Fort Myers Then and Now
Indians, baseball, towering historic figures, and relentlessly sunny skies are all part of Fort Myer’s vibrant history. Located on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, Fort Myers is the gateway to the popular Southwest Florida region. Fort Myers was established in 1886 and today ranks as a major tourist destination because of its convenient access to the Gulf of Mexico, sparkling beaches, barrier islands, and numerous cultural attractions.
As far back as 1513 and 1521, Ponce de Leon succumbed to the charms of the Florida Gulf Coast, stopping at the barrier islands of Captiva and Sanibel. After Florida became a US territory in 1821, the ensuing wave of settlers asked for protection from the Seminole Indians who were systematically massacring the area’s few settlers. Named for Colonel Abraham C. Myers, the son-in-law of the Fort’s first commander, the Lee Island coastline became the site of a military base of operations during the balance of the Indian Wars. The fort was abandoned in 1858 until 1863 when a small band of Union troops assumed command during the Civil War. A rogue band of Confederates attacked in 1865 but were turned back. The fort was deserted again after the War. Ultimately, disassembled, some of the original Fort’s wood was used in the construction of the first buildings in what would become downtown Fort Myers.
By 1885, Fort Myers was flourishing as the state’s second largest city. Settlers were moving inland away from the Fort and one of the area’s best kept secrets was a number of thriving pineapple plantations. Thomas Edison became the area’s most famous citizen when he visited the untamed Coast in 1885, fell in love with the area, and ultimately constructed his winter mansion and laboratory. His Fort Myers home, known as Seminole Lodge, provided the setting for the many notables who would visit Edison. These luminaries included rubber baron, Harvey S. Firestone; writer and naturalist, John Burroughs; and auto magnate, Henry Ford, who built his own residence in the growing frontier town. Edison’s bonds with the community are one of the defining features of the city’s history. Today numerous streets, public venues, a community college, mile-long bridge and shopping mall are all named for Edison. The annual Edison Festival of Light and Pageant is one of Fort Myer’s premier social and winter events.
The 20s saw the “Boom Time” to all of Florida and Fort Myers was no exception. Edison Park, Seminole Park and other venerable neighborhoods featuring an eclectic mix of Mediterranean Revival buildings were constructed during this frenzied time. The arrival of the Seaboard Railroad resulted in even further growth.
In the years following World War II, Fort Myers continued to grow along with the rest of Lee County. Today Fort Myers hosts a number of booming businesses from boutiques, financial institutions, fine restaurants, and a number of professional offices and educational institutions.
Baseball fans know Fort Myers as the Spring home for the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins. Fort Myers holds the distinction of having served as the host of five Major League Baseball franchises who have all gone on to win the World Series, following spring training in Fort Myers.
Families and sports enthusiasts continue to flock to Fort Myers for its balmy climate — temperatures on average are 75 degrees and higher 12 months of the year. The area also is home to more than 50 of Southwest Florida’s renowned 130 public and private golf courses, many of which provide a challenge for even the most discerning golfer.
Beaches in Fort Myers and Sanabel have played host to conservationists throughout the ages and continue to be ranked among the world’s best for the natural wildlife, shell species and tropical plants that co-exist with sun-drenched residents.
It’s no secret why Edison and many other notables have come to cherish this unique city.