Fort Myers, FL
During the American Civil War, Confederate blockade runners and cattle ranchers were based in Fort Myers. These settlers prospered through trading with the Seminole and Union soldiers.
Settlement and founding
The Fort Myers community was founded after the American Civil War by Captain Manuel A. Gonzalez on February 21, 1866. Captain Gonzalez was familiar with the area as a result of his years of service delivering mail and supplies to the Union Army at the Fort during the Seminole Indian Wars and Civil War.When the U.S. Government abandoned the fort following the Civil War, Gonzalez sailed from Key West, Florida to found the community. Three weeks later, Joseph Vivas and his wife, Christianna Stirrup Vivas, arrived with Gonzalez’s wife, Evalina, and daughter Mary.
Gonzalez settled his family near the abandoned Fort Myers, where he began the area’s first trading post. Gonzalez traded tobacco, beads, and gunpowder, and sold otter, bobcat, and gator hide, to the neighboring Seminole. A small community began to form around the trading post.
In the late 19th century, northerners began to travel to Florida in the winter. Some saw development opportunities. In 1881, the wealthy industrialist Hamilton Disston of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania came to the Caloosahatchee Valley. He planned to dredge and drain the Everglades for development. Diston connected Lake Okeechobee with the Caloosahatchee River; this allowed steamboats to run from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee and up the Kissimmee River.
On August 12, 1885, the small town of Fort Myers—all 349 residents—was incorporated. By that time, it was the second-largest town on Florida’s Gulf Coast south of Cedar Key.
In 1885, inventor Thomas Alva Edison was cruising Florida’s west coast and stopped to visit Fort Myers. He soon bought 13 acres along the Caloosahatchee River in town. There he built his home “Seminole Lodge”, as a winter retreat. It included a laboratory for his continuing work. After the Lodge was completed in 1886, Edison and his wife, Mina, spent many winters in Fort Myers. Edison also enjoyed local recreational fishing, for which Fort Myers had gained a national reputation.
In 1898, the Royal Palm Hotel was constructed. This luxury hotel attracted many tourists and established Fort Myers nationally as a winter resort destination.