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Lester Piper
Lester Piper
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Between stints as a Detroit bootlegger and Southwest Florida land baron, Lester Piper created a classic old Florida attraction: the Everglades Wonder Gardens.

After Piper's work in Michigan earned him enemies in the early 1930s, he headed south with his brother, Bill, settling on the Imperial River in Bonita Springs. Over the next 20 years, the brothers amassed 23 square miles in Lee and Collier counties, reports writer and historian Charles LeBuff on his Web site, sanybel.com.

While other pioneers killed wild critters, Piper made friends with them, and housed and fed them.

His reputation as an animal man spread. When otters ate other settlers' chickens or alligators scared their children, they called Piper, who captured and kept the creatures. He opened the Everglades Reptile Gardens in 1936. It became the Everglades Wonder Gardens after his menagerie expanded to include bears, deer and panthers.

Piper died in 1992; his family runs the gardens.

- Amy Williams, awilliams@news-press.com

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