History of Fort Myers
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 Orleans.
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 Cracker Festival.
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 and development.
Edison 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.
Edison’s 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.
Edison’s 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.
Among 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.
As 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.
Ford 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.
By 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.
Ford 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.
Edison’s 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.
During 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.
Two 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.
In the early 1940s, every county in Florida had air bases due to the advantageous flying weather. The Fort Myers area had Buckingham and Page Fields, and the city was home to thousands of servicemen, many of whom returned and became permanent residents.
In 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.
Fortunately, 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.
Abraham Charles Myers
Dictionary of American Biography, 1936
Born: 1811 in South Carolina, United States
Died: 1898 in Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Other Names: Myers, Abraham Charles
Myers, Abraham Charles (May? 1811 - June 20, 1889), first quartermaster-general of the Confederate Army, the son of Abraham Myers, a lawyer, and the descendant of Moses Cohen, the first rabbi of Charleston, was born in Georgetown, S. C. He entered the United States Military Academy from South Carolina on July 1, 1828, but because of deficiency in his studies was turned back to the next class at the end of his first year. He was graduated on July 1, 1833, was appointed brevet second lieutenant, and was stationed at Baton Rouge. He served in the Indian wars in Florida in 1836-38 and again in 1841-42. In November 1839 he became a captain in the quartermaster department. He served under Gen. Zachary Taylor in Texas and northern Mexico and was brevetted major for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Transferred to Scott's army, he was brevetted colonel for gallant conduct at Churubusco and was chief quartermaster of the Army of Mexico from April to June 1848. During the next thirteen years, still in the quartermaster service, he was stationed at various posts in the southern states. In the meantime he married Marion Twiggs, the daughter of Gen. David E. Twiggs, the commander of the Department of Texas.
At the beginning of 1861 he was stationed at New Orleans, where on Jan. 28, on demand of the state officials, he surrendered the quartermaster and commissary stores in his possession. On the same date he resigned his position in the United States Army. On Mar. 16, 1861, he was appointed lieutenant-colonel in the quartermaster-general's department of the Confederate States Army. On Mar. 25 he was announced as acting quartermaster-general. He became quartermaster-general in December and was raised to the rank of colonel on Feb. 15, 1862. During the first months of the war he procured supplies by purchase in the open market; but when this source approached exhaustion in the fall of 1861 he made contracts throughout the country with local manufacturers for cotton and woolen cloth and with tanners for leather, and he established government shops for making clothing, shoes, tents, wagons, and other equipage. He purchased horses and mules at market prices as long as possible; but by the spring of 1862, much against his inclination, he was forced to resort to impressment. He was constantly hampered by the inability of the treasury to furnish him sufficient funds, by the rapid deterioration of the currency, and by poor railway transportation. By the middle of 1863 he had built up an extensive organization of purchasing agents, post quartermasters, shops, and supply depots; but he was never able to provide adequately for the armies, especially in the essentials of clothing and shoes. His bureau therefore became the target of severe criticism. A careful survey of the records and correspondence of Myers's office indicates that he was very efficient as an accountant, but that he was unable to rise above the routine he had learned in the old army or to overcome the laxity, carelessness, and inefficiency of remote subordinates.
On Aug. 7, 1863, by order of Jefferson Davis, he was superseded as quartermaster-general by Brig.-Gen. Alexander R. Lawton. The only reason ever given for the change was that it was in the interest of efficiency (Journal, post, III, 627). Myers and his friends resented his removal, and the senate on Jan. 26, 1864, resolved that, since Lawton had not been nominated to that body, Myers and not Lawton was legally quartermaster-general. Davis then submitted Lawton's nomination, and on Feb. 17 it was confirmed. Myers refused to serve under Lawton and presently found himself, on a technicality, "out of the army" (Official Records, post, ser. 4, vol. 3, pp. 318-20; letters from Myers to General Bragg, June 13, Aug. 9, 1864, in Bragg Papers, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio). He lived during the rest of the war in Georgia, "almost in want, on the charity of friends" (Ibid.). He was never reconciled with Davis. Of his life after the war, little is known. He is said to have traveled in Europe from 1866 to 1877. He seems to have made his home at Lake Roland, Md., and then in Washington, D. C., where he died.
[G. W. Cullum, Biog. Register of the Officers and Grads. of the U. S. Military Acad. at West Point, vols. I, III supplement (1868-79); War of the Rebellion: Official Records (Army), for dates esp. 4 ser., vols. I-III, 2 ser., vols. III-V, 3 ser., vol. I; Jour. of the Cong. of the Confederate States of America, vols. I-V (1904-05); Jefferson Davis, ed. by Dunbar Rowland (1923), vol. VII; Times-Democrat (New Orleans), June 21, 1889; information supplied by Mabel L. Webber, Librarian of the S. C. Hist. Soc.]
"Abraham Charles Myers." Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310006882/BIC1?u=fairfax_main&xid=c00f7b83. Accessed 20 Sept. 2017.
