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Date of Issue: December 15, 2005

Norwood ready to pass historical society torch

Norwood says farewell
Gail Garneau and Carolyne Norwood at the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Christmas party last week.

Carolyne Norwood is passing the torch after 15 years as head of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society.

January will mark Norwood's 50th year as an Island resident. She moved to Florida with husband George and four children from Silver Springs, Md., in 1965.

Norwood was a reporter/photographer for the former Islander newspaper for almost 20 years. During that time she said she met many old timers.

"I noticed historic memorabilia in their homes," she said. "Then they moved away or died and their families came from the north and threw away many of their belongings, including early photos of the Island."

In the late 1980s, Norwood said then Mayor Ray Simches asked her to form an Island historical society. After holding a community meeting at which approximately 15 other Islanders attended, she noted there was enthusiasm for forming an historical group.

In 1990 she co-founded the Anna Maria Island Historical Society as a non-profit educational organization.

"At first we had nothing," says Norwood. "No pictures or artifacts. We advertised and by word of mouth people started bringing their early Island items to us."

The first Island museum was on Crescent Drive in Anna Maria — where the podiatrist is now. "We soon outgrew it and I asked Mayor Simches if we could have the old Turtle House, 402 Pine Ave., for a museum," she said.

The commission approved the request and the organization moved into the building in 1992 and spent $10,000 renovating it.

The historical society has grown from a dozen members to nearly 200 members. It is hard to say how many people visit the museum each season even though a registry is kept. Norwood believes as many as 2,000 visitors pass through the Island museum yearly.

"Hundreds of people from around the world visit the museum every year. Their glowing comments are most rewarding. Many children visit the museum. To get them interested in looking at the exhibits, we have a scavenger hunt. They love it."

Norwood was the first president of the society and later became administrator. She was not only instrumental in obtaining the museum's current location but also in having Anna Maria City's historic Belle Haven Cottage moved to the museum complex and restored.

Belle Haven was built on the city pier in 1920 and fell into the bay six years later. It was brought back on land where it was home to several families over the years. When she learned it was going to be demolished, Norwood, on behalf of the historical society, approached the city to have it moved to the museum complex.

"My perseverance paid off and it was moved and renovated and now serves as our General Store," she said of the accomplishment.

Norwood jokes that age might have something to do with stepping down as administrator.

"I physically cannot do what I did years ago," she admits. "We used to put on a pageant and dinner every year. I wrote the play, got a director, found props and did not have much help. I finally stopped when I could not find a successor. My husband George was my right hand and greatest supporter. He helped with everything. He died three years ago and that's another reason for me to resign. It's hard to find help when you need it."

Norwood will continue to be a member of the society. "This is something I have believed in and worked hard to make a success."

In her spare time she looks forward to finishing a second book on Island history. Two years ago, she finished her first history book about the Island "The Early Days 1893 to 1940." The next book will be Anna Maria Island 1940-1960. She did a lot of research this summer and says she is ready to write.

She looks forward to spending more time doing some of the activities she loves. She plans to spend summers at her small cottage in North Carolina near Boone at the foot of Grandfather Mountain.

"Years ago I worked with stained glass and had to give it up as most of my time was devoted to the historical society. I hope I can take it up again. I have a large window in North Carolina and I visualize a stained-glass mountain picture there.

"I love the outdoors and my hobby is taking photos with my digital camera, printing or e-mailing them to friends and family," she said. "I will bicycle and take long walks with my companion, Lulu, a wonderful Miami dingo."

Her Island house is for sale and she plans to move to Palma Sola to be near son and daughter.

The historical society is looking for someone interested in the Island and its history to take on Norwood's position. The candidate does not have to live on the Island but it would be helpful.

The administrator mainly sees that everything runs smoothly. He or she is charge of the volunteers and ensures that museum and Belle Haven General Store are open and staffed four days a week. Anyone interested should give Norwood a call at 778-1514. "I will be glad to tell them all I know."

She thanks all who have given her support over the years. Those who have donated funds and historical items and the volunteers who are the backbone of the historical society.