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Would-be gas station becomes Tea Room in 1926

By Staff | Apr 15, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Team Room at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.

Miss Charlotta’s Team Room once sat on the bay next to the old Bailey General Store. It now resides at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village and is one of the favorite buildings of visitors. Its old-fashioned charm is evident, from the case displaying baked goods to the tables and chairs set and ready for visitors as though it was 1930.

The Tea Room was built by the pioneer Bailey family and was originally meant to be a gas station to service trucks transport produce. The hurricane of 1926 changed those plans when it destroyed the Bailey store on Mathews Wharf. The would-be gas station became a temporary store until the Baileys rebuilt the general store in 1927 – this time on the shore rather than the wharf, and with its own gas pumps.

The modest building, a 20-by-20-foot structure with the porch, was then given to niece Charlotta Matthews – aunt to the three Bailey boys, Francis, John and Sam – to use as a tea room, servicing those arriving or departing by boat. Tea and refreshments were brought daily from The Matthews, which was owned by Matthews’ mother, Hallie “Granny” Matthews. (The Matthews later became the Island Inn.)

“The Tea Room was run by Charlotta, herself an adaptable, self-sufficient islander who dispensed sweets and lemonade, energy and good humor during the 1930s,” Elinor Dormer wrote in “The Sea Shell Islands.”

“At that time, it was the women who might order tea or refreshments while the men could go out back and play miniature golf on the island’s first golf course,” Sanibel Historical Museum and Village Executive Director Emilie Alfino said.

PHOTO PROVIDED Charlotta Matthews

It was a miniature golf course with enough holes to amuse the folks who came for shopping, for the telephone, for the ferry, or for fun.

“If there’s a building that typifies the island, it is Miss Charlotta’s Tea Room,” Dormer wrote. “Intended to be the island’s first gas station, located at the foot of Bailey Road, destiny determined otherwise.”

In 1934, the Kinzie brothers started a new ferry service that docked at the end of Ferry Road, greatly diminishing the number of Matthews’ patrons, and she closed the Tea Room at the end of the 1930s. The screened porch under the overhang, originally built for the gas pumps, was enclosed, and the interior was divided into rooms. The building housed island school teachers who taught white children until the 1950s as part of their compensation package. Besides teachers, the occupants were part of the Bailey Store family.

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is at 950 Dunlop Road, Sanibel. The facility is currently closed at this time until further notice as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

For more information or updates, visit www.sanibelmuseum.org.

PHOTO PROVIDED Guests could rest at Miss Charlotta's Tea Room.

PHOTO PROVIDED Charlotta Matthews sold tea, cookies and snacks to weary travelers.

PHOTO PROVIDED Team Room at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.