Photo Courtesy Southwest Florida Museum of History
Completed in 1884, the Sanibel Lighthouse which stands at 104 feet casting it's light 16 miles offshore was a beacon for the growing trade route from Cuba. As the first lighthouse on the West Coast of Florida from Cuba, it helped safely guide trade into Punta Rassa port. Punta Rassa was a major destination for the cattle trade with cowboys known as "Florida Crackers" driving cattle from across the state to trade with Cuba for pieces of gold. The construction of the Sanibel Causeway in 1963 ended Punta Rassa's days as a port of trade, and Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba ended trade with the United States.
Early Sanibel Lighthouse Keepers lived a very isolated self sustaining existence until 1888 when the Homesteading Act allowing adventurous pioneers to homestead up to 160 acres of land on Sanibel. Those who came began to farm the rich soil growing tomatoes and other crops. The original lighthouse had a dock extending into the Gulf where ferryboats from the mainland could dock. Before electrically powered in 1962, the light was fueled by kerosine which had to be walked up the narrow set of steps to the top.
Henry Shanahan was the lighthouse keeper from the late 19th century until 1912. Henry's son Webb Shanahan helped his father as an assistant lighthouse keeper. Webb's interest in conservation and waterway preservation and participation in the Inter-Island Conservation Commission along with other members in conjunction with cartoonist J.N. "Ding" Darling eventually lead to the creation of the J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge which was officially established in 1945. During the 1930s Roscoe R. McLane known to his friends as "Mac" acted as the lighthouse keeper. Roscoe "Mac" McLane was a generous supporter of the community and helped establish the Sanibel Community House in 1929. The Community House still stands in it's original spot along Periwinkle Way and is used year around for social gatherings.