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History of Sanibel Island, Florida

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History of Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island, Florida features a history that is rich in intrigue and adventure. From the coming of the native Indians, to Spanish explorers, infamous pirates and brave pioneers, the island has many a fascinating tale to tell. So, let’s begin.

Sanibel Island, Florida is one of the most well-known and most often visited barrier islands on Florida’s southwest coast. Stories have it that Sanibel Island has not always been a part of the Florida landscape. Historians believe that the island was formed as one island six thousand years ago when sediments emptied into the Gulf of Mexico by the Caloosahatchee River. Perhaps a powerful sub-tropical storm swept the peninsula, opening a narrow pass between the Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

People have thrived on Sanibel Island, Florida ever since it was first formed. The first known settlers of the island, disabled dating as far back as 2,500 years, were said to be the native Calusa Indians who skillfully transformed the waterways around the island into abundant riches of food and tools. These natives used conchs, clams, whelks, oysters and other seafood for food and their empty shells were crafted into tools. It was reported that the Calusa Indians have proved to be skilled builders and craftsmen. They have even perched their huts high atop shell mounds to provide protection from storm tides, and it’s nice to know that some of their shell mounds, which were also employed for ceremonial, ritual and burial sites, remain intact today.

Sanibel Island, Florida was believed to have discovered by a famous explorer named Juan Ponce de Leon. He named the island “Santa Isybella” after Queen Isabella in 1513 while searching for his “Fountain of Youth”. It was him and his Spanish seamen who battled the hostile Calusas for years, but he retreated to Cuba and died there eventually after he suffered a fatal arrow attack in 1523.

The Spanish were unsuccessful in forming any kind of permanent settlement in Sanibel Island, Florida. Nevertheless, their infiltration introduced European disease and slavery to Sanibel Island, Florida. As noted, the Calusa population all but became extinct by the late 1700s when the Sanibel Island, Florida was overcome by yellow fever, tuberculosis, and measles.

After the Spanish period, the Sanibel Island, Florida became a haven for infamous pirates. Then, there happened the Indian raids from the Seminole Wars which kept settlers and fishermen of Sanibel Island, Florida at bay and discouraged any permanent settlements on the island for a number of decades. Although Florida was admitted into the Union in 1845 as the 27th state, it was only after the country’s Civil War that increased military activity was able to secure the Sanibel Island, Florida and deem it safe for settlers. Then, in 1870, the US government ruled that Sanibel Island, Florida would become a lighthouse reservation, leading to the lighting of Sanibel Lighthouse in 1884. In 1892, with a permanent population nearing 100, Sanibel Island, Florida built its first schoolhouse, and by the 20th century, it supported flourishing farm communities. And, it was in 1945 that all parts of Sanibel Island, Florida were declared a national wildlife refuge.

Today, six thousand acres of sensitive upland and estuarine habitat on Sanibel Island are now held in the public trust by the J.N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife refuge. With the half century of effort dedicated by the island residents, more than 750,000 people now tour the Sanibel Island, Florida each year.

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