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Drawn by its now-famous Florida beaches, shelling, fishing and nature walks, visitors arrived via a half-hour ferry ride from Fort Myers.Many stocked up for the week at Bailey’s General Store, which is still a mainstay of the island today.By 1889, there were 21 houses and 40 families living on Sanibel.In 1892, with a population nearing 100, Sanibel built its first schoolhouse, which visitors can now see displayed at the Sanibel Historical Village.In 1945, more than 6,300 acres of mangrove, bay and estuary became the J. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and today is home to more than 300 species of birds, 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 30 types of mammals.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and noted conservationist, “Ding” wintered on Captiva for years to come, and actively campaigned for federal protection of the island’s fragile ecosystem.
Historians believe that Sanibel and Captiva were formed as one island about six thousand years ago, as sediment that rose from the sea after being shaped by centuries of storm activity.
Dating as far back as 2,500 years, the native Calusa Indians were the first-known residents of the island.
In 1928, the Kinzie brothers constructed docks at the east end of Sanibel, and ferry service provided transport to the island for the next 35 years.
Sea captains and farmers quickly started to homestead the island.