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Historical village houses first Sanibel school


PHOTO PROVIDED Sanibel School for White Children at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Villag

The Sanibel School for White Children was constructed in 1896 at the corner of what is now Bailey Road and Periwinkle Way. In 1903, it was moved up Periwinkle — then a sand road, using rollers underneath, a winch and mule — to Purdy Drive. There it remained for more than 100 years until it was moved to the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.

The school was segregated, as were all schools in the South at the time, and there was a School for Black Children at Tarpon Bay Road and Island Inn Road. Both black and white parents petitioned to desegregate the new school being built in 1963. They succeeded and that school became the first integrated school in Lee County. The School for White Children was vacated in 1964, immediately after the integrated school opened.

After the present school was built, the schoolhouse became a theater, the Pirate Playhouse. It became a venue for local, and later professional, talent for 40 years. The school’s chalkboard stayed on the wall even through its years as a theater. When the Pirate Playhouse closed its doors, island icon Sam Bailey was instrumental in bringing the schoolhouse to the museum and seeing it restored to the school he remembered.

Early teachers received $2.50 per student per semester. One teacher, Nancy McCann, wore bobby sox and taught baseball at recess. In “Memories of the Sanibel School,” Christine Gault remembered, “Every year we had to listen to the World Series. At recess we all played softball. With so few kids, all of us were needed to eke out two teams. We played in a large open field next to the school. I was always the last to be chosen. Since I was the smallest kid, I was pitched grounders that I mostly missed anyway. I hate baseball.”

Gault remembered that teaching on Sanibel was considered a hardship assignment that did not attract many applicants. Sometimes the bus driver substituted. Occasionally, the teacher would declare nature study days and take the children to the beach. “I don’t remember much of the actual lessons,” she said. “I do know that although there were some weaknesses in my early education (such as spelling and punctuation), I learned a lot at that school. And what great memories it gave me!”

PHOTO PROVIDED Interior of the Sanibel School for White Children.

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is at 950 Dunlop Road, Sanibel. The facility closed early for the off-season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is scheduled to reopen on Oct. 20.

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

PHOTO PROVIDED Monitors board inside of the Sanibel School for White Children.

PHOTO PROVIDED Historical photo of the Sanibel School for White Children.