History of Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island’s history is very interesting to read, historians believe that Sanibel and Captiva formed as one Island about 6.000 years ago. The Island began as one from sediment that rose from the sea after being shaped by centuries of storm activity.

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The first know human in the area were the native Calusa Indians, who arrived about 2.500 years ago. The Calusa were a great Indian tribe who came to dominate a large part of Southwest Florida through trade and an elaborate system of canals and waterways. With Calusa transformed the waterways on the Island into abundant riches of food. They used sea resources for living, seafood such as clams, conchs, whelks, oyster were used for food, and their empty shells were crafted into tools. Sanibel remained an important Calusa settlement until the arrival of the Europeans.

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Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon is believed to discovered Sanibel Island. In 1513, he named it the Island “Santa Isybella”,  for his, Queen Isabella I of Castile. But, the The Spanish were unsuccessful in establishing any kind of permanent settlement, they retreated to British and Cuba in 1763 and died. Thus ended some 250 years of Spanish rule.

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However, Spanish infiltration introduced European disease and slavery to Sanibel, and overcome by yellow fever, tuberculosis, and measles, the Calusa population all but became extinct by the late 1700s.Legend has it that the barrier islands soon became a haven for infamous pirates. “The Buccaneer Coast” attracted the notorious Jose Gaspar to the region in the early 1800s, where it was rumored
that he buried his stolen treasure on Sanibel, and then built a prison on “Isle de los Captivas,” or Captiva Island, where he kept his female prisoners “captive” for ransom. Gaspar himself was captured in 1821 by the U.S. Navy, but wrapped himself in chains and jumped overboard off his ship, rather then face imprisonment.

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The first modern settlement on Sanibel was established by the Florida Peninsular Land Company in 1832. The colony never took off, and was abandoned by 1849.  It was this first group that initially petitioned for a lighthouse on the island. The Homestead Act of 1862 encourage the repopulation of the island. One of the reason, the lighthouse which was completed in 1884, increased traffic in and out of Punta Rassa Harbor. The lighthouse was first lit on August 20, 1885.

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In 1895, the first Island Inn was built by Matthewes family, for over 117 years it has served visitors to enjoy magnificent beaches, virgin dune, and silky sand.  Repopulation makes Sanibel has many arrivals. Pioneer settlement on Sanibel located around Point Ybel, which is now known as “Old Town Sanibel”. This area is the center of Island activity. In 1889, there were 40 families and 21 houses
families living on Sanibel. They began planting sugar cane, pineapple, tomatoes, pumpkins, melons, sisal and hemp. Tomatoes became a huge export from Sanibel.

In early 1900’s Sanibel was on its way to became a prime destination for vacationers, which is rich families from the North East. Troughout the 1950s and 1960s, Sanibel reputation as prime destination for vacationers attracted more visitors. Besides the beaches, the islands have many a fascinating tale to tell, from native Indians, to Spanish explorers, and brave pioneers.

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In 1963, The Sanibel Causeway was opened, and soon threatened to change the face of the island. Eleven years later, Sanibel formed its own city government, allowing residents to control their own destiny to promote the island. The resident and city government also controlling development of wildlife and natural resources of the
Island. The original Sanibel Causeway was replaced in 2007, with flyover features, allow sailboats to pass under it. Today, Sanibel Island retains the charm and natural beauty that has always characterized the island. They provide easy acces to tourist sites, and shows many attractions to visitors.

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