In 1833 the Florida Peninsula Land company tried to establish a community on Sanibel. Many of the early settlers turned to farming and with a growing season extending over 9 months were successful. A hurricane soon swept over the islands and with the influx of salt water into the soil many inhabitants decided to abandon the islands and look elsewhere to live. It wasn’t until the later 1800’s that some new enterprising farmers decided to and inhabit the islands and soon Homesteads were being established and farming was thriving again. Sanibel’s population was growing and to help prevent shipwrecks the Sanibel Island lighthouse was constructed. This is the same lighthouse that can be found on the East end of Sanibel today. Life was good on Sanibel until another Hurricane came through in the early 1900’s and again the salt water put an end to the farming life.
By the early 1900’s hurricanes had devastated farming life on Sanibel with the influx of salt water into the soil. Soon after Sanibel was becoming known as a prime destination for vacationers. Many wealthy families from he northeast would come to Sanibel to enjoy its fishing and beaches. In 1926 a ferry service was established to transport tourists and residents of Fort Myers to the islands to beach comb the beautiful shores of Sanibel to hunt seashells. It became so popular to show off your seashell finds that in 1937 the first Sanibel Shell show was held. This show is still being run today and is held the first Thursday Friday and Saturday in March each year. Sanibel as a tourist and vacation destination had become a boom. Realizing the beauty of the area famed cartoonist, visitor to the islands and head of the Bureau of Biological surveys, JN “Ding” Darling helped to preserve it by convincing the government to preserve land for Wildlife. To honor his efforts shortly after his death in 1965 the JN Ding Darling Wildlife refuge on Sanibel was established and is still enjoyed by millions of visitors every year. To help draw even more tourists, in 1963 a causeway connecting Sanibel to the mainland was constructed and the islands changed forever.