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Tarpon Bay Road name change is a very slippery slope

By Staff | Jul 26, 2017

To the editor:

At the July 18 council meeting, a proposal was made by the Gavin-Walker families, in conjunction with their upcoming centennial celebration, to have Tarpon Bay Road renamed Gavin-Walker Road. Gavin family members lobbied Mayor Ruane and the council members for this change shortly before the meeting, so there was little time to fully explore the topic. Mayor Ruane voiced strong agreement, and there seemed to be no opposition from the other council members of renaming one of the oldest named roads on our island, although the City of Sanibel does not have a policy of naming, or renaming streets after individuals or families. The decision was postponed until the Aug. 1 council meeting to allow time to research policies of street renaming of other cities.

The Gavins are fine people and I appreciate their desire for recognition in this year of their centennial. But, there are valuable alternatives to changing one of the three main thoroughfares on Sanibel, which is a Lee County road, with considerable historical background in its name. The proposed change would create chaos for the numerous commercial businesses on Tarpon Bay Road, as well as the Federal Post Office. It is one of the three most heavily traveled roads on our island, Periwinkle and San-Cap being the others.

According to a local historian, the two oldest named roads on Sanibel are Tarpon Bay Road and Island Inn Road, both destination names. Periwinkle Way was named by Francis Bailey, Jr. and Priscilla Murphy for marketing purposes. Tarpon Bay was originally the site of many fish houses, with great commercial value to Sanibel. Later, there was a marina there, where a young Randy White worked as a fishing guide until the federal government closed it down. He started writing full-time and became Randy Wayne White.

No member of the Gavin, or Walker family ever owned property on Tarpon Bay Road. A house was once lent to Pearl Alice Walker, Eugene Gavin’s grandmother, which once stood near the intersection of Tarpon Bay Road and West Gulf Drive. While I’m certain their family has fond memories, that seems insufficient to justify a major road name change for our island.

As far as I know, no Sanibel streets have been named, or renamed after individuals, or families. Bailey Road is a destination name, for their old general store was at the end of the road. I have been told that Aleck’s Alley was named after Mary Aleck more as a joke, for it really is not a road. Woodring Road was on the Woodring property. Both Florence and Isabel were named after people, but few remember who they were.

It is a very slippery slope for our city and City Council to change long-standing policy at this time by renaming one of our island’s oldest named historical roads after families who never owned property there. If the mayor and council are susceptible to lobbying for this kind of thing, just imagine the long line at their doors in the future. This is a volunteer-oriented island. How can you quantify individual, or family contributions?

There are other valuable ways to recognize the contributions of the Gavin-Walker families, and I encourage the mayor, City Council, and city to focus upon those. There are alternatives to setting a dangerous precedent by renaming an historical Lee County road that has long had meaning to our island.

If you disagree with changing the name of historical Tarpon Bay Road to Gavin-Walker Road, please email and/ or call Mayor Ruane and each City Council member by July 28. Otherwise, this ill-advised change may well go through.

Alison Ward