The History of the Island Hotel

"In the Beginning" (1859-1865) 

The structure that is now the Island Hotel was built sometime between 1859 and 1860. Records indicate that Major John Parsons bought the property in 1859. It is likely that construction was finished the following year.

The Florida pioneers who settled Cedar Key made the building to last. They mixed oyster shell, limestone and sand to pour tabby walls 10 inches thick. Massive 12-inch oak beams were framed in the basement to support the wooden structure. (Their workmanship has withstood the ravages of time for more than 140 years. The building has survived innumerable hurricanes, floods, storms and other disasters. The floors are uneven. The building contracts and expands with the seasons and has all the "aches and pains" of an elderly lady.

Development of Cedar Key had begun in 1859 in anticipation of the prosperity that completion of the Florida Railroad was expected to bring to the port on the Gulf. Major Parsons and his partner and co-owner Francis E. Hale were among businessmen hoping to take advantage of the economic opportunity when they opened Parsons and Hale’s General Store.

The outbreak of the Civil War forced an abrupt halt to Cedar Key development. Union troops considered it a strategic port. They invaded the town and burned down almost every building that wasn’t needed to quarter troops or store supplies. The fact that Parsons and Hale’s General Store survived the war lends credence to the strong probability that it served as a barracks and warehouse for the Yankees. It may have been used by Confederate troops as well during the times they managed to retake Cedar Key, since building owner Major Parsons was commander of a detachment of Confederate volunteers defending the Gulf Coast against Federal gunboats and troops.


"Good Times" (1865-1895) 

The war’s end meant the beginning of prosperous times for Cedar Key. Parsons and Hale reopened their general store. It became a successful and enduring commercial establishment. Items for sale included furniture, dry goods, staple groceries, naval stores, produce, fuel oil, hardware, building supplies and agricultural implements. Hale and Parsons were also shipping agents and were involved in the fishing and turtle business. Offices of the Customs House and the Cedar Key Post Office were also located in the general store during this period.

In 1867, the great botanist, naturalist, and conservationist John Muir completed his thousand-mile walk from Louisville, Kentucky, to Cedar Key. He contracted malaria and remained in Cedar Key for several weeks while recovering from the illness. Muir’s journal contains accounts of life in Cedar Key including a description of a general store, perhaps Parsons and Hale’s:

"I stepped into a little store which had a considerable trade in quinine and alligator and rattlesnake skins and inquired about shipping, means of travel. etc."

It is unknown when Parsons and Hale’s General Store began taking boarders and selling meals. However, a reference on a real estate map from 1884 notes "restaurant and furnished rooms." It is likely that the downstairs continued to be used for commerce and the upstairs to accommodate guests.

One of those guests may have been a President of the United States. There is an unsubstantiated story that President Grover Cleveland visited Cedar Key upon his return from Cuba sometime during the early 1890s. Cedar Key was then a major port and steamships frequently made runs to and from Havana. The President is reported to have spent the night at Parsons and Hale’s.


"Bad Times" (1896-1945)

In 1896, a devastating hurricane struck Cedar Key. Much of the town was destroyed and Parsons and Hale’s General Store was severely damaged. It was the beginning of bad luck for the town. A subsequent fire and the collapse of the cedar industry marked a period of economic stagnation and decline that lasted until after World War II.

Francis Hale, one of the two original owners, died in 1910. Four years later Langdon Parsons, a nephew of the other original owner John Parsons, sold the building. After an intermediate owner, it was acquired in 1915 by Simon Feinberg, a businessman with properties in Gainesville, Ocala, Lake Butter, and Dunnellon. It was Feinberg who converted Parsons and Hale’s General Store into a hotel. He named it the Bay Hotel. Much of the interior reconstruction including the stairway was done after Feinberg’s purchase between 1915 and 1920. A second floor balcony was added around the south and west sides of the hotel. The Hotel was managed by Mr. & Mrs. W L Markham, who moved from the White House Hotel. They remained until 1918, when they moved to manage the Hotel in Summer.

