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Cape Coral was founded in 1957. Real estate developers Leonard and Jack Rosen purchased a 103-square-mile (270 km2) tract known as Redfish Point for $678,000 in that year in 1958, began development of the city as a master-planned, pre-planned community.
The Gulf American Corporation (GAC) was formed to develop the area. Canals were dug, streets paved, houses and businesses built. Cape Coral was promoted like no other Florida development. Celebrities were brought in to tout the benefits of "the Cape", as it is known locally. The first building was the Rosens' company headquarters, at the corner of Coronado and Cape Coral Parkway. Cape Coral's first permanent resident was Kenny Schwartz, the Rosens' general manager. Cape Coral's first four homes were completed in May 1958, on Riverside and Flamingo Drives.
Before the bridge, a trip to Fort Myers was more than 20 mi (32 km) via Del Prado Boulevard and over the Edison Bridge to cross the river. The city incorporated in August 1970, and its population continued to grow rapidly until the real estate slowdown that gripped the region beginning in 2008.In its early years, Cape Coral was known as a community with many retired residents. This changed with a population and construction boom in the 1990s, which brought in younger families and professionals. Twenty percent of the population is seasonal residents. Nowadays, the city has a wide variety of businesses, retail shops and restaurants on its major arteries: Cape Coral Parkway, Del Prado Boulevard, Santa Barbara Boulevard and Pine Island Road.
Naples was founded during the late 1880s by former Confederate general and Kentucky U.S. Senator John Stuart Williams and his partner, Louisville businessman Walter N. Haldeman, the publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal. Throughout the 1870s and '80s, magazine and newspaper stories telling of the area's mild climate and abundant fish and game likened it to the sunny Italian peninsula. The name Naples caught on when promoters described the bay as "surpassing the bay in Naples, Italy". Major development was anticipated after the railroad reached Naples on January 7, 1927 and the Tamiami Trail linking Naples to Miami was completed in 1928; but did not begin until after the Great Depression and World War II. During the war the Army Air Force built a small air field and used it for training purposes; it is now the Naples Municipal Airport.
Aqualane Shores Association was incorporated as a non-profit corporation on February 3, 1966. It served lot owners in the area roughly bounded by the Bay of Naples to the east, and Gordon Dr to the west, and the land between 14th Ave S and 21st Ave S, as well as Marina Drive, Forrest Lane and Southwinds Drive. Thirty years later, in 1996, a state mandated city master plan renamed the area to The Aqualane Shores Neighborhood and extended its boundary west to the Gulf of Mexico, east to the Bay of Naples, and the area from 14th Ave S and all the way south to Jamaica Channel. The numerous canals and waterfront homes add a distinctive feature to the south portion of Naples and provide access to the Gulf of Mexico for many homeowners.
Points of interest
Art League of Bonita Springs - an arts organization that hosts both local and traveling art exhibitions, arts classes and other community events.
Bonita Beach Park - a 2.5-acre (10,000 m2) beachfront park that features a boardwalk and swimming area. Sand dunes and coastal vegetation surround a gazebo and 8 picnic shelters. Barefoot Beach Preserve Park - is 342 acres (1.38 km2) of natural land and one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida's southwest coast. It is located on the border of Collier and Lee Counties and accessible by Bonita Beach Road. In 2013, Forbes ranked the park's beach as the sixth best in the United States. Little Hickory Island Beach Park
There are also 10 beach accesses with public parking located up and down Bonita Beach. Bonita Springs is located west of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a significant Bald Cypress reserve under management of the National Audubon Society.
Lover's Key State Park, a 1,616-acre (6.54 km2) park made up of four barrier islands, is located within the city and just north of Bonita Beach. The park features nature trails for hiking and bicycling, a canoe launch, kayak and canoe rentals, acres of unspoiled mangroves and miles of pristine beaches. A haven for wildlife, the islands and their waters are home to West Indian Manatees, bottlenose dolphins, roseate spoonbills, marsh rabbits and bald eagles.
The Everglades Wonder Gardens features a large collection of Florida wildlife including exotic birds, panthers, alligators, flamingos and bears. The facility, originally opened in 1936 as both a wildlife exhibition and a refuge for injured animals, also boasts a botanical garden and a natural history museum.
Fort Myers was one of the first forts built along the Caloosahatchee River as a base of operations against the Seminole Indians. Fort Denaud, Fort Thompson, and Fort Dulany (Punta Rassa) all pre-date Fort Myers. When a hurricane destroyed Fort Dulany in October 1841, the military was forced to look for a site less exposed to storms from the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of the search, Fort Harvie was built on the grounds that now comprise downtown Fort Myers. Renewed war against the Seminoles in 1850 caused a re-occupation and extensive reconstruction of Fort Harvie.
