The Shell Factory & Nature Park, one of the area's largest attractions, will host a special 74th Anniversary celebration the weekend of Friday, Oct. 28, through Sunday, Oct. 30.
Known officially as offering the world's largest collection of seashells and the world's largest wild animal display, the 18-acre campus is home to the Shell Factory Shoppes, The Nature Park, The Christmas House, Capt'n Fishbones Restaurant and more.
There will be free family fun activities throughout the weekend. There are also numerous free exhibits within the shops.
The Shell Factory circa 1950.
The attraction started more than 70 years ago in Bonita Springs, survived fires, major storm events and more to then became housed in North Fort Myers under the direction on Senior Vice President Tom Cronin Sr. and wife Vice President Pamela J. Cronin. They have built the 18-acre complex to what it is known as today - a sprawling fun and nature habitat that bring visitors from around the world.
The Cronins purchased the property in 1997 when Tom Cronin Sr., a real estate professional , saw it was in distress.
"It was in bankruptcy and we just didn't want it to disappear, for someone to tear it down and sell it or real estate. Instead, we wanted to revive it."
Who: The Shell Factory & Nature
When:Friday, Oct. 28, through
Sunday, Oct. 30
Where:2787 N. Tamiami Trail
This anniversary celebration weekend also will preview all of the completed renovations, expansions and recent major improvements that have been made for the upcoming tourism season.
"I think my favorite attractions are the Nature Park and the new Doggy Heaven Sports Park," said Tom Cronin. "There will be numerous dog events at the Doggy Heaven Sports Park Saturday and Sunday, and a service we call the dog church at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
"Adding to the Nature Park and Botanical Gardens is an ongoing process - and also adding to the animal museum is making it the largest in the country."
Richard Dunmire, a local teacher and head of the Nature Park Foundation, will be spearheading all of the canine events.
The Shell Factory, in and out, is dog friendly, even hosting a Canine Happy Hour at Dogbones Cafe, part of Fishbones Restaurant, on Thursdays.
Also over the weekend is the Celebrity Roast of Lee County Commission Chairman Frank Mann on Saturday, Oct. 29. Hosted by The Gentlemen's Club of Fort Myers that meets at the Shell Factory, this 20th Roast will benefit the Nature Park Foundation at the Shell Factory.
Unique events are many at the Shell Factory, under the direction of Vice President Pamela J. Cronin.
"We are also hosting the Salvation Army's Holiday kick-off event on '11-11-11' - Nov. 11, 2011 - honoring veterans and helping with their kick-off that day of their Red Kettle campaign."
These groups aren't the only represented at the Shell Factory. The Rotary Club of North Fort Myers meets there weekly on Thursday mornings, there is also a "Singe Mingle" for older adults each week, and the complex holds the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, a U.S. Postal office and other separate businesses.
Rosie Heuglan, owner of Rosie's Gourmet Fudge Kitchen, has housed her business at the Shell Factory shops for 36 years. "I love it here," she said. "You get to meet all kind of people from all over the world that visit. It is a lot of fun."
Rita Glosson, who is often taken for Mrs. Santa Claus, is a staple at the Christmas House, a huge display of unique and upscale holiday items located in a large area to the North of the complex. She is now also working with a new Halloween themed-area, with those holidays gifts and decorations. "It (the Shell Factory) just keeps getting bigger and better every year," she said.
Local residents and visitors alike are invited to stop by the Shell Factory to enjoy the day, attractions and more. Recent major improvements have been made to The Nature Park, which houses hundreds of animals, an EcoLab for school field trips, a Gator Slough and a 7,000-square- foot Rainforest Aviary.
For more information, call 995-2141. The Shell Factory is at 2787 N. Tamiami Trail, four miles north of the Caloosahatchee River.