February 12, 2019 – The Sanibel Historical Village is asking people to collect ark shells for a display it is planning about Clarence Rutland, the owner of the village’s first home. He sold ark shells to Thomas Edison to use for the paths between the houses on Edison’s estate. The cost was 50 cents for 60 pounds. When the shells became scarce, Rutland raised the price to $1, and Edison said that was too pricey and stopped buying.
“We want to set up a display showcasing Clarence Rutland and the many things he did during his life on Sanibel,” said Executive Director Emilie Alfino. “We are so taken with the story of the ark shells, we decided to design a display to illustrate Uncle Clarence’s ingenuity. We’re asking the people of Sanibel – residents, snowbirds, and tourists alike – to help us out by collecting ark shells and delivering them to the Historical Village.”
Rutland had an interesting history and was known as a “jack of all trades” during his years on Sanibel. Reviewing his life, it’s easy to see why he got that nickname.
Rutland’s father, Othman Rutland, came from County Rutland in central England in 1882 and worked in the citrus groves in Apopka, Florida. He had three daughters and two sons. After the “Big Freeze” in 1895-1896, Rutland moved to Sanibel and worked as a sharecropper for Laetitia Nutt growing tomatoes. There was no homesteading land available on Sanibel at that time.
Rutland quit school after third grade, and at 14 left home and worked around Florida picking fruit and vegetables. Back on Sanibel, his house cost $800 to build; he paid $1,800 for it with a loan from Frank Bailey. Rutland used to joke that he bought the house at the end of WWI and paid it off in WWII.
He became known throughout the island as “Uncle Clarence, which is often still called today. Mail addressed only to “Uncle Clarence” was properly delivered.
Rutland farmed key lime trees and in 1939 started collecting coconuts to grow. One volunteers doing research for this project read that Rutland brought in the coconuts from Cuba. Rutland estimated by 1974 he had sold 40,000 coconut trees. In the 1920s, he tried selling real estate – until he went broke. He was a fishing guide for many years.
Rutland died January 17, 1982 at age 91.
Bring your ark shells to the Village any time between Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Sanibel Historical Village is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Full guided tours take place at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at no additional charge, depending on docent availability. The village is located at 950 Dunlop Road (next to BIG ARTS) and there is handicap access to the buildings. Admission is $10 for adults over 18. Members and children are free. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.sanibelmuseum.org or call (239) 472-4648.