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The Sanibel Island History Collection is a digital photo-album documenting the historical development of Sanibel's people, groups, organizations and institutions as well as Sanibel's environment.
Sanibel is a barrier island on the southwest Florida coast of Lee County. The Calusa Indians preceded the Spanish to Sanibel Island and lived in more than fifteen settlements. Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain in 1513, landing in Charlotte Harbor, just north of Lee County. And, in 1521, de Leon returned to Florida with two shiploads of colonists from Puerto Rico to establish the first settlement in North America. The Calusa dominated the region until they were decimated by the diseases brought by Spanish fishermen. Later, Seminole Indians who lived in Ft. Harvie, now known as Ft. Myers, actively traded with those fishermen. In 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States.
Sanibel Island was the site of a small colony started by the Florida Peninsular land Company in 1832. To prevent shipwrecks, a lighthouse on Sanibel's east end was built in 1884. That lighthouse is still operated by the United States Coast Guard. In 1892, Sanibel built its first schoolhouse. And by the twentieth century, Sanibel Island supported flouishing farms, growing avocado, citrus, and eggplant among other crops. Wood-burning steamers brought supplies, mail, freight and passengers to the islands.
Sanibel Island was declared a national wildlife refuge in 1945. Today, six thousand acres of sensitive upland and estuarine habitat are now held in the public trust by the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
This photo-album was produced by the Sanibel Public Library, Sanibel Historical Village and Museum, and its Local History staff in collaboration with the Southwest Florida Library Network (SWFLN) in a project funded by the State of Florida's Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants program. Additional assistance was provided by the Digital Library Center at the University of Florida and the Florida Center for Library Automation.