Cities Near Naples, Florida » Sanibel, Florida
Sanibel is a city in Lee County, Florida, United States, on Sanibel Island. The population was 6,469 at the 2010 census, with an estimated 2012 population of 6,741. It is part of the Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area. Sanibel is a barrier island – a collection of sand on the leeward side of the more solid coral-rock of Pine Island.
The city incorporates the entire island, with most of the city proper at the east end of the island. After the Sanibel causeway was built to replace the ferry in May 1963, the residents asserted control over development by establishing the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan in 1974 helping to maintain a balance between development and preservation of the island’s ecology. A new, higher bridge, permitting passage without a bascule bridge (drawbridge) of tall boats and sailboats, was completed in late 2007.
Due to easy causeway access, Sanibel is a popular tourist destination known for its shell beaches and wildlife refuges. More than half of the island is made up of wildlife refuges, the largest being J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The Island hosts the Sanibel Historical Village and a variety of other museums and theaters, as well as many non-profit organizations like the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, and the Sanibel Sea School. In August 2004, Hurricane Charley hit the island causing mandatory evacuation for the residents and resulting in the most storm damage to the island in 44 years.
Sanibel and Captiva formed as one island about 6,000 years ago. The first known humans in the area were the Calusa, who arrived about 2,500 years ago. The Calusa were a powerful Indian nation who came to dominate most of Southwest Florida through trade via their elaborate system of canals and waterways. Sanibel remained an important Calusa settlement until the collapse of their empire, soon after the arrival of the Europeans.
In 1765, the first known appearance of a harbor on Sanibel is shown on a map as Puerto de S. Nibel (the “v” and “b” being interchangeable); thus, the name may have evolved from “San Nibel”. Alternatively, the name may derive, as many believe, from “(Santa) Ybel”, which survives in the old placename “Point Ybel”, where the Sanibel Island Light is located. How it would have gotten this name, however, is a matter of conjecture. One story says it was named by Juan Ponce de León for Queen Isabella I of Castile; the island may indeed be named for this queen or the saint whose name she shares, either by Ponce de León or someone later. Another attributes the name to Roderigo Lopez, the first mate of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), after his beautiful lover Sanibel whom he had left behind in Spain. Like most of the lore surrounding Gasparilla, however, this story is apocryphal, as the above references to recognizable variants of the name predate the buccaneer’s supposed reign.
Sanibel is not the only island in the area to figure prominently in the legends of Gaspar; Captiva, Useppa, and Gasparilla are also connected. Sanibel also appears in another tale, this one involving Gaspar’s ally-turned-rival Black Caesar, said to have been a former Haitian slave who escaped during the Haitian Revolution to become a pirate. According to folklore, Black Caesar came to the Gulf of Mexico during the War of 1812 to avoid interference from the British. In the Gulf he befriended Gasparilla, who allowed him to establish himself on Sanibel Island. Eventually the old Spaniard discovered Caesar had been stealing from him and chased him off, but not before his loot had been buried.