“You should know the history of the area where you live,” said local historian Russ Carter, “so get ready for Fort Myers Beach history in 4 chapters: the Calusa, Spaniards, the Wackos from Chicago, and Homegrown Wackos!”
Estero Island was the beach and swamp a foot or less above sea level between 100 BC to Zero, explained Russ. “When the Calusa Indians set up a village by the Mound House. They were big healthy mound builders and hunter-gatherers with bows-and-arrows and lances.” Between 200 and 500 AD, oceans rose 2 to 5 feet, so the Calusa built 50 to 60 foot mounds. “They believed humans had three souls,” Russ said. “The iris of your eye, your shadow, and your reflection on the lake. When you die, the iris goes into a lesser and lesser life form until going down to nothing, meaning Calusa souls are No-See-Ums!” The Calusa eventually left, with Lee County using their mounds as roadfill for Estero Boulevard.
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon ended his voyage of exploration right here, making landfall at Punta Rassa near the present Sanibel toll booth. The Calusa barreled out of mangroves with spears and the Spanish left. Ponce de Leon returned in 1521, with the Calusa King, Carlos, responding with a huge force that slaughtered the Spanish; ‘Matanzas’ is Spanish for slaughter. Ponce de Leon suffered a poison-tip wound and died in Cuba. Over the next 300 years, the Spanish influence was negligible, with only a few fishing villages.
The Wackos From Chicago
“The 19th century was an exciting time,” Russ exclaimed. “Big cattle, cowboys and outlaws, crackers cracking the whip to drive cattle down McGregor Boulevard to ship to New Orleans and Cuba.” By 1839 Florida was a territory, and in Upstate New York was born Cyrus Reed Teed. “In 1869, he electrocuted himself,” said Russ. “When he woke, he revealed that an archangel had told him he was the reincarnation of Jesus, and to form the New Jerusalem. He conned an old German homesteader out of his land that eventually became Koreshan State Park.”
Koreshan sect relatives settled and subdivided Fort Myers Beach, with the Mound House the first that the Long Family from Chicago eventually acquired in the 1950s, “and it was the Chicago Wackos who got the beach into the 20th Century, until December 7, 1941,” explains Russ. “Then training bases opened at Page and Buckingham Fields, bringing in tens of thousands of soldiers. Soon military wives followed, and after the war, they returned, built cottages, and the island became what we know today.”
The Greatest Generation gave way to Baby Boomers, who took out permits for 20-story buildings; in 1991 came news of a 27-story hotel, and the Civic Association formed to halt what ultimately became the DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa but failed, “leading those wackos on Fort Myers Beach to demand incorporation and that was the start of the Town in 1995,” concludes Russ. “And today, Fort Myers Beach continues to have plenty of our own Homegrown Wackos!”
Caption: The Mound House, located at the bay end of Connecticut Street is Estero Island’s oldest standing structure and has recently been restored to its 1921 grandeur