Rollins College has owned Shell Island for 65 years and made an extended campus of it for almost most of its history since 1885. In the late 1920’s and ‘30’s, it was a regular practice for a group of eight Rollins students and their chaperones to spend a weekend on the river, men one week and women the next, sleeping in a large log-cabin with a dirt floor. During this decade, by an agreement with the owners of the island, the Wilson Cypress Company, as many as thirteen hundred students got a sense of the river community as a part of their own Florida education.
Because the college was having trouble keeping the cabin and island clean between weekend visits, in 1938 they arranged to buy the island for $10 and other considerations through Wilson’s President, Russ McPherson, who had two daughters pursuing degrees at the college.
Courtesy of Rollins College Archives
At present the island is an inholding of the Wekiwa Springs State Park and still belongs to Rollins. The Trustees of the College do not wish to give up the property because the island is connected to its historical character as a frontier and pragmatic liberal arts college. Officials of the college, however, have entered into an informal agreement whereby the park governs and polices the island while providing access to Rollins upon notification. The reason for such an agreement is quite practical: the island has a long history of attracting squatters who usually leave more than footprints. The question of how best to preserve the site is left unresolved, but as the following story reveals, the place has considerable educational value.