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LeBuff publishes book on ‘The Sanibel Island Lighthouse’

By Staff | Jul 5, 2017

Charles LeBuff By MEGHAN McCOY

The book, “The Sanibel Island Lighthouse: A Complete History,” first became available as an eBook about two years ago, before Charles LeBuff heard from his readers asking for a paperback, which resulted in the latest edition a few weeks ago.

“If they are interested in Sanibel history, it’s a good read,” he said. “It’s the most historical site in the whole region.”

The Sanibel Lighthouse was built in 1884.

The first time LeBuff saw the Sanibel Lighthouse was in 1952 from Bonita Beach, where he was collecting live shells with a buddy of his for the Shell Factory.

“His mother worked for the Shell Factory when it used to be in Bonita Springs before it burned down,” he said.

The two started their trek back to the car in the dark when LeBuff saw a light off to the right and a little bit behind him. After asking his friend what it was, he learned, “that’s the Sanibel light.”

A newbie to Fort Myers, LeBuff quickly learned about Sanibel from two of his classmates, which sparked his curiosity.

“It sounded kind of neat, so I talked Don into coming over Christmas Break to Sanibel,” he said.

He arrived on Sanibel for the first time in December of 1952.

“We walked all the way around the lighthouse of course. I was used to brick and mortar lighthouses. I had never seen a skeletal lighthouse like this,” LeBuff said.

After being selected for a position at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in 1958, LeBuff had the opportunity to get a real, intimate, inside feel of how the Sanibel Lighthouse operated.

“I moved into the lighthouse quarters in 58. That was a condition of my employment, I had to live there. So, my wife, and daughters and I moved in there. We lived there a little less than 22 years,” LeBuff said. “I was always interested in lighthouses and wanted to learn more. So, I began to unwind what history I could.”

LeBuff was the last federal employee that lived at the quarters.

“It was rough in the early years,” he said of living on the premise. “It didn’t have any air-conditioning for the first 10 years. We drank rain water for the first six years. We didn’t have any telephones for three years. We relied on a ferry for medical aid. We raised two kids there.”

The main part of the house, the square part, consisted of four rooms. The wing, which was originally a kitchen, was the fifth room. Between the kitchen and the main part of the building had a storage room.

Until 1923, there were no inside bathrooms, so an outhouse was located on the porch. LeBuff said the cubicle was still there when he lived there.

“I eventually put in a hot water heater because there was a hole in the board,” LeBuff said.

In 1998, LeBuff released his book “Sanibel Light,” which included a great deal of information about the lighthouse.

After becoming a member of the board of Florida Lighthouse Association, representing the Sanibel Lighthouse, LeBuff’s knowledge grew.

“I met other people that had interest in lighthouses and gave me pointers on which archives to look at. It just peeked my interest more and I begun to put together this manuscript,” he said.

Through his research, he learned about the transition of different lenses used for the lighthouse and gained the names of lighthouse keepers and assistant keepers.

“I learned that the building I lived in nearly burned down in the ’30s. It was saved by Cuban fisherman who formed a bucket brigade and saved it from getting water out of the Gulf of Mexico,” LeBuff said.

All of the information he has gathered from over the years was assembled into a 130 page book, which has 66 black and white, as well as color photographs.

Some of the highlights of “The Sanibel Island Lighthouse: A Complete History,” include the mechanics of a lighthouse, as well as the duties of a light keeper.

“They were responsible for maintenance of the land, the buildings, the light tower, the operation of the light. Fuel it every night. Check the timing of the mechanism to make sure it was perfectly timed to match the published characteristics of the light,” LeBuff said of the light keeper.

The last section of the book is a progressive history based mostly on old postcards that began in the 1900s to 1978.

“It showed how the lighthouse changed, and the land changed,” LeBuff said.

In addition to information about the lighthouse, the book also lists movies that were made in the area, as well as the authors thoughts about the lighthouse in the future.

MacIntosh Books and Paper are the exclusive seller of signed and personalized copies of the book, which are now available. For those who would like to meet the author, can do so by stopping by the bookstore every Sunday afternoon at 2300 Palm Ridge Road.

“Stop in and chat and talk about Sanibel,” LeBuff said.