Sanibel Island & Captiva Island History

Sanibel and Captiva history swims with Indians, pirates, fishermen, farmers, hurricanes, a ferry boat, several airstrips, Presidential visits, a nationally-known cartoonist, and an elaborate boat named Algiers. While only a handful of current island residents are descended from original settlers, the curious can discover the old islands via a number of formats.



A couple of hours at Sanibel’s Historic Village is a real eye-opener. Wander through fully furnished, early 1900s island cottages and catalog homes. Thumb through island newspaper archives – the photos alone are amazing! Did you know that not that long ago you could stand on Periwinkle Way and see the Gulf of Mexico?

Both the Sanibel and Captiva library have a wealth of books, and even audio recordings, about the islands’ fascinating history. Local bookshops also carry great titles, including Tales of Olde Sanibel and Sanibel’s Story.

A trip to Sanibel Island's Historic Village gives visitors great information.

Recently, several historic markers have been erected across Sanibel Island. Watch for them on your bike rides – each tells a story of the island’s past.

The East End village, also called Old Town Sanibel, has its own unique history. Cuban fishermen built fish camps there in the 1860s, prior to construction of the lighthouse in 1884.

Bailey’s General Store, founded in 1899, was located for most of its existence near what is now the causeway entrance to Sanibel. It wasn’t until 1963 that the bridge was completed, ferry service stopped and the Bailey store moved to it’ current location on Periwinkle Way.

Casa Ybel has a facinating history in and of itself, while the resorts restaurant, Thistle Lodge encourages guests to experience fine dining overlooking the same beach and grounds where Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, among others, gathered. Thistle Lodge is open to the public and proudly displays many old photographs.

Captiva Island has been home to the Calusa Indians, a boarding school for boys and a large key lime plantation. The quaint Chapel by the Sea exudes old-island charm. Captiva was also the favorite hangout of the late, great, forward-thinking political cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling, the Lindburghs, the Roosevelts to name but a few.

The Captiva Island Inn is one of the older, more charming properties on Captiva. Situated right in the Village, you’re just a few steps from several terrific restaurants and the beach.

And the pirates? There are wealth of stories, and many are true. One oft-repeated pirate legend revolves around the name Captiva.
Take the time to dig into a little island history – you’ll see the islands in a whole new light.