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Sanibel museum ends its 30th season on Aug. 2

August 1, 2014
by CRAIG GARRETT ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

What better place to recognize a day of significance than the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village.

The village that closes for a couple of months on Aug. 2 is concluding its thirtieth season. Thousands of visitors each year spill through its gates. It's so popular that guide maps are printed in seven languages. It's uniqueness includes a sea-shell collection of Thomas Edison's son, Charles.

The village opened in 1984. Supporters over three decades have acquired about a dozen buildings representing south Florida character and history, including a general store, a tea parlor, a packing house, a schoolhouse, a post office, others of significance and relevance. Within the buildings are goods, clothing and tableware that represent each structure. The circular village grounds next to the BIG ARTS cultural complex are connected by a walkway bordered with wildflowers, a garden, a quiet corner of a quiet island.

Article Photos

Rutland house

The museum this year saw some 10,000 visitors pass through its turnstiles. The museum reopens Nov. 5 with a new reception center, a facelift that heat, visitors and time necessitate.

"I've never heard anyone say but they loved it, that they felt like they were going back in time," said Barbara Broadhurst, a village docent. "And (they) can touch things. Nothing is locked behind glass. It is a very special place."

The idea for the museum was fostered in the early 1980s by a committee largely directed by the city. But the initial plan was to move a Sanibel home owned by Clarence Rutland, said Ty Symroski, an original committee member piecing together the project. Rutland's home is a vintage cracker style building of hard pine. Clarence Rutland's family arrived in Sanibel in 1896. He was six. In the 1920s young Rutland earned seven cents per crate packing tomatoes and peppers for farmers and resided in the house until his death in 1982. Docents like to show visitors in the Rutland home a board of hard pine, demonstrating its heft and durability.

The Rutland home through this season had been the village's visitor center. While the home is wonderful, its entryway is cramped, causing some difficulties in pace of service, museum officials concede. A new welcome center opens in November. The former Shore Haven home is larger and modernized, yet the character of the exterior is intact. It is better suited to handling the continuing growth in visitors, said Emilie Alfino, museum manager. The Rutland home will be restored to its original luster.

Symroski lived in one of the homes later moved to the village -- a Sears & Roebuck cottage that cost an uncle $2,200 in 1925. The blue home, named the Morning Glories Cottage, was first moved by boat to Sanibel in 30,000 pieces.

As a boy, Symroski was a regular at the Bailey's General Store that was also later moved to the village. The store's character endures with period items on the wood shelves, a pair of gravity gas pumps outside the front doors. Symroski recalls purchasing jawbreaker candy at the Bailey's that had been located at the foot of the San Carlos Bay, that one of the Bailey brothers was more stern than the other. He also recalls the excitement of a cousin given $5 as a birthday gift. The boy decided to purchase a section of rope from Bailey's that he used for tree swinging and building a raft. Bailey's carried nearly anything an islander required, he said: Clothing, tools, fish nets, groceries. The alternative was a long ferry ride to Fort Myers, he said.

His family's blue cottage was later donated to the village.

"Look at the fireplace mantels," Symroski said of homes moved to the village over thirty years, "and you'll see the thumbtack holes" that held Christmas stockings. "I remember those times for getting my first fishing rod, my first wristwatch. They have done a great job at the museum."

Symroski's aunt, Elinore Dormer, led an effort in having the Rutland home saved and moved to museum grounds owned by the city, he said. At that time, Symroski sat on the Sanibel Planning Commission, the body that formed plans to erect the village and save historic island structures from the wrecking ball. Although many island structures were destroyed or fell into disrepair, enough were saved to create a village of character, he said.

The museum, Symroski said, "is very representative of Sanibel and the diversity of lifestyles of the island. I just wouldn't have dreamed (then) that it has turned out as well as it has today. I'm in awe of what they have done."

Although tour groups herd the grounds, a charm today of the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village is for the lone visitor to drift. A key is that the buildings are open to inspection, nothing like the counterparts at the Edison estate. Miss Charlotta's Tea Room, for instance, is pretty much intact from the 1920s through 1935, the fare and charms frozen in time: Table settings, an icebox and tongs, children's things, the quiet magic of a throwback, when cell phones weren't glued to a patron's face. It's also clear that air-conditioning is an amenity few today could live without. Museum visitors literally stand at the center of a timeframe.

"We have pioneer cabins in the Smokies (mountains), and they're nice," said David Hartman, a Nashville man visiting the village. "But it's nothing like this. (You) can tell the people running this place have a passion."

Details, times for the Nov. 5 opening, admission and village structure studies are available at



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