Useppa Island

Sanibel IslandCaptiva IslandNorth Captiva IslandCayo Costa
Cabbage KeyUseppa IslandBoca Grande

Useppa Island is a barrier island located in Lee County, Florida. It has been known for luxury resorts since the late 19th century, and it is currently the home of the private Useppa Island Club. On May 21, 1996, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, due to its archaeological significance.

Useppa separated from the coastline about 6500 - 5000 BC. Before that, it was inhabited by the Paleo-Indians since at least 8000 BC. Later, it was occupied by the Calusa nation, who called it Toampe and left behind many artifacts and sites of archaeological value, including a burial mound. "Useppa Man", the body of a Calusa who died in about AD 600, was discovered at the island's high point in 1989.
In the late 18th century the Spanish rancher José Caldez moved to the island and operated fishing settlements from it. He named his new home "Josefa," which was also the name of his schooner; it was called both "Josefa" and "Caldez Island" thereafter. The modern name Useppa is a corruption of Josefa. His men intermarried with the locals and sent their children to Cuba for baptism and schooling. They were evicted by the Seminole in 1835 during the Second Seminole War; the island's name evolved from Josefa to Useppa after that time. The United States build Fort Casey on the island in 1850, but it was soon abandoned. During the American Civil War Useppa was an outpost for Union sympathizers, who launched guerrilla strikes on Confederate ships.
When tarpon fishing became popular in the 1880s, Chicago businessman John Roach established a resort on Useppa. Barron Collier bought the island in 1911, but the hotel was damaged by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and was torn down after World War II.
In the early 1960s, Useppa served as a CIA training base for the Bay of Pigs invaders.
William Snow bought the island in 1962 and refurbished its decaying buildings, initiating a recovery in Useppa's tourism industry. James B. "Jimmy" Turner, a Tampa dairyman bought the island in 1968. He operated Useppa as an "adults-only" club and the sign that announced that policy now hangs at the Museum.
In 1973 the Mariner Corporation purchased Useppa, and in 1976 one of the original Mariner partners, Garfield Beckstead, bought the island with a handful of other adventurers. Now Beckstead is the sole owner of the Useppa Island Club which serves Useppa property owners and non-resident Club members.
The beginning years of the latest transformation are shown in the pictures of an overgrown island rejuvenated. The reality of the rest of Useppa is seen outside the Museum on an island tour, atop middens' thousand years of shells, a view from the Collier Inn across Pine Island Sound, in the scales of long ago Silver Kings on the wall of the Tarpon Bar.

Like the nearby islands of Captiva, Gasparilla, and Sanibel, Useppa figures into Florida folklore in the stories of the legendary pirate captain José Gaspar, also known as Gasparilla. According to these, he named the place after Useppa, a Spanish princess he captured and became enamored with. She rejected his advances until he threatened to kill her. She still refused, and he beheaded her in a rage (alternately, his crew demanded her death). He instantly regretted his actions, and took her to Useppa, where he buried her himself. The island still bears her name. In some versions of the story, the young lady's name was Josefa, and the island's name allegedly evolved into "Useppa" over time. Some versions name the lady as Josefa de Mayorga, daughter of Martín de Mayorga, viceroy of New Spain from 1779 to 1782. Though these folk stories are not supported by the historical record, they have been repeatedly used as sources for fictitious treasure maps and justification for illegal excavations in Native American archaeological sites.

Useppa is a privately owned Island however a visit to the Museum is possibel...

The Barbara Sumwalt Museum building was originally built as a Useppa cottage. Through the vision of Barbara Sumwalt and from the generous donations made by Useppa Island Club and the Useppa Island Historical Society's members, the building was moved, reconstructed and opened to the public in 1994.

The Museum is supported by the entry donation of $5 per person (children under18 are admitted free) and the donations from its members. The hours are generally between 12:15 to 2:00 daily, with extended hours during the winter months. Visitors to the museum are provided with an audio tour as they explore the history of Useppa, which began over 10,000 years ago and continues to present day life on this small but very significant island.

Useppa is a private island and arrangements must be made in advance through Useppa Island Club at (239) 283-1061 to visit the Museum.