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Shore Haven and The Case for More Space

By Staff | Jan 5, 2012

Alex Werner examines an antique "Cracker Doll House" which is among furniture, books, tools, photos and other materials stored in the packing room of the Sanibel Historic Museum and Village.




Shore Haven and The Case for More Space

By Bill Schiller

Sanibel Historical Museum Volunteer Archivist displays containers of shells meticulously collected and catalogued over the years by the late Betty Gamler, a teacher who donated her collection of shells to the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. McLaughlin is currently keeping the collection and display cases, in her garage at home as space limitations at the museum are not conducive for exhibition at this time. (Photos by Bill Schiller)


In recent deliberations of the Sanibel City Council, community leaders have discussed the feasibility of acquiring the historic home known as Shore Haven with the idea that it could be relocated from its current location on Bird Lane and transitioned for use on the grounds of Sanibel Island’s Historical Museum and Village. In December, a motion made by Councilman Marty Harrity garnered approval allowing for examination of the structure’s dimensions to determine whether or not sufficient space was available on site of The Historical Village. During the January 3 City Council meeting, Harrity reported measurements had been completed, and indeed, Shore Haven could be accommodated.

Though not a done deal as yet, and Shore Haven’s historic significance undergoing further review, for now Sanibel Historical Museum & Village President Alex Werner indicates that it is likely his Board of Directors will follow through on an acquisition/relocation request to the City. While the jury is still out on some of the numbers involved, Werner believes his group has the finances necessary to support the move, so that it wouldn’t pose a burden to City coffers. As discussion along these lines continue, Werner, along with others who are essentially supportive of the Shore Haven proposal, say the acquisition poses certain advantages in providing the museum and village with much needed extra space to accommodate special exhibitions and displays.

With its interesting array of materials all housed in classic cottages, including an old school room, the museum grounds are already replete as a repository for items that help hype Sanibel Island’s fascinating heritage. The facility is also a draw for tourists and throughout its last fiscal year, more than 7,000 people were drew there to determine whatever they could detect in the way of local history.

Those people may have never realized that the museum is in possession of a lot more than what is currently displayed. There are things hardly anyone ever gets to see, as Werner laments, “Because we just don’t have room to exhibit everything we have.”

To drive that point home, Werner provided a rare glimpse within the village’s “packing room.”

Detaching a security chain that bars passage to all with a colorful sign indicating “No Entry: Museum Staff Only” – Werner leads up the structure’s ramp and inserts a key into a pad-locked door that opens to reveal rooms with a treasure trove of historic materials.

At first sight, metal shelves can be seem brimming with all manner of old bottle, tools & implements, porcelain, clocks and who-knows-what of former utility, which may have been less than 100 years ago, but in these modern times, resemble all of ancient antiquity.

Along the wall at one end of a room, more shelves can be seen, but in this case, row upon row of old books; among them, an early 19th Century copy of Robinson Crusoe (good reading on any island). Among a stack of thick family bibles, there’s a real find, an 1888 edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost beautifully illustrated by the French Artist Gustave Dor. (Similar copies have sold for more than $1,500).

Werner opens a cabinet and reveals something that speaks to a paradise almost lost; renderings of the original plats for those properties which had been destined to become a development known as Sanibel Gardens. These site plans harken back to a period prior to Sanibel’s status as a National Refuge. In fact, these renderings help depict what developers may have accomplished (or destroyed) had it not been for local forces that sought to protect vast amounts of acreage. Werner credits the original founders of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation with contacting each of the former property owners and basically reclaiming that land.

The drawers are also filled with postcards, letters and even more books and magazines; including an 1898 bound and illustrated Story of The Spanish & American War. Next to that, a 1920 copy of Ladies Home Journal is found. And still, perhaps popular with some in Sanibel at the time, a 1935 edition of Farmer’s Wife Magazine. Despite curiosity as to what passed for news articles in that era, Werner forbids as pages of this magazine (unlike most farmer wives) are far too delicate.

Pictures tell another story, and there are way too many to fully account. Immediately noticeable is a photograph of Sanibel’s very first City Council, which includes a young, tan and more heavily-haired, former Mayor (not to mention former Director of America’s Central Intelligence Agency) Porter Goss. This is a more recent piece as many of the pictures, paintings and sketchings depict a time long ago. Some images are of people (not all identified) while others are of a nautical nature. Among the images is a painting of the USS Algiers, a ferry boat which had been converted into a private residence formerly situated at Algiers Beach, which, in its day, served as the very first mansion of any kind on this island.

Remnants of that vessel can be found in other areas of the historical village.

In other space, there is attire in the form of suits, dresses, hats and other apparel which speak to wardrobe in the Sanibel of the 1920s and 1930s. There is also a spinning wheel, sewing machines, furniture and dollhouses, all antiques. For even greater antiquity, Werner leads to a back room where two over-sized tupperware-type cases contain more treasure. Each is filled with tools crafted from shells used by Sanibel’s earliest settlers – the Calusa Indians. Werner shows how one thick shell was used as a mallet, and how another, tapered into a spiral form, functioned like a hand drill. And there’s a lot more shells too, in fact, so many, that the museum can’t even accommodate all that it has. Over the years, between the shell collections of early settlers, and other collections which have been bequeathed to the museum, Werner says the facility had to secure assistance from the Museum’s Volunteer Archivist and Display Coordinator Mary McLauglin. Mary’s home (at least the garage space) serves as another repository for shells that belong to the museum. She wants the shells out, but not because she’s interested in having more space in her garage. She says, “These need to be on display so everyone can enjoy their beauty.”

The Museum does have some shells on display, but as Werner notes, these are almost lost among the array of items now on display in the village. He says the acquisition of Shore Haven would give the Museum room it needs to create special rotating exhibits or gallery displays with these items that seemingly demand unique showcasing.

And when Werner speaks of rotating exhibits, he isn’t just mindful of materials currently stored in the packing room. There is something of greater enticement. Almost a year ago, principals of the traveling exhibitions affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum contacted Werner to discuss the feasibility of coming to Sanibel. These particular exhibitions provide an opportunity for people in many parts of America to get an up-close and personal view of art and ancient artifacts of world history from the comfort of their own community, which is especially meaningful to those who cannot readily make a trip to the Smithsonian. At the time, Werner could only report that there was insufficient space to arrange such exhibitions. The Shore Haven home, he believe, could turn that around.

It is also fitting to note that Shore Haven has a historical legacy in its own right. The home, a “kit house” sold by Sears Roebuck, was erected on Sanibel in 1924, one of two such structures known on Sanibel in that era.

Though modernized over the years, Werner believes that removal of the home’s vinyl siding will reveal the home’s original clapboard which is also historically significant in terms of building trends from that period. Some of the home’s modern features appeal to the Museum’s Communications Director Emilie Alfino. Currently, she shares an office with another staff member who handles accounting needs. Echoing remarks of Alex Werner, Alfino says, “It would be nice to have more room.”

During the January 3 City Council Meeting, Sanibel’s Planning Director Jordan noted that Shore Haven’s current owners have made an application for it to be demolished as they have plans to redevelop their property. That caveat creates a greater sense of urgency for action, and Werner reported principals of his organization will be meeting, expeditiously, to discuss costs and review architectural aspects and finalize determinations as to how best to move forward, for a project that may be as important to Sanibel’s future as it is to its past.