By Emilie Alfino, Executive Director
When visitors come to the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village, we take them as far back as the late 1800s on Sanibel and show them what life was like for the pioneers who braved the harsh conditions of the time.
The Historical Village is not really a village. The buildings were brought to the Village from their original locations on the island so they could be preserved and shared with visitors. All nine buildings have been authentically restored to their original state when built.
Sanibel started as a farming community, much different from what it is now. Life was hard. Why was Sanibel good for farming? Some reasons are: (1) rich topsoil, (2) no freezing temperatures, and (3) fresh water for irrigation.
Farmers used mules and oxen and worked for generations without modern equipment. Horses and cows couldn’t live on the island because of diseases caused by the mosquitoes.
These were brave, tough people.
Our most recent acquisition is Shore Haven (1924). Shore Haven, where visitors enter and buy their tickets, is the museum’s most recent acquisition, moved to the Village in 2012 and opened to the public in 2014. This is where visitors can watch our new 18-minute film about the Village and the island’s history.
The home is a Sears and Roebuck kit house, purchased in 1924 by Ross and Daisy Mayer. Ross Mayer and his brother, Martin, were contractors in Erie, Pennsylvania, who had often vacationed on Sanibel. In the 1920s, they decided to buy land on San Carlos Bay, near the Sanibel Packing Company. Both families bought Sears houses – the other house, Morning Glories, is also in the village – and built them next to each other, sharing an artesian well and a generator, as well as a bath house and the caretakers’ cottage, which is now also in the Village. It honors the Black American contribution to the island.
Daisy Mayer, who lived in Shore Haven, loved to fish and could often be seen on the fishing pier behind their house. The exterior of Shore Haven has been restored to its 1924 look, except for the sun porch, which is a modern addition.
The Sears Roebuck kit homes were available through the Modern Homes catalog of Honor Bilt Homes from 1909 until the mid-1940s. Sears sold over 70,000 such homes. The homes were very popular with “factory” towns because a large company could order as many as needed for their employees and have them constructed in the same location. They were extremely well-built houses, available in three grades. Sanibel’s two examples are of the middle grade. Shore Haven is the “Verona” model and Morning Glories is the smaller “Springwood” model.
The electric lights and bathroom were unusual on the island at that time. Why? The bathroom had a sink with faucets, bath tub and flush toilet, and the house was wired for electricity. Sanibel didn’t have electricity until the mid-1940s, and a sewer system until well after the causeway opened in 1963. The house was built with full plumbing and electric wiring because it was part of the kit. Shore Haven and Morning Glories shared a generator, which allowed enough power for lights and plumbing pump but not enough for a refrigerator.
Today, Shore Haven houses offices and a conference room on the second floor, and a reception desk to welcome visitors on the first floor. Another room is set up to show our orientation movie, and another as a place to begin docent-led tours of the village.
The Village currently has about 100 volunteers who perform a wide range of duties to assist the Village in its operation. More volunteers are always needed, as people have to float in and out of service from time to time. The Sanibel Historical Museum & Village always welcomes new volunteers to work in a great variety of positions. Anyone who is interested can call Executive Director Emilie Alfino at (239) 472-4648.
The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Full guided tours take place at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at no additional charge, depending on docent availability. The Sanibel Historical Village is located at 950 Dunlop Road (next to BIG ARTS) and there is handicap access. Admission is $10 for adults over 18. Members and children are free.