Ponce 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.
In 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
Florida 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.
The 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
The 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.
Herds 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.
By 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.
Captivated 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