“Historic Sanibel & Captiva Islands: Tales of Paradise,” by Jeri Magg. History Press. 128 pages. $19.99.
Southwest Florida’s coastal islands are among the state’s – and the nation’s – most enjoyable treasures. Sanibel and Captiva are particularly colorful both in their fascinating histories, their natural beauty, and in their present-day balance of old and new. Jeri Magg’s new book provides a wide array of insights and anecdotes about what makes these places special. It also provides fifty black and white images to help engage our imaginations.
The author’s plan is traveler-friendly. After a concise, general overview of the region’s history, Ms. Magg pins her exploration to two maps –one for each island. The maps number and name almost fifty places of interest (sometimes merely crossroads or historic buildings), and the names and numbers then head her larger and smaller narrative treatments. These sections and sub-sections are in themselves chronologically organized. With this book in hand, one can make one’s way around the islands and soak up information about colorful personalities and changing times.
The history stretches back hundreds of years to a time when the Calusa Indians built shell mounds on the islands, when Spaniards and later Cubans wrestled for influence and dominance. Later, enterprising individuals from around the colonies (and then the states) struck out for opportunities to enjoy and exploit the natural beauties, the fertile soil, and the bountiful marine life.
Those of us who live in Southwest Florida and other desirable, once-obscure locations, know the story of the constant struggle between the forces of conservation and so-called progress, between privacy and exclusivity on the one hand and population growth/development on the other. In many of her vignettes, Jeri Magg presents versions of this paradigmatic story. Indeed, the famous lighthouse on Sanibel (that has undergone so many technological changes) can be said to stand for the tension between a place being marked out – being put on the map for safety and convenience – and a place screaming “notice me” and being overrun.
The detailed stories Ms. Magg tells of transportation to and from the islands – from private commercial piers to ferry boats to the causeway – are filled with this kind of tension. Make it easy to get there and people will come, and then more people will come, and then . . . you’re stuck in traffic and surrounded by noises that drown out the ripple of surf and the sea breezes.
Stories of postal service, eateries, schools and churches, important homesteads (like that of George W. Carter), agricultural enterprises, and resorts come laden with their casts of characters. We learn about Jake Summerlin, lighthouse keepers Dudley Richardson and Henry Shanahan, the Kinzie family’s steamship line, and postmistress Laetitia Nutt. We enjoy tales of the pioneer families like the Bryants and somewhat more recent families like the Lindgrens, the Matthews, and the Baileys. We witness the slow march of technology as it modernizes life on the islands. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March 7, 2012 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 8 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Jeri Magg