Olde Island Charm

     Time changes all places. In a world where progress is often synonymous with growth, Southwest Florida's Barrier Islands are less at risk than most places. The spirit of conservation has preserved a good portion of the islands with a nod to natural history. When you're out and about on the islands, stay alert for a glimpse into the past; here's an informal list of some of our favorites on Sanibel and Captiva.
     Sanibel continues to improve its wonderful Historical Village on Dunlop Road. It's a must-see while on island.
     Near Sanibel's fishing pier, you can see the remnants of old pilings emerging from the waters close to shore. This is all that remains of Sanibel's old ferry dock. Before its construction, goods and vehicles were unloaded at the old Bailey Store, then located near the end of what is now Bailey Road.
     Periwinkle Way has a few buildings reminiscent of Olde Sanibel. Notice the Community Bank of the Islands at 1037 Periwinkle Way (and its next door neighbor The Bait Box). This friendly branch bank tips its hat to the islandsŐ past with a lovely collection of historical photographs hanging on its walls.
     The cottage at 2133 Periwinkle Way is also a beauty. Small and charming, it is typical of the type of structure being replaced on the islands today.
     If walls could talk, more island history than you can imagine would be gleaned from a house affectionately known as The Smudgepot. Located at the intersection of Periwinkle Way and Donax, this rambling green house on a large parcel of land is the old Bailey homestead. Francis Bailey explains how the house got its name: 'Mosquitoes used to be so bad that nearly everybody had smudgepots by the door to keep them down. Even if there were a few sprays, nobody could afford them. The soot from the pots made the house dirty, and if a pot turned over, ashes went everywhere.
     'My grandmother died in 1913,' Bailey continues. 'What followed was eight years with no females in the house. And, after my mother's death in 1935, same thing happened. All told, there were 17 years with no one at home except males, who have a tendency to keep things not quite as neat. Uncle Ernest began calling the house The Smudgepot.'
     One of Sanibel's oldest structures, Gray Gables (originally called The Gables) was the former home of the Nutt sisters. Located on West Gulf Drive, the house has actually been re-situated on the property, but a recent remodel preserved the structure's architectural heritage. A small cemetery between the house and the bike path is the final resting place for several Nutt family members, including the three Nutt sisters. Miss Cordie (Cordelia) and Miss Lettie (Letticia) used to teach Sunday school. The third sister, Miss Nannie, moved to California, only to come back to Sanibel late in life.
     Sanibel's Old Schoolhouse Theater, 1905 Periwikle Way, comes by its name honestly. It was school for grades one through eight. Francis Bailey remembers attending school there for a few years and graduating in 1932. A small school, the maximum number of students ever attending at once was 35. Bailey laughs as he recalls that there was 'only one school, one teacher and one pencil sharpener, but two, two-hole outhouses.'
     Originally built as a Baptist Church, the colorful structure at 520 Tarpon Bay Road became a school for Sanibel's black schoolchildren, then a school and church for the islands' African-American community. It was abandoned sometime before segregation, later became a residence, and now houses a charming gallery appropriately named the Schoolhouse Gallery.
     What is now the Olde House Shoppes includes a charming old home built by a Mr. Cooper. Notice the brick chimney when you're there. 630 Tarpon Bay Road.
     The Island Inn, at 3111 West Gulf Drive, near Gray Gables, oozes Olde Florida. The book Shorebirds and Seagrapes, available in local bookstores and at the Island InnŐs front desk, chronicles the rich history of the Inn, which celebrates its 102nd birthday in March. Several cottages can be found on the property, including the Matthews Cottage, named after the family who built the resort. The Phister Cottage was built by Mr. and Mrs. Phister and later given to the Inn. A Mrs. Zeeryp also built a cottage, which was later purchased by the Inn. For a real treat, stop by The Island Inn for breakfast or dinner. Reservations are suggested for the evening.
     As you're pedaling on the island bike paths along the Gulf, slow down to notice Sanibel's Seaside Inn at 541 East Drive. Close by and just as charming is the small resort called Gulf Breeze Cottages. Built in the mid- to late '40s, the resort is located on Shell Basket Lane off Nerita where Middle and East Gulf drives meet. Patrons used to drive west on the beach from Bailey Road to get to the property.
     Sanibel's only public cemetery is off Casa Ybel Road and can be found by adventurous cyclists. (According to Bailey, there are also a few graves near Wulfert Road on the northern end of Sanibel. He recalls, too, when a Spanish fishing smack went aground after the '44 hurricane. Several unknown sailors were allegedly buried somewhere on the islands; their identities remained a mystery.)
     Olde Island stories and style are not the sole province of Sanibel. Captiva's Chapel by the Sea and the adjacent cemetery are an intriguing look into the past. 11580 Chapin Lane.
     While on Captiva, be sure to stop at Jensen's Twin Palms Resort and Marina to say Hi! to 'the boys' and see just how much character a place can have when it's not contrived. Jensen's is an island institution-the very heart of Captiva. And, if we sound prejudiced, it's because we are. Since the demise of Timmy's Nook, Jensen's is the last great 'olde' hangout on Captiva. 15107 Captiva Drive.
     Next door to Jensen's is a beautifully preserved parcel of Captiva history. McCarthy's Marina and Cottages, on the old Andy Rosse property, is a tribute to good taste in historic preservation. The property has several refurbished guest cottages and a charming office that houses a fabulous coffee/pastry shop, as well as a tasteful gift shop. 15041 Captiva Drive.
     Captiva once had a lot of farmland, as did Sanibel. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, watermelon, black-eyed peas, and squash were all locally grown. What is now a large resort on Captiva's northern tip was once a key lime plantation. South Seas Plantation Resort's name only hints at its history. The resort has what it calls a History House, which details the resort's former life as a plantation. The History House is filled with mementos and pictures, and historical tours of the resort depart from the House on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:00 p.m. The History House is located near Chadwick's restaurant, just inside the entrance to South Seas. For more information, call 941-472-5111.
     For Captiva charm and history, 'Tween Waters Inn is also a landmark. The dining room of Olde Captiva House restaurant is filled with original drawings by J.N. 'Ding' Darling. Cottages with fireplaces are scattered across this historical property that stretches from beach to bay. If you aren't staying here, at least stop by for a look, a lunch, or a dinner. Captiva Drive, 941-472-5161.
     If you're the type who'd rather have someone guide you to all the island's charming Olde Florida spots, that can be easily arranged. Simply go to the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce any Monday through Friday for an historical trolley tour by Sanibel Trolley Company. Tours depart at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. from the Visitor Center parking lot on Causeway Road. Prices are $10 per person; children under 10 are half price. Call 941-472-6374 for more information.
     Adventures in Paradise also has an historical trolley tour Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. There are various pick-up points on Sanibel, and the price is $15 for adults, $10 for children. For more information, call 941-472-8443.
     Readers can obtain more details on Captiva's fascinating and varied history by picking up a copy of the book Voices from the Past...True Tales of Old Captiva, compiled by the Captiva Library Board.
     Olde Island charm is not reflected in dates, it's reflected in character. It's a cypress shingle roof, a board-and-batten cottage, a veranda, or an old story passed down from generation to generation. Try to picture these islands without pine trees or pepper bushes. Visualize acre upon acre of fruits and vegetables being tended under the tropical sun. Let your mind's eye see ferry boat supplies being unloaded by leathery-skinned locals. And, picture a restful afternoon break in Miss Charlotta's Tea Room in Sanibel's Historical Village. Once you do, you'll see the islands in a whole new light an old light, filtered through years of salt air and gritty determination.