On February 21, 1866, Manuel A. Gonzalez and his 5 year old son Manuel S. Gonzalez became one of the first permanent settlers after arriving from Key West, Florida at the remains of the abandoned Federal Fort. Manuel and his son made repairs on what would become the Gonzalez family home located at what is now the corner of First and Jackson streets. Three weeks later, Joseph Vivas and his wife Christianna Stirrup Vivas arrived at the Fort with Manuel A. Gonzalez's wife, Evalina Weatherford Gonzalez and daughter Mary Gonzalez. Three years later, however, when Fort Myers was incorporated, it was the second largest city after Tampa on Florida's west coast south of Cedar Key, larger than Clearwater and Sarasota, also growing cities at the time.
Fort Myers first became a nationally known winter resort with the building of the Royal Palm Hotel in 1898. Access was greatly improved with the opening of a 28-mile (45 km) extension of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad from Punta Gorda to Fort Myers on May 10, 1904, giving Lee County both passenger and freight service. But what really sparked the city's growth was the construction of the Tamiami Trail Bridge across the Caloosahatchee River in 1924. After the bridge's construction, the city experienced its first real estate boom, and many subdivisions sprouted around the city.
Estero was established and incorporated by the followers of Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed, who proposed a theory that we live on the inside of the Earth's outer skin, and that celestial bodies are all contained inside the hollow Earth. This theory, which he called Koreshan Unity, drew followers to purchase and occupy a 320-acre (1.3 km2) tract in 1894. They were business-oriented and lived communally, prospering enough to found its own political party ("The Progressive Liberty Party") and incorporate the town in 1904 as Estero. The 1908 death of Dr. Teed (who claimed to be immortal) was a critical blow to the group's faith, whose membership dwindled into the 1960s. The Foundation remains as "The College of Life Foundation," which contributed (for example) at least $25,000 to the Gulf Shore Playhouse in or around 2007. The Koreshans' original tract is now owned by Florida as the
Throughout its history, Florida has welcomed pioneers of all kinds. Cyrus Reed Teed was probably the most unusual, bringing followers to Estero in 1894 to build New Jerusalem for his new faith, Koreshanity. The colony, known as the Koreshan Unity, believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere. The colony began fading after Teed´s death in 1908, and in 1961 the last four members deeded the land to the state. Today, visitors can fish, picnic, boat, and hike where Teed´s visionaries once carried out survey experiments to prove the horizon on the beaches of Collier County curves upward. A boat ramp and canoe rentals are available. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the settlement or a ranger-guided tour. For overnight stays, the park has a full-facility campground. Campers can enjoy campfire programs every Saturday night from January through March. Located on U.S. 41 at Corkscrew Road
Lehigh Acres got its start in the mid-1950s when Chicago businessman Lee Ratner needed a tax shelter. He had sold his pest control business, and he faced the possibility of losing most of his earnings to the high capital gains tax of that era. Ratner heard that cattle was a good investment for people in his predicament, and he bought 18,000 acres (73 km²) of land in eastern Lee County and named it the Lucky Lee Ranch. After ranching for a while, and despite having no prior development experience, Ratner joined with Gerald H. Gould, a Florida advertising executive, Manuel Riskin, a Chicago CPA, and Edward Shapiro, a former Chicagoan who was in the real estate business in California, and began land sales at Lehigh Acres.
Gerald Gould was the president of the corporation that developed Lehigh Acres which began in business in 1954. He remained as president until the company was sold in 1972. Since the days of the Lucky Lee Ranch, the boundaries of Lehigh Acres have stretched to cover 61,000 acres (250 km2), including the runways of the former Buckingham Army Airfield, a major Army Air Forces training base that was closed at the end of World War II. The pasture land where Ratner's cattle roamed and the since broken up runways where military flight crews trained has been divided into some 152,000 0.25-acre (1,000 m2) and 0.5-acre (2,000 m2) lots for housing, along over eleven thousand miles of roads. Strips of land along major thoroughfares, such as Homestead Road and Lee Boulevard, were set aside for commerce. In 1997, nearly 90% of Lehigh Acres' lots remained vacant.
A surge in housing prices led to a boom in Lehigh Acres new-housing construction from 2003 to 2007, peaking at more than 7,500 new homes constructed in 2006. The number of homes built during this period exceeded the total number of homes constructed during the preceding 50 years. But as in much of the United States, the real-estate boom of the 2000s went bust. The median house price in the Ft. Myers area peaked in late 2005 at $322,300. Three years later, it had plummeted to $106,900.