Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

From November 2012: Pat Molter Emerson discusses g...
From November 2012: Pat Molter Emerson discusses g...: The Molter family history in the region goes back to the 1920s. Jacob Molter Sr. was one of the first homesteaders. Pat Molter Emerson discusses growing up in the region before Cape Coral was formed. By Cristela Guerra/news-press.com
Pat Molter Emerson, 66, left and her sister Theresa McCagg, 70, at right, take jewelry off Martha Wortman, 78, at a recent pirate-themed birthday party. Nearby, the sisters' childhood home is nearing demolition day. / Cristela Guerra/news-press.com
Five of the six living Molter sisters stand side by side in September near Martha Wortman's ranch house at a recent pirate-themed birthday party. / Cristela Guerra/The News-Press

More information

To read more about the Molter family lineage, Pat Molter Emerson’s book “From Pioneers to Paradise” is sold at the Cape Coral Historical Museum, 544 Cultural Park Blvd., Cape Coral. For information, call 772-7037.

Video

Head online this afternoon to watch a video of Pat Molter Emerson talking about her childhood as a member of a Cape Coral pioneer family.

Previously an Army barracks at Buckingham Army Air Field, Jake Molter purchased it in 1949 for his growing family. A carpenter by trade, he took it apart and reassembled it off Pine Island Road, eventually adding a living room. His widow, Ida Mae Molter, lived in the home until she passed away almost a decade ago. Since then, the house has been used for storage while slowly falling apart. When a final deal is made with the Molter family, the Florida Department of Transportation plans to demolish the home to make way for the widening of Pine Island Road. / Special to The News-Press

More

Through a pair of binoculars from a metal fire tower high above the thick Australian pine, Ida Mae Molter counted.

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ...” she’d say to herself as her kids stepped off the school bus onto the dusty road.

For the majority of her life, she watched for wildfires and for her brood of 11 children. One of Cape Coral’s pioneer families, the Molter kids roamed the land, often cooling off in the shade under fragrant caves of pine needles or in a nearby creek. Running through Key lime groves and thick brush they climbed trees and played together over acres of untouched wild.

They grew with the fruit trees that surrounded their home. Ida Mae rarely locked the door, and the windows let in a breeze. The self-described “big Catholic family” would fall in line like a flock behind Jake and Ida Mae. This was Cape Coral, before development overtook nature, back when this was just a vast rural expanse on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.

Their childhood home, an old and now-dilapidated Army barracks off Pine Island Road, sits in the same spot their father, a carpenter, reassembled it. Jake Molter bought it in 1949 from the Buckingham Army Airfield for $200.

When a tentative deal is settled, that historic structure will be demolished to make way for the widening of Pine Island Road to four lanes from two. Construction of the project — expected to begin as early as mid-2013 — will cost about $8.8 million, a sum Cape Coral obtained through a low-interest state loan. A family house next door that belonged to Joan Hill, one the Molter sisters, was already sold and is expected to be cleared before the end of the month.

“My family was loving; they were all crazy protective of me,” Bob Molter said. “When the house is torn down it’ll be devastating. I knew this has been a long time coming. … It’s progress, I guess.”

His sister, Pat Molter Emerson, recently wrote a book about the family’s history. Before she came to the Cape Coral Historical Museum, local history began in the 1960s, when Gulf American Land Corp. arrived to create a “waterfront wonderland.” Molter Emerson brought records that went back to the 1800s.

(Page 2 of 3)

“It’s of great interest to people to know what was here before,” said Anne Cull, curator at the Cape Coral Historical Museum. “There were quite a few families. They established the area, really.”

The beginning

The first of the Molter clan to arrive in the area was Jacob Molter Sr., one of the area’s first homesteaders. The patriarch’s property ran from the southwest corner of present-day Chiquita Boulevard to what is now the German-American Social Club.

Chiquita Boulevard was known then as Molter Grade.

