Welcome to Southwest Florida
Stepping Into Sanibel's History ©
- Libby Boren McMillan

Among Sanibel Island's many treasures is a community spirit of preservation and cooperation. A terrific end result awaits you at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. Located on Dunlop Road, next door to the BIG Arts facility, this intriguing complex provides an in-depth look at the Sanibel of yesteryear.

Founded in 1984, the Historical Museum is one of several buildings added to the compound since its inception. Visitors will be amazed to find the actual 1927 version of Bailey's General Store, moved in 1992 from its bay-front location to a place of honor in the Historical Village. Sanibel's breadbox-sized post office, dating from 1889, joins the Bailey store, as does Miss Charlotta's Tea Room, the Burnap Cottage, and a 1926 Ford used by the Baileys.

Historical Village - Sanibel Island

You need not be a history fan to appreciate the wonders of the Historical Museum and Village. The museum itself is housed in a 1913 Sanibel home. The tongue-and-groove construction of the walls and high ceilings instantly transports you to the past. Docents will gladly answer questions as you wander through the cozy parlor, practical kitchen, and oh-so-quaint bedroom; lots of interesting printed information is handy as well, so bring your reading glasses.

Anyone who loves Sanibel will appreciate this painstakingly created museum. Pioneer families of the island are documented, and most everything on display is from the early part of the century. Who ever knew there was a Sanibel Tomato Pickers baseball team in 1910? Framed aerials of Sanibel prior to its invasion by the Australian pine are an eye-opener. You can see for miles across the island.

Also on exhibit is detailed information about the Kinzie Brothers Steamship Line, which, for years, provided the only transportation to Sanibel from the mainland. Just as fascinating is the display detailing the history of the Sanibel lighthouse. Several old island names appear throughout the museum, as multiple exhibits chronicle the lives of the Woodrings, the Gavins, and the Matthews.

Other exhibits on the lives of the island's first residents, the Calusa and the Spaniards, have been created to illustrate the island's chronology of civilization. Of interest to armchair archaeologists will be the large display dedicated to Sanibel's "Mysterious Island," a site chock full of artifacts from 0-500 A.D.

A wooden boardwalk leads from the museum to the old Bailey store, filled with historic goods, such as Kellogg's Shredded Krumbles, Coffeola, old Tiddlywinks games, wooden screws, and more. A terrific (and sometimes humorous) collection of newspaper articles about Sanibel dating back to 1971 resides here.

Communication buffs will appreciate the Western Union office in the corner of the Bailey store. Cables placed on the ocean floor once connected Key West with Punta Rassa via a relay station on Sanibel. It was in this office that word first reached the United States that the Maine had been sunk in 1898. The Historical Museum has a temporary exhibit on this event and its little-known tie to Sanibel.

Too much description would take away from the surprises that await you at the Historical Village. More additions are planned, and the museum has ever-changing temporary exhibits, so even if you've been once, you should plan to go again.

Sanibel Historical Village and Museum, 950 Dunlop Road.
Open Wednesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., mid-October through mid-August.
Donation: $2 per adult.

* Originally published in Times of the Islands - Spring, 1998
© Libby Boren McMillan - Legal Rights Apply

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