The Street Names of Sanibel: Reflecting The Island Ambience
With such intriguing names as Pyrula, Singing Wind, Blue Heron and Seagrape, the streets of Sanibel Island capture the essence and backstory of the self-proclaimed Sanctuary Island.
Names of island flora predominates in such street names as Buttonwood, Mangrove, Strangler Fig and Wax Myrtle, which capture Sanibel’s infatuation with native vegetation. Jim Pickens, a 65-year resident of the island, recalls how Seagrape Lane was named.With about 70 percent of the island’s lands in conservation, it’s no surprise that more than three times as many street names reflect on Sanibel’s natural bounty as are named in honor of humans. With about 260 named streets, more than 140 are named after vegetation, shells, birds and bodies of water.
“The Kinzies who ran the ferry line owned all the land from about the causeway to the lighthouse when we got here in 1953,” says Pickens. “I remember Ernest Kinzie asking my mom what she wanted to name the street we lived on when they were developing subdivisions, and she said, ‘Seagrape’ because there was a big seagrape there.” Over the years, he recalls his mother making seagrape jelly every year and his dad distilling seagrape wine.
Pickens also remembers that the main thoroughfare, which would later be called Periwinkle, didn’t yet have a name when he arrived. “We just called it the ‘hard road’ because it was the only road on the island that wasn’t a shell road,” he says. “But there’s a story about a county commissioner who was out on the island and looked over and saw Periwinkles growing there, and that’s how it got its name.”
Deb Gleason, who arrived on the island with her family in 1958, has heard that one of the island’s earliest and most prolific realtors, Priscilla Murphy, named the main stretch. Both Pickens and Gleason serve on the Sanibel Historic Preservation Committee and are used to facts eluding island historians.
“All we have to go on is story a lot of the time,” says Gleason. Both Gleason and Pickens agree that Periwinkle Way was named after the Periwinkle flower, not the small shell, but it does seem quite appropriate that the main drag would bear a name reflecting on both the island vegetation and its famed seashells.
Two neighborhoods celebrate seashells: the Donax area and the Shell Harbor subdivision. Betty Anholt, island author and historian, says the Bailey family named the streets in the Donax neighborhood, which was property they owned between their family homestead on Periwinkle Way and the gulf beaches.
“The Baileys platted that subdivision in the ’20s and named those streets,” says Anholt, adding that developers who owned the land were free to give names to the streets they put in. “But, then the Depression came and they never did build it.”
Those streets—Pyrula, Cardium, Nerita and Donax—represent the genus names for fig, cockle, sea snail and clam shells, respectively. Junonia Street is also in that neighborhood, named for one of the most celebrated shells of Sanibel.
“Hugo Lindgren, who built the causeway, bought land from the Kinzies and named the streets in Shell Harbor,” says Pickens. Named around the time the causeway was being built in 1963, those streets bear much more common names of shells: Kings Crown, Angel Wing, Whelk, Conch and Tulip.
As far as her historical research has shown, Anholt, who has lived on the island for 50 years, says many street names reflect on what people happened to be looking at.
“The street names seemed to grow out of the day-to-day living in general,” she says, noting that streets in her neighborhood reflect upon the island ambience and milieu. “We have Singing Wind, Turtle Gait and Twin Ponds, so those are names that struck them at some time about the feel of the island.”
In 1986, about 12 years after incorporation, the city of Sanibel passed an ordinance establishing protocol for street naming and renamed or named for the first time more than 30 streets. That’s when streets such as Wild Lime, Joewood, Wax Myrtle and Snowberry all got their names.
At that time, too, the stretch of Beach Road north from Periwinkle to San Carlos Bay was renamed Bailey Road, giving the pioneering family an official street name.
“We always called it Bailey Road as long as I can remember,” says Pickens. “It must have just still been listed as Beach Road on the county maps.”
Dunlop, Aleck, Fitzhugh and Kinzie also are named after early island families. Another 30 or so first and last names were given to streets by developers based on family and friends.
One street name remains a mystery to this day. When the homesteading Doane and Dwight families couldn’t come to terms on whose name should go on a main street on the upper end of the island, a postal official took charge and gave it a name.
“That’s how Wulfert got its name. But, no one seems to know why the official from the post office called it that,” says Gleason.
Based on Anholt’s assessment that streets were named by what developers saw, one might ascertain that developers didn’t do a lot of fishing. Surprisingly, only a couple streets carry the names of marine life beyond shells—Starfish and Blue Crab. And, seemingly only one street has the name of a fish—Tarpon Bay.
Having first vacationed on Sanibel in 1974, Barbara Linstrom has been writing about the islands for more than 25 years. She’s written for Times of the Islands since its inaugural issue in 1997 and served as executive producer of television at WGCU, the region’s PBS station, for 11 years.