In the early 1950s, Lathrop Brown and his wife Helen Hooper Brown spent vacations on Sanibel. She loved the shells and he would fish or shoot skeet as part of the Island Gun Club he created. Lathrop was a congressman from New York and Franklin Roosevelt’s best man and college buddy. Helen was the daughter of the wealthy Hooper family of Boston.
Both Lathrop and Helen loved unusual homes. They had previously bought a lighthouse on Cape Cod and a windmill on Long Island New York, fixed up to become a summerhouse or bed and breakfast, and then sold for a nice profit.
In 1958 they decided to buy 30 acres on Sanibel with 1,000 feet of beachfront. Then they purchased the Mississippi River ferryboat, “Algiers,” which had carried them between New Orleans and Algiers, Mississippi. They had it made seaworthy and then arranged for it to be delivered to Ft. Myers. There it was converted into a houseboat with two floors (decks), six bedrooms, five and a half bathrooms, servants’ quarters, two living rooms with terrazzo floors, a marble fireplace, a commercial kitchen which included six-oven, six-burner gas range, a refrigerator/freezer/ice-maker, a sink disposer, two dishwashers, a freezer unit, and a microwave. An elevator provided access between floors as well as main staircases on the decks. They had a swimming pool and a reflection pool off the boat.
A canal had to be cut from the gulf across the beach and into their land with a tail forming an “L” shape. A young engineer, Miles Scofield, took the job that lasted almost two years while the boat was being converted. When the day to move down the Caloosahatchee and around the island to the beach arrived, a fresh breeze came up, the channel filled with sand, and Scofield employed the fire department’s pumper to keep the channel open. Unfortunately, the truck overheated, the exhaust set the beach grasses on fire, and the pumper burned completely while folks watched the rising water lever. In spite of it all, the Browns were pleased.
The Browns were destined to never live there. Shortly after the move, in November 1959, Lathrop Brown died. Helen returned to Boston, and the “Algiers” was left to a caretaker with a shotgun and mean dog. After her death in 1979, the city purchased the boat and the land. In 1982 an auction took place to sell as many parts of the old ferry as possible. What was left was burned and the land turned into a park, the pond filled in to keep the alligators away, and only the street name, Algiers Lane left to remind us of the ferry’s history.
Was the “Algiers” the first beachfront “mega-mansion” on Sanibel, harkening of things to come?