fortunate today that the Town’s early leaders took that leap of faith. I was lucky that many of those folks are still around, like the Town’s first mayor, Anita Cereceda, and the first Town Manager and Deputy Manager, Marsha Segal-George and John Gucciardo, as well as early volunteers like Ceel Spuhler and Betty Simpson, as they all graciously spoke with me. It took the Town roughly 15 years to convert the Mound House from a private residence into a museum complex, and that process itself is an interesting story.”
In his opinion, the book’s best section is the third chapter that focuses on the Mound House’s previous private owners. “A significant aspect of what makes that my favorite is the contributions from Bill Grace, whose family owned it at one point. Bill was not only instrumental in preserving the Mound House, but several other Southwest Florida historical attractions such as the Burroughs Home in Downtown Fort Myers and the Koreshan community. He freely shared his knowledge and many of the book’s photographs come from his collection.”
Pat thoroughly enjoyed writing “Crown Jewel,” “as the Mound House and Fort Myers Beach connect together so intimately. The Mound House was the first home on Estero Island and the fact that the initial Town Council saved it from development weaves the island’s past, present, and future into one concise and complete story. Carolyn was of invaluable assistance to me, as she proofread it and made crucial suggestions from the first manuscript draft through the last page proof. She helps me with all my books, but especially this one!”
While “Crown Jewel” is out for just a brief time, Pat’s initial feedback is all positive. “People say it is a good story. One gentleman came into the Museum Store and bought 120 books! At first, we thought he was joking but he explained that he owns many Fort Myers Beach rental properties and he not only wanted the book in each one but signed copies as well, so I endured hand cramps to get through that! Personally, one of my professional colleagues with whom I authored two text books told me how much he enjoyed it, especially the section about the Calusa Indians, and compliments from your professional peers mean a lot.”
Pat hopes that “Crown Jewel” readers will appreciate the sweeping Mound House history, from the ancient Calusa through the fledgling Town’s purchase into its eventual evolution as the current museum complex. Its purchase price is $24.95 through the Mound House Museum Store. “If you cannot make it to the Mound House,” he stated, “call the Museum Store at 239-765-0865 and they will make shipping arrangements with you. The Mound House is currently updating its website and once that is soon complete, you can buy it online at www.moundhouse.org.”
The Mound House & Museum Store are open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. All visitors must wear masks, with Center for Disease Control and Social Distancing guidelines in place. It is at 451 Connecticut Street with overflow parking at 216 Connecticut. Admission is $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free, with Town residents receiving a 50% discount. For more information and a Monthly programs schedule, call 239-765-0865 or visit www.moundhouse.org.
Pat noted that all “Crown Jewel” proceeds go to “The Friends of the Mound House.” “This is my way to contribute to the Fort Myers Beach community, especially to those volunteers who support the Mound House with their time, talents, and fundraising efforts. I hope the book inspires people to visit the Mound House for themselves, because even though there are many great Fort Myers Beach attractions, the Mound House is such a unique place – it really is ‘The Crown Jewel of Fort Myers Beach!’”