Chapter 5


Cattle – Cattle were not raised on the island because of the “screwworm fly,” a parasitic insect that feeds on the tissue of animals.

Causeway – The causeway was built in 1963 by real estate developer Hugo Lindgren. There was a $5 toll. In 1964 Lee County took over the operation and charged a $3 toll. A new causeway, constructed by Lee County, opened in 2006. The current toll is $6.

Economy – Farming was the main occupation on the island from the 1880s to the 1926 hurricane. From 1927 to 1960, Sanibel residents encouraged tourists to visit during the winter months and spend their money on shelling, fishing, and warm weather pursuits. From 1960 to the present, Sanibel’s economy has centered around residential development and tourism focused on the preservation and conservation of wildlife and native habitats, and on island arts and crafts. Approximately 65% of Sanibel is conservation land, while 35% as been set aside for development. Only 2% remains to be developed.

Electricity – There was no electricity on the island until the 1920s when generators were used. In 1940, the Lee County Electric Cooperative was formed, and lines were strung into rural areas and the barrier islands.

Houses – Island houses were made of slash pine, yellow pine, and cypress. These woods are impervious to insect and water intrusion.

Ice – The first refrigeration and air-conditioning machines were invented and patented in 1851 by Dr. John Gorrie in Apalachicola, Florida, for his malaria and yellow fever patients. Other machines had been manufactured in 1834 and 1850 by other inventors using sulfur dioxide and then ammonia for the compressor, but they were not patented. In the 1840s, refrigerated train cars were used to transport dairy products up north. The refrigerated railroad car was patented in Detroit in 1867. Brewing beer in the north took the idea of refrigeration to new levels in the 1870s. In 1879, there were 35 commercial ice plants operating in the United States. Fort Myers had an ice factory operating by 1900. Punta Gorda had refrigerated rail cars before 1900.

Mosquito Control – Mosquito control and air-conditioning came to the island in 1958, resulting in more visitors and more development.

Population – 1880s to 1926: about 250. From 1927 to 1960: about 100. Currently there are 6,500 property owners, of which only 2,500 stay on the island year-round.

Rain – There is not as much rainfall on Sanibel as on the mainland. The Barrier Islands’ air currents depress thunderstorms in the Gulf.

Roofs – The few shelters in the 1830s to 1880s had thatch roofs. Wood shingles were then used until the early 1900s, when tin was used to reflect heat, prevent fires, and catch rainwater.

Seminoles – Native American tribes came from northern Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Alabama (Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Apalachee, and Yasamee). They interbred with runaway slaves, Spanish and English anarchists, and filled the gap left with the demise of the Calusa and Spanish Indians from Cuba. General Jackson’s policy was to move Indians out west, and the Seminoles were a runaway tribe escaping that policy. They remain the only tribe that never made peace with the federal government.

Stoves – The first stoves used wood before kerosene came into favor.

Transportation – Horses were not practicable for use on Sanibel because of encephalitis. Mules fared better and were used until trucks came along with automobiles and ferries.

Trees – The Australian pines were brought in by the Baileys in the 1920s to help firm up the shell roads that washed away in the summer rains. They are now being removed from public lands because their shallow root system cannot withstand strong winds. Brazilian pepper trees were brought in by the Rutlands in the 1920s as a winter “holly” plant for the holidays. They are now classified as an invasive species and have largely been removed from the island.

Water – Natural fresh water is in the eight-foot aquifer throughout Sanibel. The interior wetlands also contain fresh water, which made farming possible on Sanibel until the end of the 1920s. In 1964, development destroyed the aquifer. The Island Water Association was established in 1967 and began to pump water from the 800-foot level for distribution to all parts of Sanibel.