Blast from the Past: Captiva Island History

Blast from the Past: Captiva Island History

Captiva Island history indicates this popular paradise has been a home for fierce Native Americans, a humble farming community, a safe haven for the shipwrecked, and even a movie set.

By Brand Ambassador | July 11, 2022

Captiva Island history is rich and varied. Some legends suggest the island’s history dates all the way back to when pirates ruled the Gulf of Mexico, other tales highlight the rule of the illusive Calusa Native American people. But no matter how you look at it, Captiva Island’s story is truly one to behold.

Today Captiva Island is known as a prime vacation destination. However, Captiva Island history indicates this popular paradise has been a home for fierce Native Americans, a humble farming community, a safe haven for the shipwrecked, and even a movie set. With so many unique features and such a varied history, Captiva Island is a very special place.

Let’s take a trip back in time and learn more about Captiva Island history.

How Old is Captiva Island?

Geologically speaking, Captiva Island is just a baby. Captiva Island, and its sister Sanibel Island, were formed just 6,000 years ago. Rising sea levels in the Gulf of Mexico separated Captiva and Sanibel from the mainland, forming the barrier islands.

You might think that 6,000 years ago sounds like a long time, but let’s put a few things in perspective. Ever visited the Great Smoky Mountains? This part of the Appalachian Mountains formed 450 to 500 million years ago when contents collided. The Jurassic Period was 200 to 145 million years ago. The Hawaiian Islands were formed 30 million years ago. The first human ancestors appeared 2 million years ago.

In fact, the Pyramids in Egypt were under construction as Captiva Island formed. Farming communities flourished in China as Captiva Island formed. The first works of written literature were being stored in the first libraries as Captiva Island formed.

What is the History of Captiva Island?

Even though its geologic history is recent, the human history of Captiva Island dates back nearly 2,000 years to the very end of the Middle Ages. While Europe was getting ready for the Medieval Period and for Vikings to rule the sea, Captiva Island was being settled by its first population. The Calusa Indians were migrating north from Florida’s Everglades and starting their first settlements on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

Early Captiva Island History: The Calusa

The Calusa were the first people to call Captiva Island home. This Native American tribe was known for their fierceness, stilt homes, and shell mounds. 

The shell mounds were an important part of Calusa culture. While we aren’t quite sure of the function they served, the mounds on Captiva Island have been studied extensively. 

Spanish Influence on Captiva Island

One Calusa mound, which was found near South Seas Plantation on the northern tip of Captiva Island, was excavated by University of Florida scientists in 2005.  Experts believe the mound was built between 1 BC and 900 AD. During the excavation, the scientists found pottery shards, tools made from animal bones, fish bones, and other artifacts. 

The Calusa stayed on Captiva Island until the mid-1600s. Some historians believe they returned to the Everglades at this time. Unfortunately, the entire Calusa population as a whole had become extinct by the late 1700s.

Spanish Influence on Captiva Island

After the Calusa people left Captiva Island, the Spanish established a presence. At least according to legend, anyway. 

According to tales passed down over many hands over many years, the Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar (also known as Gasparilla) ruled the Gulf of Mexico around Southwest Florida in the late 1700s and early 1800s. He sailed in a ship named Floriblanca and amassed all kinds of treasures and riches.

Gaspar would capture the men and women his crew encountered along the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast. The captured men were forced to join his ranks, while the captured women were sent to a remote barrier island to be held for ransom.

The island where women were held captive was given the moniker “Captiva Island” and the name stuck. Some people believe this is how today’s Captiva Island got its name.

No matter how interesting it is and the fact that the island’s name still stands, no one knows if the stories of Jose Gaspar and his piratical career are true. His story first appeared in written records around 1900. Research into Spanish records shows no mention of Gaspar in the royal court or Spanish Navy. Additionally, no records of the Floriblanca appear in maritime registries. Gaspar’s treasure has never been found, nor has his final resting place or any remnants of his ship.

Modern History of Captiva Island

Florida became a territory in 1822 and a state in 1845. Florida’s early years were defined by the Seminole Wars. After the third and final Seminole War ended in 1858, the area that is now Southwest Florida began being settled. Fort Myers was founded in 1866, and interest in the nearby barrier islands of Captiva and Sanibel grew as the city grew.

By 1900, agriculture ruled Captiva Island. A tomato farm covered North Captiva Island, a lime plantation covered what is now South Seas Resort, and a coconut farm was on the land that is now Jensen’s Marina and Cottages®

Unfortunately, the age of agriculture on Captiva Island ended in 1921 when a hurricane flooded the island with salt water and the land become infertile. This is when the Captiva Island history shifts away from native people, pirate legends, and farming and toward the tropical paradise we know today.

Much of Captiva Island history still stands today. Old Captiva Village, just a short walk from Jensen’s Marina®, is home to a few of the oldest buildings on the island. What is now the Island Store is in a building that dates back to 1915 and what is now The Mucky Duck dates back to 1924.

What is the History of Jensen’s Marina?

What is the History of Jensen’s Marina?

Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages® is an important part of Captiva Island history. Though the property has changed hands several times during its long tenure on the island, it remains one of the most historic sought-after places to visit on Captiva Island.

The history of Jensen’s Marina® goes all the way back to 1928 when the first vacation cottage was constructed right on Pine Island Sound. This was perfect timing, as rail service to Southwest Florida was booming and many visitors to Fort Myers took a ferry to the remote barrier islands. The cottages attracted many visitors. 

The Doanes family took over what is now Jensen’s in the 1940s and added even more cottages to the property. They called their property Doanes Twin Palms. The 14 historic cottages that host guests and Jensen’s Marina® today were built by the Doanes in the 1940s and ‘50s. This historic start is what gives our cottages their retro feel and mid-century vibes.

The Doanes family owned what is now Jensen’s Marina® for several decades. In 1977, Red and Betty Jensen purchased the marina and cottages and the rest is history. They turned Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages® into what it is today and gave the property the charm it still holds today. 

Lots of famous guests are part of Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages®' rich history on Captiva Island. Just a few of the stars who have spent time at Jensen’s® include the late John F. Kennedy Jr., Danny Devito, Ted Turner, Kevin Costner, and Rob Lowe.

Jensen’s Marina® is truly a special part of Captiva Island history. But it isn’t the only thing that makes the island special.

What is Special About Captiva Island?

Captiva Island history is unique and varied. But there’s much more to the island than its historic past. Today Captiva Island is a paradise for residents and visitors from all walks of life. The beaches, the shelling, the sunsets, and the charm all make Captiva Island special.

Learn more about what makes Sanibel and Captiva Island special.

Visit Captiva Island History at Jensen’s Marina

Visit Captiva Island History at Jensen’s Marina

Are you ready to make your own Captiva Island history? Plan your most memorable trip yet with help from Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages®

You’ll love being part of Captiva Island history when you visit Jensen’s Marina®.  Our historic cottages are just steps away from the water and boast all the historic charm you’ll need for your best Southwest Florida vacation yet. No matter whether you’re staying for the weekend, for the week, for the month, or even for the season, you’ll love spending time on island time at Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages®.

Amenities and services at today’s modern Jensen’s Marina® include:

  • Cottage rentals
  • Island tours
  • Water taxis
  • Fishing guides

No matter how you want to enjoy Captiva Island, we make it easy. Reach out to Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages® today at (833) 668-7768 or online now.

Jensen’s Twin Palm Marina and Cottages™

15107 Captiva Drive
Captiva, FL 33924

(833) 668-7768
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