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Anholt proud of reputation as island historian, author

By Staff | Sep 7, 2011

Sitting in front of the Sanibel Public Library, island historian Betty Anholt holds a copy of her second published book, "Sanibel's Story — Voices and Images: From Calusa to Incorporation."

“The islands have seen changes that could never have been predicted, and more come with every year. There may come a time when they are empty again of people, silent under the wind and tides. Whether populated or empty, the lure remains. No one who has walked an island beach has ever completely shaken the sensation. If Sanibel and Captiva were to disappear, its story would be repeated from generation to generation. Its memory would not be lost. So it is with islands. And so it will always be.”

– Betty Anholt, “The Trolley Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands”

Those words from Betty Anholt’s debut book, originally published more than 20 years ago, are as true today as the day she wrote them in concluding “The Trolley Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands.”

And with three additional published volumes to her credit, a handful of other projects in the works and countless references to her encyclopedic knowledge about the islands, Anholt’s name has become synonymous with the history of both Sanibel and Captiva.

But that reputation wasn’t earned overnight.

Thomas Edison, pictured sitting on the porch at Casa Ybel, came to the islands in search of tropical plants for experimentation.

“I first came to Sanibel when I was about 10 years old,” said Anholt, who recalled that her family – who resided in southern New Jersey – traveled extensively throughout the state of Florida in search of a new home. “I think when I was 13, I made the statement, ‘I’ll never move to Florida.'”

Of course, she defied her own prediction when, in 1968, she and her family moved to Fort Myers. A year later, they relocated to Sanibel. And she’s been here ever since.

“Back then, the island was pretty bare,” she said. “The canals had been dug and there was all of this excess dirt spread out everywhere. Basically, it was this big prairie island.”

Anholt also remembers that back then, around 1972 or 1973, the pressure was increasing from developers to construct condominiums across the islands.

“They told us that the development here was going to mimic Fort Myers Beach and Miami Beach,” said Anholt. “But people here didn’t want to see Sanibel go down the tubes.”

A photograph of the causeway bridge under construction, taken in October 1962.

Currently employed as a staff member of the Sanibel Public Library, Anholt took at look back at “the way things were” in her second book, “Sanibel’s Story – Voices and Images: From Calusa to Incorporation,” published in 1998. Following the success of her first book, “The Trolley Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands,” in 1990, the author spent more than two years assembling the stories, photographs and images which appear in the popular hardcover historical account of Sanibel’s modest origins as an indian fishing village to its modern day success as one of the world’s most unique tourist destinations.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this pictorial presentation of Sanibel’s history speaks volumes,” wrote Porter Goss in his forward to Anholt’s book.

According to the author, “Sanibel’s Story – Voices and Images: From Calusa to Incorporation” was conceived as a fundraiser for the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village. “It went through two printings and is still quite popular,” she added.

Her first book, known by many as “The Trolley Guide,” provided newcomers and residents alike with a quick reference on things to do on Sanibel and Captiva, as well as some interesting factoids about the island’s past. Included were tales about Sanibel’s early settlers, must see hot spots and virtually every topic of interest here: shells and sharks, mosquitos and mailboats, alligators and airfields.

Anholt published two more books, “The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation – A Natural Course” (2004) and “Sanibel Fire & Rescue – 50 Years of Progress” (2006), during the last decade, and she explained that there are other volumes “in the works.”

Captiva residents, from left, Jay Darling, Alice O'Brien and Penny Darling, photographed around 1940.

“There are a few ideas,” she said. “A lot of unpublished stuff, plus plans for a novel. But it’s just a case of ‘getting there.’ Since I work full time, I have to find the time to finish them.”

In addition, Anholt enjoys writing poetry, camping and canoeing. And despite all of the changes she has seen happen on Sanibel over the past 40-plus years, the island continues to grow on her.

“Sanibel has plenty of faults, no doubt about that,” she added, a moment before breaking into a smile. “But there are still not too many places around that are anything like this.”

Betty Anholt reads from her first book, "The Trolley Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands."