de Leon explored areas along Florida's Gulf coast in 1513 & 1521.
The barrier islands of Lee County are believed to be one
of his many stops. Spanish and Cuban settlers created temporary
fishing and farming camps along the coast, but for years
Southwest Florida was a rugged and isolated area.
the early 1700s the Lee Island coastline first appeared with
some accuracy in British maps. During the last half of the
1700s coastal areas of Lee County were a base of operations
for bands of pirates raiding the cargo ships sailing to and
from the port of New Orleans.
became a US Territory in 1821, and the ensuing wave of settlers
asked for protection from the native Seminoles. Fort Myers
was built along the Caloosahatchee River as one of the first
bases of operations during the Seminole Indian Wars. Fort
Myers was named in honor of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, the
son-in-law of the commander of Fort Brooke in Tampa.
fort was abandoned in 1858 and reoccupied by Federal troops
from 1863-1865. The Southernmost battle of the Civil War,
a skirmish between Northern and Southern troops occurred
across the river in 1865 and is reenacted annually at the
North Fort Myers Cracker Festival.
fort itself was disassembled, and some of the wood used in
construction of some of the first buildings in what would
become downtown Fort Myers. No more than ten families lived
in the original town when it was platted in 1876.
of cattle were driven past the old fort grounds to Punta
Rassa where they were lifted onto schooners and steamers
using block and tackle, and shipped to Cuba. Cattle, farming,
and logging were early mainstays in the Fort Myers area.
Tomatoes, avocados, and castor beans were cultivated on Sanibel
Island. Many pineapple plantations flourished inland along
the river as settlers began to move away from the fort area.
1885 Fort Myers was bursting with pride and a bulging population
of 349, the second largest town on Florida's Gulf Coast south
of Cedar Key. That same year Thomas Alva Edison was cruising
Florida's west coast and stopped to visit the village.
with what he saw, Edison built his home and laboratory, Seminole
Lodge, on the banks of the Caloosatchee River. He subsequently
became Fort Myers' most famous resident and a strong force
in its growth and development.
had a deep respect for nature, regarding it as an endless
source of discovery. Through his sheer determination and
dauntless efforts, the beauty and majesty of the royal palms
lining Riverside Avenue (now McGregor Boulevard) were imported
and planted, and would become the reason for the "City
of Palms" nickname.
Fort Myers Laboratory was originally built for research on
goldenrod rubber, but many of Edison's inventions and research
materials are on display. The incandescent light bulb is
acknowledged worldwide as Edison's greatest invention.
diversification remains a constant amazement. With almost
1100 patents to his credit, he has been dubbed "America's
most prolific inventor". His achievements include the
phonograph, movie camera and projector, ship-to-shore radio,
alkaline storage battery, ticker tape machine, and microphone.
Naturally he had his share of losers: a perpetual cigar,
a concrete house and furniture, and a helicopter-type flying
machine that was lifted by kites.
his lesser known, but successful inventions, visitors will
discover items that could be part of a 'Who Invented" trivia
game. These include wax paper, tin foil, the talking doll,
mimeograph, and dictating machine, plus one of the most indispensable
products in history: mucilage, the "sticky stuff" that
is affixed to postage stamps, envelopes, and labels.
light burns a little brighter each year during the Edison
Festival of Light, as the City of Fort Myers annually celebrates
his February 11th birthday with two weeks of citywide events,
culminated by the Grand Parade of Light. The celebration
attracts thousands of visitors who view a colorful grand
parade, join in street dances, and compete in contests ranging
from fishing to shuffleboard. The King and Queen of Light
area crowned at the coronation ball and reign at the Grand
Parade of Light.
Edison's enchantment with Fort Myers grew, he began to spend
more time at Seminole Lodge and was often joined there by
his friend, Henry Ford. The two distinguished inventors would
sometimes go off on a camping trip or a drive to Estero.
met Edison at a meeting in New York and, with Edison's encouragement,
quit his job and turned his full attention to his dream of
building a gasoline driven automobile.
1903 Ford's dream had come true and he had become so famous
that people were asking to put money into his company. The
Ford Motor Company was officially started that year with
$28,000 cash, but it took the introduction of the Model-T
in 1907 to make the company a financial success. By 1914
the first Ford Car Dealership was opened in Fort Myers.
shared Edison's enthusiasm for Fort Myers, eventually purchasing
the property adjoining his friend's estate and became a frequent
winter visitor as long as Edison lived.
the building boom between 1898 and the 1920's, torrents of
winter visitors from the north flocked to Florida seeking
their fortunes in land investments. The opening of the Tamiami
Trail (U.S. 41) linked Fort Myers to Tampa and Miami, adding
more to the growth of the Big Boom in the 1920s. Growth radiated
in all directions until the 1930s.
devastating hurricanes in 1921 & 1926, combined with
poor publicity and inadequate planning brought a collapse
in Florida's boom time. Fort Myers suffered along with the
rest of the nation during the Great Depression. Still, there
was moderate progress as some of the more elegant buildings
in Fort Myers were built during the 1930s.
the early 1940s, every county in Florida had air bases due
to the advantageous flying weather. The Fort Myers area had
Bucking ham and Page Fields, and the city was home to thousands
of servicemen, many of whom returned and became permanent
the years since World War II, the city has grown along with
Lee County and the rest of Southwest Florida. Commercial
and residential growth has pushed development in all directions
to create Cape Coral, North Fort Myers and Lehigh, as well
as adding to the coastal settlements of Fort Myers Beach,
Pine Island, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, and Bonita Springs.
the older downtown area and the City of Fort Myers historic
districts have retained much of their charm, and proper preservation
measures are in place to ensure that charm will be treasured
for many generations to come.