Feinberg died at the hotel on May 11th, 1919, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. He had come to Cedar Key to collect the rent from his manager who had a lease agreement to operate the hotel. These were the days of prohibition. One story is that Feinberg, a religious man, had been most unhappy to discover that his manager was operating a whiskey still in the attic. To placate his boss, the manager had treated Feinberg to a large and sumptuous dinner. Feinberg retired for the night. He never awoke. Harold Naber, one of the later owners, found some of the copper pipe from the still in the Annex roof when he had some work carried out. He says that the pipe work was hidden behind a false roof about 12 inches below the proper roof. He could not recall if the workmen left the pipe in place or removed it — something to be investigated during the forthcoming renovation work.

During the next two and a half decades, the hotel passed through the hands of a number of owners and managers, including J B & Pauline Witt, and later a George T Lewis (for whom the Cedar Key airport is officially named). It was known by a variety of names, including the Cedar Key Hotel. Another owner, a Mr. Fowler, called it Fowlers Wood. A Mrs. Wilda Finlayson had a millinery store downstairs during the ’20s. At different times it also housed the post office and the customs house (after the 1896 hurricane).

A Mr. Crittenden managed the Hotel for a while in the ’30s, and it was rumored that it may have functioned as a whorehouse during his tenure.

The depression hit Cedar Key. The timber mills were destroyed in the 1896 hurricane. The railroad stopped running to Cedar Key in 1932. The wooden bridges linking the island to the mainland were often washed out and roads were often impassable. Cedar Key was virtually isolated. The hotel was among businesses that suffered hard times. The bank foreclosed on one owner. Another owner may have tried to burn it down. The hotel was hit with a rash of fires, three within one week. Fortunately, the fire department was just across the street. Volunteers managed to douse the flames before much damage was done. Arson was suspected.

Mr. Ray Andrews acquired the Hotel in the late ’30s and his brother and sister-in-law, Forest and Nettie Andrews, ran it during the war years. Many people in the town remember the hotel as being the place where they heard about Pearl Harbor.


"Now Eat Those Vegetables" (1946-1973)

Bessie and "Gibby" Gibbs (1949)
When Bessie and Loyal "Gibby" Gibbs arrived in Cedar Key in 1946 they found an ancient, dirty and dilapidated building. Rumors were that it was being used as a whorehouse. Bessie was reluctant to even stay and spent the night in a straight backed chair refusing to sleep on a dirty mattress. However, the friendliness of the people and the charm and possibilities of the hotel soon won her over.

The first thing Gibby and Bessie did was to scrub the building from top to bottom. They renamed the hotel the Island Hotel and then set about establishing a unique style and reputation that was to grow and endure for 27 years.

Gibby was bartender and the hotel bar quickly became a popular gathering place for locals and visitors. In 1948, the Gibbs arranged with artist Helen Tooker to spruce up the bar in return for room and board. She painted the King Neptune painting. She also painted the wall murals upstairs with her daughter, Helen Parramore. Helen selected a nautical theme in keeping with Cedar Key’s links with the sea.

Bessie concentrated her efforts on the dining room and quickly established the hotel restaurant as the place to come for seafood. She set high standards. The seafood, vegetables, and other ingredients had to be fresh, often just off the boat or out of the garden. Portions were hearty and generally served with a smile, although on occasion, Bessie was known to chastise those who failed to clean their plate. "After I worked so hard to cook you a nice dinner, I expect you to eat it. NOW EAT THOSE VEGETABLES!"

‘Big Buster’
Recipes created by Bessie and her cook Catherine Johnson, known as ‘Big Buster’ were widely praised. Bessie’s famous Heart of Palm Salad remains a popular menu item today.

During Bessie’s reign the hotel attracted the famous and powerful. Claude Kirk was among Florida governors and other powerful politicians who made the weekend trek from Tallahassee to talk business at the hotel, enjoy the seafood and strong drinks prepared in the Neptune Bar. Famous names appearing on the register included those of author Pearl Buck, singers Vaughan Monroe and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and actresses Frances Langford and Myrna Loy. Actor Richard Boone, famous for the popular television series Paladin, stayed at the hotel. He would write in the mornings and drink in the evenings, holding court in the Neptune Bar.

