Charles Edgar Foster

Charles Edgar Foster, born in Fort Myers on the 15th day of November 1913, discussed some of the events in his life, as well as some of the events in the lives of those who made a difference in the history of his town. Asked when he moved to the small town of Alva, Foster replied that he vividly remembers being there before he could walk. He further stated that he returned to Alva in 1950, after attending both the university and serving in the army. After a wait of 3 1/2 years, he finally obtained a position as a teacher at the junior high school in Bonita Springs.

This retired educator, environmentalist, river guide, author, and history buff provided a wealth of information regarding the small community nestled between Fort Myers and LaBelle. For instance, before the library was officially established, it was the Alva Book Club in which Foster's father served as one of the trustees. Esther Hovey established the book club in 1901. In 1909, the first public library in Southwest Florida was established in Alva on a lot donated by Captain Peter Nelson, the official founder of the town. In 1976, Foster established the Alva Museum, housed within the library.

Foster then shared the story of Captain Peter Nelson the founder of Alva, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of the King Denmark. Foster, author of The Benevolent Dane: Captain Peter Nelson,

enthusiastically told the story of the Danish sea captain, who one one of his upriver journeys in or about 1881, spied and alit upon a field of tiny white flowers on a high bank of the Caloosahatchee River. The flowers, White Sabatia, reminiscent of small white flowers found in Denmark, prompted Captain Nelson to name the site Alva after those white flowers.

As the conversation continued, Foster related how Captain Peter Nelson had been the first Lee County commissioner from Alva. He also recounted the events that led to the Captain's suspension from that office. As the story goes, in 1890, a grand jury charged Captain Peter Nelson with using intoxicating liquor rendering him unfit to perform in his official capacity. As a result, Nelson was suspended from the commission. In a small corner of the museum, various news articles recount the story, but add how Charles Edgar Foster convinced Governor Lawton Chiles to reinstate the captain as a "Lee County Commissioner, 102 years after he had been thrown off for unsubstantiated charges of drunkenness." (Peter Winston, "Lee Man Crusader for Lost Founder," News Press, 31 December 1993.)

Charles Foster then conducted a tour of the museum. It began in a small chamber to the left of the main hall. The walls and shelves displayed fascinating objects such as an arrowhead that was discovered in the Alva Cemetery and is dated 2000-1200 B.C. Also displayed are Calusa work tools fashioned out of shells, Native American garments, and alligator skeletons, just to name a few. The next chamber contained a birthing chair, a physician's operating chair used to remove tonsils, as well as various physicians' instruments. In the back room of the museum, Foster pointed out Captain Nelson's original plat of Alva and various other exhibits. The most surprising part of the tour came when Foster stepped outdoors and pointed out "the oldest Methodist Church in Lee County in its original form!" He added that "The First Methodist in Fort Myers is older, but this is the one that's still - outside it looks exactly like it did when it was built."

The tour concluded after a stroll through the main hall where some very lovely ladies' wedding garments fill the display cabinets. As mentioned above, newspaper articles in one section of the hall describe the saga of Alva's founder, Captain Peter Nelson. In addition, copies of Foster's The Benevolent Dane: Captain Peter Nelson are displayed and are available for purchase.

Although the museum may be small in size, it contains many fascinating objects that convey the rich history of Alva. It is well worth visiting, especially if Charles Edgar Foster is on hand to conduct the tour, for, if so, one can be guaranteed an hour of the most engaging and factual conversation.

Interview of Charles Edgar Foster
Conducted By: Diana M. Chesler
Date: November 26, 1999
Interview conducted at the Alva Museum

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