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Sanibel History

The Sanibel Historical Museum is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. and can be reached at 239/472-4648. No fee is charged for entry.

The Useppa Museum located on Useppa Island, which may only be reached by boat, features exhibits detailing history of Useppa Island for 11,000 years. In 1989, the University of Florida found the bones of "Useppa Man," a find unearthed in an archaelogical dig. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.. The museum charges a $2.50 donation for admission. If you have any questions, you may reach the museum at 239/283-9600. Transportation can be obtained by calling 239/283-1061. More history about the area, particularly in regard to the Calusa Indians, can be learned at the Museum of the Islands, which is located on Pine Island. In season, from November-May, the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. From May through October, it is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. Located at 5287 Sesame Drive in Bokeelia, Florida, you may call it at 239/283-1525.

The now peaceful islands of Sanibel and Captiva were not always so. The history of Sanibel and Captiva Islands consists of a dizzying array of Indians, both indigenous and displaced; explorers; colonists; pirates; and even fishermen.

The Indians Preceded the Spanish from 5000 B.C. until Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain in 1513, the coastal and barrier islands of Florida were inhabited by the Calusa Indians. De Leon himself landed in Charlotte Harbor, just north of Lee County.

In 1521, de Leon returned to Florida with two shiploads of colonists from Puerto Rico to establish the first settlement in North America.

The Calusas, who dominated the region until they were decimated by the diseases brought by Spanish fishermen, left shell mounds that are still seen today. 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 and when Florida became a state in 1845, it joined in the U.S.'s effort to move all Indians to the west. The Lee Island Coast was the departure point for many of the Indians who were deported to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

Blacks immigrated to the Lee Island Area. Blacks who escaped slavery on plantations from states to Florida's north, came to the area. Many joined the Seminole tribe. Later, Seminole Indians who lived in Ft. Harvie, actively traded with those fishermen.

During the Civil War, Florida was part of the Confederacy; as a result, Lee County was named for General Robert E. Lee. Though Fort Myers once served as a Union fort during the war, since it was an important point from which cattle and supplies were shipped, Confederates basically retained control of the region by trading cattle with Cuba. In 1865, Fort Myers again became a Union fort when the 2nd U.S. Union Federalist Colored Troops were stationed there.

To prevent shipwrecks, the much-photographed lighthouse on Sanibel's east end was built in 1884; it is still operated by the United States Coast Guard.

In 1885, the first tarpon was caught with a rod and reel by one W.H. Wood off Punta Rassa, just across the San Carlos Bay from Sanibel. As a result, the Tarpon Inn became crowded with wealthy guests hoping to catch plenty of tarpon. Where the Tarpon Inn once stood is the Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa, a large hotel complex.

Built in 1901, Captiva's charming Chapel by the Sea, a white clapboard church, currently serves as the site of many weddings.