In 1950, Hurricane Easy struck Cedar Key, battering the island with winds, rain and high seas for 17 hours. The storm blew the roof off the hotel, filling the upstairs rooms with water. The stains on the King Neptune painting in the bar were caused by water draining from upstairs.

Gibby died in 1962. He was cremated and his ashes were placed behind the bar for a day while Bessie and friends waited for the tide to change so they could scatter Gibby’s remains at sea. When a visitor commented that it was rather odd, Bessie is said to have responded, "Why not? That’s where he was happiest!"

Bessie continued to operate the Island Hotel and take a very active role in community affairs. She served as a city commissioner, member of the City Planning Board, city judge and Mayor. Bessie helped organize the Cedar Key Arts Festival, which continues to draw thousands of visitors to the island.

In the early 1970s painful arthritis and a spinal disease began to take their toll on Bessie’s health. Her disabilities forced her into a wheelchair. Her health failed to improve despite medical treatment.

In 1973, Bessie Gibbs sold the Island Hotel to Charles and Shirley English ending perhaps the most famous era in the history of the building. Bessie continued to live in Cedar Key. She died in a house fire in 1975. Bessie was cremated and, in keeping with her wishes her ashes were taken to sea by her family and friends and spread upon the waters of the Gulf she had so dearly loved. A plaque honoring Bessie’s memory is in the garden adjacent to the Historical Society Building, and a memorial marker was placed at the entrance to the Cedar Key Cemetery.


"Margaritaville" (1973-1991)

Charlie and Shirley English operated the hotel until 1978 when they sold it to German-born Harold Nabors. During the late ’70s, there was more emphasis on bar operations and less on the restaurant and hotel. Nabors remodeled the bar and opened the annex garden to outdoor entertainment. He sold the hotel to Marcia Rogers in 1980.

Rogers was a New England educator who stumbled upon Cedar Key while searching for a lifestyle change. She found it with the Island Hotel. As Marcia described it, she was looking for "a place in the sun … an oasis out of the fast lane," phrases that were often later quoted by travel writers trying to capture the ambience of the Island Hotel during the ’80s.

Florida songwriter and balladeer Jimmy Buffett visited the Island Hotel often during these years. He sometimes would give impromptu concerts in the Neptune Bar. During one arts festival he sat on the balcony and serenaded people passing along Main Street. A reference to Cedar Key and mystery writer John D. McDonald’s fictional character Travis McGee is among lyrics from the song ‘Incommunicado’ on Buffett’s ‘Coconut Telegraph’ album.

Marcia Rogers’ biggest success was perhaps the restaurant. Working with Chef Jahn McCumbers, she put the Island Hotel back on the gastronomic map as one of the best places in Cedar Key to eat good fresh seafood. The restaurant drew favorable reviews from food critics. Articles complimenting the restaurant’s success appeared in regional, national and international newspapers, magazines and travel guides.

Marcia took an active interest in historical preservation. Working closely with the Cedar Key Historical Society, she lobbied local, state and federal officials to formally recognize the Island Hotel as an important historic landmark. The effort was rewarded when, in1984, the Island Hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marcia’s lifestyle occasionally placed her at odds with some of the locals. For example, few Cedar Key citizens could comprehend what it was all about when Marcia invited the Padmasambhava Society to the Island Hotel for what was known as the Full Moon Wakefulness Retreat.

In the late ’80s, she closed the Neptune Bar to the public and turned it into a coffee and juice bar. This caused great consternation among some of the locals who considered the bar their personal watering hole. The night the bar closed they buried Marcia in effigy in front of the Post Office, a dubious honor that had been previously awarded only to politicians who lost in the local city commission elections.

"Recent History" (1992-2001)

Tom Sanders and his English wife, Allison, bought the hotel from Rogers in January, 1992. Sanders had first visited the Island Hotel in 1971 when Bessie Gibbs owned it. He had returned many times over the years and it was on a chance visit in 1991 to show the hotel and Cedar Key to Allison that they learned Marcia had put the building up for sale.

The couple lived in Tokyo at the time. Tom was a journalist with a television news agency, and Allison worked for a marketing research firm. They were motivated by a mutual dislike of winters in the United Kingdom–Sanders was due for reassignment to the London office–a desire to own their own business and a love and respect for the venerable Island Hotel.