A former lawyer from Indiana, Molter Sr. arrived in 1923 from Arkansas to settle in the countryside on 160 acres. He worked for the Caloosahatchee Bridge Co., on the first single-lane wooden bridge to ever cross the river, and on two others across Matlacha Pass. Ten acres were left to each child, and Jake Molter Jr. was given his land as a wedding gift.

In the 1930s, Jake moved from Florida to New York to work in the coal mines and wait out the Great Depression. He returned with his family packed into a 1940 Ford sedan. With seven kids in tow, four more would be born. Today, the 10 living siblings range in age from 57 to 78.

Home was the place where the wind dried their laundry and local farms grew their dinner. Ida Mae sewed their clothing and Raggedy Ann dolls, while their father crafted furniture.

“We were raised with great imaginations,” said Pat Molter Emerson. “Only rich people had televisions. We read a lot of books. They raised us with a great work ethic.”

By the age of 14, the Molter kids obtained a work permit to earn extra money. From planting grass for cattle to working on local farms and in downtown Fort Myers at McCrory’s Five and Dime, they never forgot their father’s words: “If you can’t find something to do, I’ll find something for you.”

Jake was known by locals for his seven daughters. Sometimes he’d sleep on the porch with the shotgun above the door. He’d warn his girls to stay away from “those fishermen” on Pine Island, although he enjoyed spear-fishing, or gigging, in a flat-bottom boat.

(Page 3 of 3)

When Bob Molter, the baby of the family, was born, the oldest were married. He grew up with his sister Mary helping to rear the next generation, with nieces and nephews not much older than he was.

“My most vivid memory, ... I think I was 5,” said Mary Sickler, 62, “is when they paved Pine Island Road. These Seminole women seeded the grass in colorful skirts. I had never seen anything like that.”

When Gulf American brought in their machines, the dredging process, pounding and dirt sifting efforts to create the canal system was a racket unlike anything the family had ever heard.

Whispers of new development arrived in the late 1950s. But it didn’t impact the Molters’ lives until the well water began to run dry.

That’s when the sand began to blow into their home. Sand that felt like the stinging of 1,000 bees. Everything was knocked down to the bare dirt. Their fruit trees were gone.

The lush forests were replaced “with miles of shale road with a thin layer of asphalt,” according to Molter Emerson. The land was changing. Ida Mae lived her last 56 years in that house. She died in 2003.

“To see that building (falling apart), it makes me feel kind of sick all in my heart,” said Pat Molter Emerson. “It was beautiful when my mom had it. She kept it up so nice.”

And now ...

The 5 acres left to the family are split among the siblings. Martha Wortman’s home behind their childhood homestead has been the family gathering place for decades. At the end of September, they held another theme birthday party, converting the home into a pirate ship full of buccaneers.

In the distance, at the front of the property, sit two historic homes that have seen decades of Molter family memories. The sturdy structures have withstood more than one hurricane. In 1960, the family knelt for hours praying the rosary while Hurricane Donna blew past. Her winds raised the floor boards and made the home look like it was breathing. The Molter clan survived as they always have — together.

Grandchildren, cousins, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons converged on the ornately decorated house to eat and celebrate each other’s lives. It’s reminiscent of the square dances the family held when they were little, teaching one another the steps while an uncle called the dances to the tune of a guitar and a fiddle.

(When that house goes) it’s going to affect me, I know it will,” said Martha Wortman, now oldest of the siblings.

In the Wortman’s backyard, sits a sliver of that wild landscape they loved long ago.

More In News

Local Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers on Marco Island

GET DEALS NOW

Marco beach cam

RESTAURANTS

Find local restaurants, read
and submit reviews

Celebrating the best of South Lee and North Naples

READ MORE

Reader Photos

Get the Hurricane Hub app

DealChicken.com

Sign up to save 50-90% off SWFL dining, shopping, spas, activities and more. Every day.