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SCCF offers weekly tour at Bailey Homestead Preserve

By Staff | May 3, 2017

SCCF Education Director Kristie Anders talks about the Devitt Pond during the "Making the Land Work" tour. MEGHAN McCOY

A cloudless sky and cool temperatures greeted participants of the weekly “Making the Land Work” walking tour of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation at the Bailey Homestead Preserve last week as the history of the Bailey family unfolded and what the restoration of the 28-acre wildlife habitat entailed.

“It’s really been an evolution of standing true to our mission and really sticking to our guns with that,” SCCF Education Director Kristie Anders said of the nonprofit organization’s 50th year. “We really run all of the things we do here (Bailey Homestead Preserve) through our mission. We make sure we stay on task with who we are and what we do for a living and integrating for the first time a house and this property.”

The weekly Wednesday walking tour will be held at 8:30 a.m. during May. It begins at the Gateway Kiosk at the head of the Shipley Trail, which is just inside and left of the property entrance. It is $5 per person, and free for Sanibel-Captiva Conserv-ation Foundation members.

Anders spearheaded the one-hour program by first explaining how the organization acquired the land.

“It was Frances Bailey who owned this particular piece of property,” she said of 1300 Periwinkle Way. “He approached us and said if you are interested in buying this property, I will give you one year. It will be $4 million and that was in 2010. We thought that it will test the waters on whether or not the people on the islands are still interested in preservation of coastal habitats. We signed the year’s option to do that. It’s also our practice to add a sufficient amount of funds to restore the land, so it is useful for wildlife afterwards, so our goal was $6 million.”

Education Director Kristie Anders describes what the Bailey's home first looked like during the tour. MEGHAN McCOY

Since the property was a connector to other land, providing wildlife a chance to move parallel to a busy corridor, it made sense for SCCF to try to tackle the daunting task of raising the $6 million. A “miraculous” donation came and SCCF was able to close three weeks early on the property.

The tour talk covered the trees and plants that took over the property, which began being removed, so it could be given back to the wildlife, as well as being created as public land for the community to enjoy.

“We balance separating out land that was valuable to wildlife and land that could possibly be used for public use,” Anders said.

The Bailey family, she said, was comprised of seven children. Mary Bailey’s husband “kind of failed” at tobacco farming in Virginia and then moved to Kentucky where he passed away.

“I think about a woman in their 60s in the 1890s and think, hmm, she had three unmarried sons who were in their 20s and she said, ‘I’m moving.’ ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Not sure yet,'” Anders said.

Anders said Mary and three of her sons packed up and moved to Sanibel. In 1896, the Baileys officially relocated to Sanibel and built a house the same year. .

“They befriended a woman at the Island Inn, who offered them the use of a dock out here on the bay. Frank Bailey was a pretty ingenious guy. He soon figured out being the merchant might be a better way to go than being a farmer. So they started the Bailey Packing House out here,” Anders said.

She said it was really the son, Frank, who anchored the house, took care of his mom and built the business.

“This land really, quite frankly to me, is a tribute to Frank and his older son, Francis,” Anders said.

Another stop on the tour was at the Devitt Pond, comprised mostly of rainwater. Anders said it was important for SCCF to have a pond on the property because they wanted to show individuals what kinds of plants grow well around a pond.

“It’s a teaching opportunity for us because it builds our business of preservation of coastal habitat,” she said.

The windmill, its significance to the property, as well as how it was discovered, was also a part of the tour. Anders said Francis Bailey told her that the 1944 hurricane was the last time it was used.

“In 1910, they had running water in the house,” she said.

The participants were then led to the pavilion, which offers information about the Bailey home, and the native garden that showcases plants that can be grown in such areas as on the beach and wetlands. The old honey house is now used as the Native Garden Center for SCCF.

“Francis was able to go to college because of the money Frank made on honey. They had hives all over the property,” Anders said.

The last stop on the tour took attendees through portions of the Bailey house.

The house, which still sits on the property, is a ‘crazy configuration,'” Anders explained, due to when the family grew, the house grew, too.

“It’s 90-feet long,” she said.

Anders took time to share how the house was expanded and the transformation it took from when it was first built.

Anders alternates weeks with SCCF Living and Wildlife Educator Dee Serage-Century, which she said provides a good balance because Serage-Century provides more information on the vegetation of the property.

For more information, call (239) 472-2329. The Bailey Homestead Preserve is located at 1300 Periwinkle Way.