As Bessie and Gibby Gibbs had done 45 years earlier, Tom and Allison first set about giving the hotel a thorough cleaning. Next order of priority was the reopening of the Neptune Bar. First, the bar itself had to be rebuilt. A long-time patron volunteered his carpentry skills. He said he loved the bar because the ‘first naked woman he had ever seen was when he peeked around the bar door as a child and saw the painting of the bare breasted mermaid on Neptune’s lap’. The new bar, complete with a Cedar Key cedar top, was formally opened on Valentine’s Day 1992.

Old Timers like to tell tales about the days when the Neptune Bar was the scene of confrontations that sometimes turned violent. And there were stories that a patron had once fired a pistol at the King Neptune painting. The painting was removed from behind the bar in February 1993, to enable restoration expert Katrina Blumenstein to begin badly needed restoration and preservation at her Inverness studio. When the painting was taken down several bullet slugs were found embedded in the wall.

Under Tom and Allison’s ownership, the Island Hotel again became a center for social and cultural life in the community. Most evenings an eclectic mix of ‘regulars’ and tourists could be found in the Neptune Bar, swapping stories and occasionally telling tall tales. In the spring and fall, the courtyard was turned into a beer garden with live entertainment, usually Florida folk music. The courtyard was the year-round home for Bernard Basset, the official hotel dog who was also Manager of Guest Relations.

The hotel restaurant regained its reputation for excellence. Chef Jahn McCumbers, who served in the hotel kitchen for 14 years, helped to broaden the menu to include steak, chicken and pork tenderloin. The excellent vegetarian and seafood entrees remained, with locally caught seafood such as stone crab claws and soft shell crabs a specialty.

Another tradition that remains is the romance of the Island Hotel. Many couples return to the Hotel year after year to celebrate their anniversaries with dinner and champagne in the candle lit restaurant. Numerous couples chose the Hotel as the place to exchange vows in1992. In October of that year, Tom and Allison were married at sea aboard the fishing and charter boat Gondola and returned to the Hotel for an evening reception attended by some 200 friends.

While the hotel remained clean and comfortable, it did not offer some of the amenities to be found in modern hotels and motels. It is intentional that the rooms do not contain such distractions as televisions or telephones.

The objective of the owners was to provide a place for guests to get away from the strains and stress of contemporary life and to renew the art of conversation, perhaps to read a good book or play a game of chess or checkers, to drink a Margarita on the hotel balcony while watching the sunset, or have a romantic candle lit dinner in the restaurant.

NOTE: The original author of the above part of this history is Tom Sanders. We wish to thank the Cedar Key Historical Society for assistance and for access to numerous files, news clippings and records. Appreciation was also expressed to numerous Cedar Key old-timers who offered insight and constructive criticism when the author was going astray.

Other contributors to the above, who have added fact instead of speculation, were Mrs. Virginia Tooke Pugh (90), Mrs. Naomi Tooke Dorsett (87), Quitman Hodges (82), Helen Johanneseen (??) and Ernest Parham (93). To each of them we express our gratitude.

Other valuable sources included Jesse Walter and Vivian Dees’ fascinating history of Cedar Key. "Off the Beaten Path"; naturalist John Muir’s "A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf ", and Historical Consultant David Nolan’s nomination proposal to place the Island Hotel on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dawn Fisher and Tony Cousins came to Florida from England to investigate the possibility of purchasing a hotel/motel in the St. Petersburg area at the end of January, 1996. It did not take long to realize that the reality did not live up to the dreams that they had in the middle of a cold English winter and so they admitted their mistake to their real-estate broker. The only other business that he had on his books was ‘an old hotel up north’. With nothing else to do with the remainder of their time in Florida, they decided to look.

On 31st January we left a warm sunny day in St. Petersberg wearing shorts and tee shirts. We arrived in Cedar Key to thick fog and a very cold day. Despite the weather we immediately felt at home on the island. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly and made us feel welcome.

