Sanibel History Damaged But Not Destroyed By Ian

by SC Reporter Cassanda Wilkins

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village has begun the cleanup process after several buildings were damaged, but not destroyed, by Hurricane Ian. The Village is being cleaned by Belfor, a restoration contractor for the city.

“I was there the other day, and they are doing a fantastic job. They have even cleaned up all the damaged landscape. So that is very encouraging to me,” said Director Emilie Alfino.

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is closed after Hurricane Ian damaged several of its buildings. SC photo by Shannen Hayes

There are 10 buildings unique to the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village which have been around for more than a century. While the buildings are still standing, there was varying levels of damage that will take time to repair. The Sanibel School House, established in 1896, is one of the main buildings heavily damaged in the storm.

“It was wrecked and tilted off its foundation,” said Alfino. “The Belfry (a bell tower) was blown away. Recently, Belfor shored up the side of the building that is crooked. I would consider that a big accomplishment for us. It caused some other problems, for example, on the opposite side of the building we lost some original windows. Which was really a shame, but it had to be done.”

The Museum and Village, founded in 1984, sits on city-owned land on Dunlop Road. It tells the story of the island from the Calusa and Spanish eras to the early pioneer families who settled here in 1800s. Each building had been restored to its original state and volunteer docents shared the stories of Sanibel with nearly 10,000 visitors each year.

The Sanibel Historical Museum & Village before Hurricane Ian struck on Sept. 28. Volunteer docents shared the island’s history with nearly 10,000 visitors each year. A reopening date has not be set.

However, two front desk receptionists have been furloughed since the storm. A volunteer receptionist has been working hourly, much less than her normal schedule since there are no volunteers to coordinate with the museum’s closing. The finance assistant as well as the executive director have been working half-time.

The Village will remain closed until further notice. Alfino said “it’s hard to have a timeline.”

“We just don’t know when all the work will be done,” she said. “As far as reopening, it’s hard to look that far into the future. It’s going to take quite some time. I can’t even go in to get files or computers or anything like that.”

Preliminary insurance estimates come to approximately $1.35 million in damage to the Village. A designated team to assist with artifact protection has been established and volunteering to help with mitigation measures is encouraged, as the organization works with the city on a plan.

In the meantime, the museum is diligently working towards cleaning out the buildings and repairing the damage.

“In an ironic sort of way this has enabled us to clean out all our buildings and clean everything that’s in the buildings,” said Alfino. “So that when it’s put back in, we’re starting from a clean slate and we’re able to determine what should be there, and what needs to be rearranged.”

“We’re very grateful that the buildings survived,” Alfino said. “They are over 100 years old. We were scared when the storm was going on that we were going to lose these buildings. But they’re all standing, and they can all be fixed.”

Anyone who would like to help the museum and village in the recovery process, either by volunteering or making a donation, can visit or email

Comments (1)

  1. Ginny Darby (Docent, Historical Museum and Village)

    Great article on the Historical Village. Sanibel lost two treasured historic structures when Hurricane Ian destroyed the keepers cottages at the lighthouse. In the wake of Ian, Sanibel history—hugely impacted by hurricanes—is more important to preserve than ever.

    One note, there’s a typo in the article—the schoolhouse was established in 1896 on the corner of Periwinkle Way and Bailey Road. In 1903 it was moved farther up Periwinkle. Sanibel was uninhabited in 1826.

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