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Photo of Miss Charlotta Matthews donated to historical museum

December 3, 2018
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

A recent donation from an Ohio family with long-time ties to Sanibel brought an iconic figure - as never seen before - back to her home at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.

George and Linda Toft, of West Chester, Ohio, have been visiting Sanibel since 1982. Their two sons grew up with the island playing a big part of their lives and now they, along with their wives and children, continue to make the trip south.

"We had seen a segment about Sanibel on a weeknight entertainment show on a local television station. Prior to that, we had vacationed at several different beaches and loved collecting the shells," Linda Toft said. "When we saw on the program how many shells lined the beaches of Sanibel, we knew we had to get there. During our first experience on the island, we were hooked immediately."

Article Photos

George and Linda Toft, of West Chester, Ohio, with the auction album and the enlarged, framed and matted photo of Miss Charlotta Matthews.

The Tofts have a interest in history and have read books about Sanibel over the years.

"One night, I was on an online auction site and discovered a listing for an old photo album. In the description, it mentioned there were some photos of Sanibel," she said. "The auction was soon to end, and no one had bid on it, so I entered the minimum bid of $11 and won the album."

It turned out the album contained treasures, including a photo of Miss Charlotta Matthews.

"When the album arrived, I was delighted to find dozens of photos of excellent quality of Sanibel and Captiva," Toft said. "When I came to Miss Charlotta's photo, I was pretty sure it had to be the aunt of the Bailey brothers and the person who had run the Tea Room, which now sits on the grounds of the Sanibel Historical Village."

When she discovered there were so few photos of Matthews, Toft immediately decided to have the photograph enlarged, framed and matted to be donated it to the museum.

"On our next trip to Sanibel, we would 'bring Charlotta home' to the Tea Room," she said. "So everyone that entered it would be able to see and 'meet' the actual person who ran it."

Executive Director Emilie Alfino called it the find of a lifetime.

"We are so grateful and thrilled to have this photo the Tofts have donated," she said. "We will display Miss Charlotta at the entrance to the Tea Room, so all of our visitors can immediately see who it was that made it possible."

Volunteers photographed and scanned 77 photos in the album for the museum's collection.

The Tofts have come to the museum many times through the years.

"There was only one building on our first visit, and it has been a delight to watch it grow. Over the years during our many visits, it has been an honor and a delight to meet Charles LeBuff, Francis Bailey, George Campbell, and Eugene Gavin," Toft said. "We have read much about the people and history of Sanibel and to meet some of the folks who lived part of that history has been very special to us."

"When I look at the photo of Charlotta, I see a lovely young woman, relaxed and very comfortable with herself," she added. "I can almost picture a day in 1932, pulling up to the dock and seeing her standing there. She's calling out a hospitable 'welcome to Sanibel' and inviting us into the tea room for a bite to eat, a cool beverage, and a place to get out of the sun and rest a bit. I hope when others see her photo in the Tea Room, they will feel the same way."

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is at 950 Dunlop Road.



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