Finally we made ourselves known to Allison. Tom was away on one of his jaunts to New York. Our immediate impression was one of reservation. The building so obviously needed major structural work and seemed somewhat depressed. However, as we were taken around the building we fell instantly in love with the charm and feeling of warmth that it has. Cedar Key and the Island Hotel had worked its charm once again – we fell in love with both.

After overnighting at the hotel, Room 23, we returned to St Pete’s to begin the long road to eventual ownership. The road was long and difficult and many times it seemed that the hurdles being put in front of us would never be surmounted. However, on October21st 1996, we finally completed and the deed was done. Tom and Allison? After a short time in New York they went to Germany with Allison’s new job. Later we found out that Tom has Parkinson’s disease. Bernard went with them and died later of cancer.

Another chapter in the life of this incredible building had come to a close and another had begun. As one member of the staff said to us when we were introduced – Owners come and go but the hotel goes on – we are but caretaker who have custody for a short time.

Bessie and "Shorty’ Hodges
Our immediate ambition? All we wish is that people remember our tenure as fondly as that of Bessie and Gibby and that we avoid the errors of some of our other predecessors. We set out to begin a careful restoration of the property, repairing the damage that time and negligent owners had inflicted. We intend to add central heat and air for the comfort of our guests and remove the existing units from the upstairs windows. Also replacing the jalousie windows with new timber sash windows in the style that was there when Parsons first completed the building. Refurbishment of the annex and the addition of private bathrooms to all the bedrooms completed our initial ambitions.

October 21st 1997, one year on. So far everything is going well, we have installed central heat and air in the main building and upstairs annex. As far as the annex goes, we now have a wonderfully restored conference room and the three bedrooms on the ground floor are fully refurbished and look great. While the rooms are newly completed, they retain the atmosphere of the hotel with colonial furnishings. The original tile floors remain, and televisions and telephones are still not included.

The last project of the year that has been achieved is the landscaping of the courtyard. All the old mulch has been replaced with grass and there is a new patio area.

Next short-term plans are to complete the renovation of our personal quarters in the annex, alter the bar layout to provide new toilet facilities, and redecorate the dining room. We need to repair the screened porch and build a new storeroom for the kitchen. When? We intend to commence these projects in the new year.

Well, it’s here, New Year 1998. Tony & I were married at the end of last year on December 2nd 1997. The service was held at the Episcopal Church here in Cedar Key, after which we returned to the hotel for a reception for 150 people. The whole day was wonderful and our lovely hotel and staff did us proud.

Anyway, today is January 12th 1998, we have now started the renovations of our personal quarters and Tony and I are camping out in one of our new rooms.

March 25th, Tony and I are still camping out, as always things do not go as planned but we are getting nearer to completion.

We have now achieved the redecoration of our dining room. Here is an interesting little story.

For those of you with an interest in the history of the hotel and the changes that have been made over the years there is an interesting series of events. In deciding the color scheme we employed the services of an interior designer from Gainesville who came to the hotel armed with loads of paint and material samples. The three of us spent a great deal of time in the dining room mulling over the different combinations. In the end the final choice of colors was made by Dawn. They were a plum and lilac with an off white trim. The ceiling was to be redone in pine. Our interior designer concurred with the selection, but pointed out that they were not the normal colors that the text book would recommend for a restaurant.

That was summer last year, and all that we did in the meantime was to get color samples that we carried with us at all times to help us select the other parts of the picture.

Later in 1997 Miss Bessie’s nephew and niece came to visit Cedar Key and the Hotel. We had a very interesting talk with them, during which they told us that they had some photographs to show us. We arranged to sit down on the following Sunday morning. Sunday duly arrived and we all sat in the lobby with a large box of old photographs which were handed round. Most of them were black and white showing the hotel in its former heyday, but eventually a color picture came out of the box and was handed to me. The picture was of Miss Bessie and ‘Shorty’ Hodges standing on a table in the dining room, with ‘Shorty’ pretending to look up Miss Bessie’s skirt. A picture that shows the sense of fun that abounded in the hotel back in the late 50’s. What most caught the attention, however, was not so much the characters, but the decor. The main colors were exactly those that we had recently chosen for the redecoration!!! That was 1) quite a shock and 2) felt by all to be the final blessing on the selection and is why the restaurant is now resplendent in its 50’s glory.

