Sanibel Island

A Florida Friday: Coquina ‘flashback’


January 1966 visit to St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos (that’s little moi in the white glasses with mom & big sis)

Below are some shells seen and collected during a recent outing to Sanibel Island… among them, the tiny, colorful coquina. Millions line the shore, and at low tide, you can watch them jiggle and maneuver as they wait, and hope, for the tides to shift back in their favor.


Coquina shells

Whenever I see coquina shells, St. Augustine always comes to mind. If you’ve been to that beautiful, historic city on Florida’s NE coast, you know that the Spanish quarried coquina rock (a limestone composed of sand and mollusk shells found in NE Florida) to build their Castillo de San Marcos (known for some time as Fort Marion) from 1672 to 1695.

I first saw the fortress at age 5, and it, and the coquina rock, made a huge impression on me. The old ‘downtown’ as well, of course, which was supplemented by Henry Flagler’s amazing architectural creations in the 1880s. What kid would not be awestruck by all that?! And, goodness, let’s not forget Ponce de Leon’s ‘Fountain of Youth‘ up the street from the fort. (I think I am way more interested in that fountain now than I was even back then!!! 😉 )

Of course, I’m not alone—for generations, St. Augustine has been casting a spell on travelers. I found one visitor’s account from 1890 (below; scroll down); much of what they wrote about then could easily be experienced today.

Well, have a good weekend all; we’ve ‘cooled down’ here to a chilly 82! I think we’ll go fishing.


St. Augustine, Florida, 1898

Fort Marion, St. Augustine and harbor, Detroit Publishing Company, 1898 (Library of Congress image LCCN2008678231 - No known restrictions on publication)

Fort Marion, St. Augustine and harbor, Detroit Publishing Company, 1898 (Library of Congress image LCCN2008678231 – No known restrictions on publication)

A visitor’s perspective – Duluth Evening Herald, Saturday, March 15, 1890
(courtesy of


Categories: Florida, Sanibel Island, St. Augustine | 6 Comments

A Florida Friday: 1960s Sanibel Island brochure for ‘Casa Ybel’

Quite a while ago, I did a post featuring Sanibel Island, a place we enjoyed on family vacations in the 1960s. I recently came upon this brochure for Casa Ybel, which is where we used to stay. The resort still exists after all these years, but, as you can imagine, it is much-much different! For their website, click here. To be honest, while it looks lovely today, I think I’d rather time travel back to the Casa Ybel of the 1960s; you could really feel like a bit of a castaway back then. The beach was THE place to be! I don’t recall having TV in any of our accommodations, which back then would have meant getting several channels at most—changed manually sans remote, of course. When not on the beach, we were busy exploring the island, reading books, or playing games. 🙂


Image from ‘Florida’ in Davis’ new commercial encyclopedia, the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Published by Ellis A. Davis. Berkeley, Cal. Seattle. 1909 (Credit: Rumsey Collection;

But we were far from the first to be captivated by this area of Florida. Below is a near-100-year-old article* from the Homer (NY) Republican, dated 21 February 1918, which features a letter describing one person’s impressions of a winter-day boat tour around some of the sights off the coast of Ft. Myers (winter residence of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison): the pristine and exotic-looking (to a Northerner’s eyes) Sanibel, Captiva, and Pine islands.

(Note: The writer erroneously describes the Caloosahatchee River as having been named by the Seminole Indians and meaning ‘beautiful river’. Caloosahatchee refers to the culture of the Calusa Indians who preceded the Seminoles and thrived in SW Florida from 500 BC to 1750 AD!–and were ultimately pushed out (even sold into slavery) by Seminoles and other hostile tribes that had come down into the Florida peninsula from northern areas. Some say the remaining Calusa escaped to Cuba.)



Categories: Florida, Sanibel Island | Tags: | 2 Comments

For the love of seashells

Sanibel Island seashells

Sanibel Island seashells

1960s fun on Sanibel. We've thought of recreating the photo but my little bro' is against the idea. I wonder why?!

1960s fun on Sanibel. We’ve thought of recreating the photo but my little bro’ is against the idea. I wonder why?!

If you’ve ever been to Sanibel Island, you are more than aware of its world-famous shelling.

Our family spent many happy winters there in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and we have the fabulous shell collection to prove it. The late actor Raymond Burr of Ironside fame (a series that apparently is being resurrected by NBC this coming fall) was instrumental in helping to establish a shell museum on Sanibel Island. Growing up, Ironside was a family favorite in our household, and Sanibel Island a favorite destination, so I found it kind of interesting years later to learn that the man playing a tough chief of detectives on a TV series had a keen interest in preserving and protecting the seashells on the island I loved (and still love — my husband and I had a sunrise beach wedding there a decade ago) and was a keen fundraiser for the museum. His activities are memorialized by a garden dedicated to him.

'Cowry Trading' - an 1845 print by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (Wikimedia**)

‘Cowry Trading’ – an 1845 print by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (Wikimedia**)

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, as it is officially called, is fascinating and well worth a visit, if you ever find yourself on Sanibel. By the time you leave, you’ll definitely know your gastropods and bivalves! And you will have seen extraordinary collections from around the world, including exquisite hand-carved shells and delightfully crafted sailor’s valentines.

The beach at 'Mitchell's Sandcastles'

The beach at ‘Mitchell’s Sandcastles’ – July 2013

We spent a long weekend on the island last month and stopped by the museum before heading home. I had not been there in 5-6 years and found myself most intrigued by the exhibit on cowry shells, which were used as a form of currency for hundreds of years. I had never realized how widespread their use was, and — having focused so much on family history in recent years — could not help but imagine how these shells may have been an integral part of my distant ancestors’ daily life.

Interestingly, these little gifts of the sea were only found in the vicinity of the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, making them hard to counterfeit and easier to control. They were uniform in size, making them easy to count, weigh, and ship, and were found in abundance. Those charged with collecting them could gather as many as 12,000 in a single day. The extensive cowry trade went on for six centuries, before petering out in the late 1860s due to inflation and the rising popularity of metal coins. One museum sign describes what you could buy with a set number of cowries in Africa in the mid-1800s. A house would set you back by 4 million cowries, a cow — 2,500 cowries, a chicken — 50 cowries. Gents looking to secure a bride could do so for 50,000 cowries.  And yes, sadly, they were involved in the slave trade — a sad chapter in their history, indeed. For an interesting article on Money Cowries, click here.

Seashells for me will always have a strong connection to Sanibel Island, and I am very thankful for that. One cannot help but feel great joy walking the island’s beaches, observing it’s glorious sunrises and spectacular sunsets, and listening to the sound of the gentle gulf surf washing ashore. As an added bonus, hubby discovered that the from-shore snook fishing on Sanibel is some of the best in the world, and I am thankful for that as well, since that’s an additional carrot I’ll be able to dangle before him whenever that next urge to visit Sanibel comes over me!

**Cowry Trading print (Wikimedia): This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

Categories: Florida, Miscellaneous, Nature, Sanibel Island | 1 Comment

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