WOULD-BE GAS STATION BECOMES TEA ROOM IN 1926

April 7, 2020 – Miss Charlotta’s Team Room once sat on the bay next to the old Bailey General Store. It now resides at the Sanibel Historical Village and is one of the favorite buildings of visitors. Its old-fashioned charm is evident, from the case displaying baked goods to the tables and chairs set and ready for visitors as though it was 1930.

The Tea Room was built by the pioneer Bailey family and was originally meant to be a gas station to service trucks transport produce. The hurricane of 1926 changed those plans when it destroyed the Bailey store on Mathews Wharf. The would-be gas station became a temporary store until the Baileys rebuilt the general store in 1927 – this time on the shore rather than the wharf, and with its own gas pumps.

This modest building, a 20-feet by 22 feet structure with the porch, was then given to niece Charlotta Matthews – aunt to the three Bailey boys, Francis, John, and Sam) to use as a tea room, servicing those arriving or departing by boat. Tea and refreshments were brought daily from The Matthews, which was owned by Charlotta’s mother Hallie “Granny” Matthews. (The Matthews later became the Island Inn.) “The Tea Room was run by Charlotta, herself an adaptable, self-sufficient islander who dispensed sweets and lemonade, energy and good humor during the 1930s,” wrote Elinor Dormer in The Sea Shell Islands.

“At that time, it was the women who might order tea or refreshments while the men could go out back and play miniature golf on the island’s first golf course,” said historical village Executive Director Emilie Alfino. It was a miniature golf course with enough holes to amuse the folks who came for shopping, for the telephone, for the ferry, or for fun.

“If there’s a building that typifies the island, it is Miss Charlotta’s Tea Room,” wrote Dormer. “Intended to be the island’s first gas station, located at the foot of Bailey Road, destiny determined otherwise.”

In 1934, the Kinzie Brothers started a new ferry service that docked at the end of Ferry Road, greatly diminishing the number of Charlotta’s patrons, and Miss Charlotta closed the Tea Room at the end of the 1930s. The screened porch under the overhang, originally built for those gas pumps, was enclosed, and the interior was divided into rooms. The building housed island school teachers who taught white children until the 1950s as part of their compensation package. Besides school teachers, the occupants were part of the Bailey Store family.

The historical village has nine authentically restored buildings that have been moved to the village from their original island locations. Each represents a different aspect of pioneer life. In addition to the Rutland House, there is Miss Charlotta’s Tea Room, the old Bailey General Store, Morning Glories cottage, the old one-room Schoolhouse for White Children, the Caretakers’ Cottage, the 1927 Post Office, and the Burnap fishing cottage. There is also a garage featuring the 1927 Ford truck used by the Bailey Family, an old surrey, and a reproduction of a packing house with loading dock.

Located at 950 Dunlop Road on Sanibel, next to BIG ARTS, the historical village is closed at this time until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak. When it re-opens, its hours until May 1 will be Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. After May 1, hours will be Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Full guided tours are 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.