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A Week of Sanibel Secrets: #2

Photo from the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village


Did you know …

… that in the 1950’s, Lathrop and Helen Brown dreamt of a mega-mansion on 30 acres of Sanibel’s beachfront?  But building such a structure on a then remote island was problematic, so they came up with a novel solution.

In 1925, a Cincinnati shipyard built a workhorse boat was to haul automobiles across the Mississippi.  Named the Algiers, the boat was a car ferry for 25 years until a wealthy Boston couple with a fondness for quirky fixer-uppers bought it at an auction in 1958.

Lathrop and Helen Brown were no ordinary vacationers, though.  Helen Brown was a shipping heiress and Lathrop Brown was a New York congressman and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s college roommate and best man.

According to an article from the Captiva Current:

“They gave the rather plain boat a glamorous makeover, retrofitting the exterior with antebellum trimmings, a huge paddle wheel, feathered smokestacks and vintage gingerbread.  Inside, they created a palace with Italian terrazzo tiles, French marble countertops, and sinks inlaid with gold seahorses and gold-plated dolphin faucets.  There was an elevator and a restaurant-equipped kitchen boasting a fairly new-fangled invention: the microwave.

“To get the Algiers to its Sanibel destination, the Browns had it pulled by tugboat.  They hired crews to cut a channel through the island’s interior which they filled in behind themselves as they went.  The Browns had borrowed the volunteer fire department’s pump truck to help move water in the canal, but someone had parked it in high grass, where it caught fire and burned to a crisp.  The Browns bought the department a brand-new one.

“There was just one remaining detail before they could move in.  They owned a house in Fort Lauderdale and wanted to sell it before moving to Sanibel.  Helen Brown sent Lathrop to Fort Lauderdale to sell the house.  According to the story, he went to a pizzeria while there, came back with indigestion, and died the next day.

“Broken-hearted, Helen Brown returned to Boston, never to return to Sanibel and never to sleep in her ‘dream boat.'”

The city bought the Brown property in 1981, but by then, the boat was dangerously dilapidated.  After everything salvageable was stripped and auctioned, the city had the Algiers demolished in 1982.

The one building left standing was the servants’ quarters, which were converted into the restrooms at Algiers Beach, now known as Gulfside City Park, located right next door to Ocean’s Reach.

From the boat itself, just a few things remain: the captain’s wheel, anchor and bell, all of which are on display at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.

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