Gale Document Number: GALE|BT2310006882
TWIGGS, DAVID EMANUEL (1790–1862). David Emanuel Twiggs, United States commander of the Department of Texas during the secession crisis, son of Gen. John and Ruth (Emanuel) Twiggs, was born in Richmond County, Georgia, in 1790. His long career of military service began with his appointment as captain in the Eighth United States Infantry in March 1812. He was promoted to major in 1825, lieutenant colonel in 1831, and colonel of the Second Dragoons in 1836. During the Mexican War he served ably under Zachary Taylor at the battles of Palo Altoand Resaca de la Palma and was promoted to brigadier general. After the capture of Monterrey he was brevetted a major general for gallantry, for which Congress voted him a sword and gold scabbard. He was later transferred to Veracruz and served under Winfield Scott in the campaign to capture Mexico City. After the war Twiggs served in various departmental commands until he assumed authority at the Department of Texas in 1857, headquartered in San Antonio. He was absent on sick leave from his command for most of 1860, replaced temporarily by Robert E. Lee, but he returned to San Antonio and resumed command on December 13, 1860, in the midst of the secession uproar. Certain, after Lincoln's election, that the Union would be dissolved, he resolved never to fire upon American citizens. As a strong advocate of state's rights, he repeatedly asked Washington for instructions, stating that he did not assume that the government desired him to carry on civil war in Texas and that he consequently would turn over the army property in his department to the government of the state after Texas seceded. On January 13 he requested that he be relieved of command, but orders to that effect were not issued until January 28, and then the necessary papers were sent by mail rather than courier.
On February 1, 1861, the state Secession Convention adopted an ordinance of secession, and three days later appointed commissioners to confer with Twiggs at his San Antonio headquarters. This committee was empowered to demand, "in the name of the people of the State of Texas," those United States arms, stores, and munitions under his control. Should Twiggs decline to surrender the government property to the commissioners, Benjamin McCullochwas commissioned to take the place by force. On February 8 the commissioners at San Antonio reported that Twiggs, momentarily expecting the arrival of his replacement, was willing to maintain his troops in their quarters until March 2 or until he was relieved. If, however, the state should ratify its secession ordinance before that time, he would "deliver all up" to the committee. He "expressed a fixed determination," however, to march the troops under his command out of San Antonio under arms and with all of their transportation facilities and extra clothing. The commissioners sent Samuel A. Maverick to obtain Twiggs's promise in writing. When Twiggs refused this demand, the commissioners sent a rider to McCulloch with orders that he "bring as large a force as he may deem necessary, and as soon as possible to San Antonio." Confronted with a situation in which he could not reconcile his duties as a soldier with his belief in the state's right of secession, Twiggs appointed a military commission on February 9 to meet the commissioners. The question of what his men could take with them when they evacuated Texas was close to settlement when, on February 15, Twiggs received the order relieving him of command. Col. Carlos Adolphus Waiteof the First Infantry, next senior officer in the department, was named his successor. Waite, a New Yorker, was a strong Unionist, and the Texans reasoned that he would not surrender the federal property. The committee ordered McCulloch to move on San Antonio. If Twiggs's command "should express a desire to depart the country peaceably," McCulloch was instructed to allow them to do so under honorable terms.
McCulloch posted his men on the surrounding rooftops so as to command the buildings occupied by federal troops and picketed Twiggs's quarters, a mile outside of town, to prevent the federal commander from communicating with his forces in San Antonio. Near 7:00 A.M., McCulloch demanded the surrender of the troops in San Antonio. Without firing a shot, they capitulated. In the meantime, Twiggs was placed under arrest and escorted into San Antonio. There the commissioners required him "to deliver up all military posts and public property held by or under [his] control." Although willing enough to surrender the other public property, Twiggs repeatedly assured Maverick and his fellow commissioners Thomas Jefferson Devine and Philip Noland Luckett that "he would die before he would permit his men to be disgraced by a surrender of their arms." Wishing to avoid a bloody confrontation, the commissioners were willing to compromise on that issue. After "a stormy conference between the department commander and the commissioners," Twiggs agreed that the 160 United States soldiers in San Antonio would surrender all public property, an inventory estimated at $1.3 million in value. Twiggs and the commissioners further agreed that all forts in Texas would be turned over to Texas state troops, and their garrisons were to march from Texas by way of the coast.
Twiggs's unwillingness to fire upon Texans in the streets of their own cities was not appreciated in the North. What he viewed as an attempt to avoid bloodshed, most Unionists saw as a part of a Southern conspiracy for which Twiggs was mercilessly vilified. He was dismissed from federal service by order of President James Buchanan on March 1, 1861. On May 22 he was commissioned as the senior major general in the Confederate States Army and assigned to command the District of Louisiana, with headquarters in New Orleans. Age and infirmities soon compelled his virtual retirement, however, and he died near Augusta, Georgia, on July 15, 1862. He is buried near his birthplace in Richmond County, Georgia. His first wife, Elizabeth (Hunter), preceded him in death, but his second, a Mrs. Hunt of New Orleans, survived him as did his two children.