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In Search of History

By Staff | Dec 14, 2011

One of the Island markers of history that could be updated in the scope of the Sanibel History Project underway. It shares details of William Allen and his son George who came to Sanibel in 1869 to raise castor beans for their medicinal oil.  The plantation was wiped out in the hurricane of 1873.  As census taker in 1870, Allen reported only two people living on Sanibel, him and his son. The plaque is located on East Gulf Drive.

If your church, civic association or commercial enterprise has ever taken the time to compile a textual account of your history; something that details the particular people, events and processes which explains exactly how your institution came to be on Sanibel Island, the community’s Historical Preservation Committee wants to hear from you.

It is all part of a larger initiative that has been underway for some six months now, to catalog Sanibel Island History for the creation of an archive and convenient reference system that will be made available to researchers at Sanibel’s Public Library.

The overall project is a collaboration between the library, Sanibel Historical Museum and Village and Sanibel Historic Preservation Committee. In recent months, Committee Members have been busy taking inventory and cataloging Island history from the earliest days of its discovery and serving as an indian settlement to the period that prompted construction of the causeway and incorporation as a city.

The project has been overseen by Historic Preservation Committee Member and Volunteer, Don Adams, a veteran museum management consultant who has previously worked with some 40 museums and historical organizations throughout the United States and Canada.

A former senior officer at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village of Dearborn, Michigan, (and former director of that community’s Automotive Hall of Fame), Adams is high regarded locally for helping to facilitate the strategic planning process that led to the privatization of the Edison and Ford Estates of Fort Myers.

In terms of the Sanibel initiative, Adams says he and the committee began some time ago by developing specific categories of interest, such as relating to Calusa Indians, early pioneers, industry and incorporation.

With more than a dozen headings identified; they began a meticulous process of unearthing and mining through data either published in books or amongst the material published over the years in The Island Reporter, to document and cite all manner of relevant information.

Adams says the project is now at the point where they are looking to churches and institutions of Sanibel to secure even more historical data. While he anticipates that a final report to be completed by the summer of 2012, when all is said and done, Adams says efforts will culminate with the creation of “a resource for the many Island organizations that are presenting the history of the people and events that comprise Sanibel’s unique heritage.”

An additional goal involves making improvements to the variety of historical plaques that are currently situated among Sanibel. Adams says the committee plans to explore methods of enhancing markers, possibly expanding content, to better convey the historical significance of information presented.

In the end, Adams and the others involved are working to ensure Sanibel’s historical legacy is as recognizable as its status as wildlife sanctuary. “Historical heritage is important, the same way as our environmental heritage is important,” he says.

In coming to an understanding of so much that speaks to Sanibel’s history, Adams says he has learned some information that, for him, served as something of a surprise. “It was interesting to learn the immense role women have played in the development of this community,” says Adams, going on to refer to their work in establishing the earliest boarding houses that allowed people to stay and work here, leading to development of industry, as well as their role in the advocacy of policies.

That point certainly wouldn’t be lost today if speaking with Executive Director Steve Greenstein of Sanibel’s very revered Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. At a recent event, Greenstein informed the audience that as much as 75% of the clinic’s crucial volunteer base are women over the age of 60 – a modern mirror that seems very reflective of what Adam asserts as historic fact.

He additionally notes that the historic data has provided him with new awareness and appreciation as to the “resiliency” of the people who settled Sanibel, noting their perseverance through hurricanes and storms of mosquitos. He shares a tale of smudge pots being burned on area school busses in order to discourage the flying menace. In another account, mosquitos were reportedly so great in number, people had to cover their mouths out of concern for inhaling them in.

That’s the past, for now Adams is very focused on the future goals of the project and is encouraging those with history to share to contact him by phone at (239) 395 0557.