We feel justifiably proud of our achievements in the dining room. It is the most visual of all the improvements that we have made to date, but will not be the last. We both hope that you will dine with us during your stay, and sample the profound elegance of the dining room. We look forward to welcoming you.

April 16th, one day before the Arts Festival we finally settled into our newly decorated accommodation in the annex – and it’s great. After 18 months of living in a state of dereliction, with rags stuffed in broken windows, clothes stacked in boxes, an old claw foot tub with no enamel (or shower!), we finally had a place to call home. We are both sure that it saved both our sanity and our love of the hotel.

The remainder of the year we spent finishing off lots of little jobs.
The replacement windows for the upstairs of the hotel have now been ordered for delivery over the next few months, so that will be the main project over the winter. It should look much better and should save a great deal of money on heating and cooling. We will save the old window units to build into the garages when we build them. We are now beginning to look at paint colors for painting the outside of the building.

October 21st 1999
The new windows were finally installed by the end of June this year and made a huge difference to our air conditioning bills and to the noise from outside. On occasions we had guests who were not happy to have shared the enthusiasm of late night drinkers as they left the local watering holes at 2:00 a.m. Since the windows were completed we have had not a single complaint!

We have also totally redecorated 9 of the 10 bedrooms in the main building. We have tried very hard to bring them up to the standards that people expect of a bed and breakfast but without sacrificing the charm and character that is so much part of the hotel.

During the next 6 months we are intending to demolish the old car port at the rear of the hotel and to paint the outside. We have chosen yellow walls with white trim – a combination that we have unashamedly stolen from Don & Nancy Duden’s new house on Cedar Key.

July 4th 2000
Where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that we last updated the history of the hotel, and when we look back it’s been 9 months!! As usual, a lot has happened over that period of time, and a lot hasn’t!

For those of you who have visited us over the last months you will note that we have not yet painted the hotel, nor for that matter have we completed the demolition of the carport! We are still intending to do this work, but we have changed some of our priorities.

What we have done is complete the repairs to the wall in the courtyard so that it is ready for painting.

Many other improvements were made during this period. Rooms were repainted, the dining room was completely redecorated and looks much like it did in the 1940’s. New fire protection and fire escape stairs were installed, an old wooden garage was dismantled, and the building was completely repainted throughout.

During this same time period, Dawn and Tony married, Tony’s son David arrived from England to live here in Florida. Then, on October 29th, 2000, Dawn and Tony became the proud parents of Samantha Hailey Cousins.

It wasn’t long before Dawn and Tony began to realize that the demands of this fine old hotel conflicted with the demands of their family. After much soul-searching Dawn and Tony Cousins decided to sell the hotel. 

Part VII "The Intermission"
For Old Times’ Sake (2002)

This chapter in the history of The Island Hotel begins and ends with the purchase of this grand old hotel by Marylou and Bill Stewart. Marylou was born in Eustis, Florida and lived in Mount Dora until she went away to Texas Women’s University. Bill was raised in South Florida from South Miami area down to the Florida Keys.

Marylou, a retired Registered Nurse and Bill, a retired Health Care Executive and Consultant, made a decision to leave the healthcare industry and Georgetown, Texas (where they have lived for two years) to return to Florida. They both desired a change of address and a new challenge. After much discussion and soul searching, Bill retained a broker and began a search throughout Florida for a "bed & breakfast" opportunity in a property that reflected the "old Florida," Marylou and Bill remembered fondly. After looking at dozens of properties throughout Florida, Marylou and Bill found their way to Cedar Key and The Island Hotel. As with previous owners, the connection was immediate and an intense desire to acquire the grand "old lady" was almost overwhelming. It took some months to work through the financing and come to a point where a firm offer was made by the Stewarts and accepted by the Cousins.

On October 16, 2001, Marylou and Bill acquired the hotel and are now onsite and managing it. Both Marylou and Bill have much for which to be thankful. It is especially wonderful to become part of a series of owners who have had a unique relationship wit the hotel. All previous owners have made their mark on the hotel, but Bessie Gibbs certainly was most significant. Bessie made the hotel important and loved it dearly.
What the new owners do now is a subject of much discussion in the wonderful King Neptune Lounge, where local residents of Cedar Key and visitors from all over the country (and world) all have opinions.

