August 13, 2020 – The Sanibel Historical Village is closed for the off-season and will reopen October 20 with hours Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Sanibel School for White Children was constructed in 1896 at the corner of what is now Bailey Road and Periwinkle Way. In 1903, it was moved up Periwinkle – then a sand road, using rollers underneath, a winch and mule – at Purdy Road (which runs next to Tahitian Gardens shopping center). There it remained for more than 100 years until it was moved to the Historical Village.
The school was segregated, as were all schools in the South at that time, and there was a School for Black Children in what is now Lily & Company Jewelers on Tarpon Bay Road. Both black and white parents petitioned to desegregate the new school being built in 1963. They succeeded and that school became the first integrated school in Lee County. The School for White Children was vacated in 1964, immediately after the integrated school opened.
After the present school was built, the schoolhouse became a theater, the Pirate Playhouse. It became a venue for local, and later professional, talent for 40 years. The school’s chalkboard stayed on the wall even through its years as a theater. When the Playhouse closed its doors, island icon Sam Bailey was instrumental in bringing the schoolhouse to the museum and seeing it restored to the school he remembered.
Early teachers received $2.50 per student per semester. One teacher, Nancy McCann, wore bobby sox and taught baseball at recess. In “Memories of the Sanibel School,” Christine Gault remembered, “Every year we had to listen to the World Series. At recess we all played softball. With so few kids, all of us were needed to eke out two teams. We played in a large open field next to the school. I was always the last to be chosen. Since I was the smallest kid, I was pitched grounders that I mostly missed anyway. I hate baseball.”
Gault remembers that teaching on Sanibel was considered a hardship assignment that didn’t attract many applicants. Sometimes the bus driver substituted. Occasionally the teacher would declare nature study days and take the children to the beach. “I don’t remember much of the actual lessons,” Gault added. “I do know that although there were some weaknesses in my early education (such as spelling and punctuation), I learned a lot at that school. And what great memories it gave me!”
Located at 950 Dunlop Road on Sanibel, next to BIG ARTS, the historical village is closed for the off-season and will reopen October 20. At that time, its hours will be Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Full guided tours will be available at no additional charge, depending on docent availability. Admission is $10 for adults over 18. Members and children are free. There is handicap access.