Fort Myers News-Article in 1976 Written by Anne Marsh
There’s a status symbol on the islands akin to having ancestors who came to this country on the Mayflower. These select few first reached these shores via the Kinzie ferry or the Santiva mail boat when the Sanibel Bridge and Causeway was but a gleam in a Lee County commissioner’s eye.
The ferry’s last voyage took place on May 26, 1963, coincident with the opening of the Sanibel Bridge and Causeway, but let’s examine those ferry days – the days when Sanibel “closed” at 5:30 pm.
It all started in 1904 when George F Kinzie and Andrew L. Kinzie, brothers of a Lee County pioneer family, started operating a freight and excursion steamer business in Fort Myers. Their steamers made their way down the Caloosahatchee River to the islands carrying freight, starting island produce on its way to northern markets, and carrying passengers.
In 1926, the first car and passenger service between Punta Rassa and Sanibel was inaugurated on a regular basis by a man from Pensacola. This service was purchased in 1928 by the Kinzie Brothers. The first ferry put in service was the Best. Later years would see the service grow to a fleet of four boats with a schedule that had trips departing every 15 minutes from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The names of the boats in the Kinzie fleet, in addition to the Best, were the Islander, Rebel, and the Yankee Clipper. When questioned about a Southern firm giving the name Yankee Clipper to their ship, Kinzie replied: “It’s not so strange. Most of her passengers will be Yankees. I think they’ll appreciate the humor behind the name when paying the $1.50 to drive on it.”
Captain Leon Crumpler was the skipper of the fleet, assisted by his son, Captain Andrew Leon Crumpler, and his son-in-law Richard Chappelle. Captain Crumpler ran a tight ship but rendered service beyond the call of duty to islanders and visitors. In emergencies he was always available to make an extra run even in the wee hours of the morning. At a dinner islanders gave in his honor on his 71st birthday just before the ferries stopped running, he recalled some of his famous passengers.
“Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford,” he related, “were ferry addicts.”
“Edison was hunting rubber sources and came to the islands to find plants, shrubs and vines, which he took back in his car to work on in his upriver laboratory,” he said. On this occasion he stated that he “had carried Charles A. Lindbergh and his bride Anne Morrow Lindbergh, across the Bay to spend their honeymoon on Captiva in 1929.”
The ferry for a period became a seagoing school bus for island youngsters who spent between four and four and a half hours being transported to school in Fort Myers.
In the fifties and the early sixties, the Kinzie ferries flourished following a bleak World War II period. (In 1942 the government requisitioned the Islander for troop ferry service; a replacement, Islander II, was put in operation in 1946.)
As of 1952 the service was being run by Andrew Kinzie’s son Ernest. “It was definitely a full family operation.” recalls Charlotte Kinzie White, Ernest’s sister. This period saw the creation of a fishing dock on the Bay, a spacious park with benches and tables for picnicking that stretched from the Gulf to the Bay, and the opening of the Casa Marina Restaurant run by Elizabeth Sears and Evelyn Pierson.
Hungry travelers could partake of anything from a peanut butter sandwich for 25 cents to a full course meal beginning with shrimp cocktail, a choice of Swedish meatballs or fried chicken with mashed potatoes and a fresh vegetable and salad, a wide variety of desserts, rolls and beverage for $2.50. The restaurant, the old Bailey’s Store and the nearby Post Office were the scenes of many arrivals and departures of islanders and visitors throughoutt the years.
On May 26, 1963, the simple style of life was ended with the opening of the Sanibel Bridge and Causeway. Ironically, Captain Crumpler of the ferry service, rode in the lead car to make the first bridge crossing on that day. Earlier a tearful last voyage of the service had been made to a standing-room-only crowd of sentimental ferry riders. The Santiva mail boat continued only a few months longer. An era had ended.
And where have all the ferries gone?
The Rebel is still plying the waters of Cosco Bay in Portland, Maine, where she carries passengers and freight. The Yankee Clipper provides services to an island in Put In Bay on the Great Lakes, and the Islander provides waterway service near a dam in Omaha, Georgia. The Best has made the longest journey of all away from Sanibel – after being sold to a man in St. James City, she was re-sold and is now providing ferry service in Puerto Rico.
In a recent conversation with Ernest Kinzie, it was learned that Lee County franchised the ferry service. Kinzie had decided the ferry would not compete with the bridge when it opened. After the ferries ceased serving the island, the County reimbursed Kinzie for the loss of his docks and his staff retired.
The swift currents of change have shortened the length of a mainland to island journey, but also curtailed a bit of its charm. The currents of change are being felt on the island.
Perhaps some enterprising seafarer in the future will find merit and profit in resurrecting ferry service to the islands which cherished it so much in the past.