Marylou and Bill are now serving lunch on weekends with a new eclectic selection of luncheon specialties not found elsewhere on the island. They have modified and updated the dinner menu and wine list to include more selections and bring back items from past years. Special wine tasting dinner nights, murder mystery nights, a "local resident twosome" dinner nights are now provided mid-week. Entertainments is back in The King Neptune Lounge most weekends with regional musicians playing at volumes that still allow intimate conversation. A "beer garden" in the patio, with quiet music and amateur night performances as well as upgrades to the three annex guest rooms, are next on their "to do" list.

In July 2002, The Island Hotel became a Florida Heritage historical site. A brown and white Trailblazer sign has been posted in front of the hotel at the corner of State Road 24 and 2nd Street with the designation logo. Currently, Florida has 232 such sites throughout Florida designated by the Florida Division of Historical Resources as important historical landmarks.

One thing is sure, The Island Hotel and Restaurant will remain a fine historic property and a wonderful hotel. Previous guests will want to return and new guests will share the memories and stories that is the mystique of this Island Hotel.

On October 29th 2002 Bill and Marylou fired all the staff and boarded up this fine old establishment. They loaded a U-hall and high-tailed it back to Texas. No one knows the reason why, but as when they got here, the talk in the bar was, for a little while, what went wrong?

At the beginning of November 2002, Dawn and Tony Cousins were appointed by the court as Receivers. We were authorized to reopen the Hotel and to get the business running again.

When we let ourselves back into the hotel, which took us all of about 30 seconds since we know the building so well, we found it very dirty but reasonably well stocked.

It took us until just before Christmas to get the place cleaned up and ready to reopen. We took Christmas for ourselves, and reopened the bar and the lodgings on December 27th. We had a very productive time and were welcomed back into the community with open arms. It was the first time in living memory that the Hotel had been closed for more than a few days. The impact in the community was devastating.

To Dawn and I it was like putting on a pair of old shoes. They were already broken in and comfortable. We were lucky enough to keep meeting many of our old staff who all wanted to come back to work for us. Rae, who had been our head housekeeper and was working at Faraway Inn, came back to be our manager. Patsy returned as head housekeeper. Rose had been our chef and returned part time in mid January to help reopen the restaurant. Hank, our ‘celebrity’ bartender, returned to his old Sunday night session (now moved to Monday). In all, 11 of our old staff have come back to work for us – we feel very honored.

January 2004 . . .

In January 2004, Dawn and Tony Cousins sold the Island Hotel and Restaurant to Andy Bair and his wife Stanley, who are originally from Atlanta. For the last 10 years they have owned and operated Bair Bahamas Guest House on South Andros Island in the Bahamas.

In Stanley’s words, "We returned to the States in August, 2003, and began a search for ‘that one last quiet, undeveloped spot’ that might be still found in Florida. We stumbled onto Cedar Key and the Island Hotel. We immediately knew we had found what we were looking for. The wonderfully quaint island and the manner in which they welcomed us has been a bonus beyond our wildest dreams. We are greeted every day by friendly, smiling faces.

"Our first few weeks were spent giving the hotel a face lift. We painted the downstairs lobby and replaced worn out furniture throughout the hotel. A new bath/shower was added for room #27. The hotel quickly came back to life, and I do believe even the ghosts are smiling. It is as if they had spent the day at a beauty parlor! Our staff is excited about the ‘new look’ and they have reason to be proud of ‘their’ hotel again."


Island Hotel was built sometime between 1859 and 1860.


Island Hotel may have served as a barracks and warehouse for the troops during the Civil War.


In 1896, a devastating hurricane struck Cedar Key.


Simon Feinberg converted Parsons and Hale's General Store into the Island Hotel.


Bessie and "Gibby" Gibbs (1949)


"Big Buster"


Helen Tooker painted the upstairs wall murals with her daughter Helen Parramore.


Helen Tooker painted King Neptune mural in the hotel bar.


Bessie and "Shorty' Hodges

Current Owners Andy & Stanley Bairs