The way we were: Fort Myers and Southwest Florida almost a century ago / Special to The News-Press
Often, when stories run in Tropicalia, readers will write in afterward to share their thoughts and observations or ask further questions.
A few times a year, I select a representative sampling and run “Letters to Tropicalia.” And while we’re not quite due for the next installment, we got a singularly interesting email last week with information so interesting that I didn’t want to wait to share it.
The note came from Elaine Campion Carter, inspired by last month’s Field Notes about vintage Florida maps and long-gone places.
She wrote, “I read your article about Old Florida. It was interesting. There is a Upcohall Avenue in Fort Myers Shores. There might be a house near the river that might have been this guy’s residence... There are many nice homes on the river in that area.”
She also included a link to a nearly century-old pamphlet that’s in the University of Florida’s George A. Smathers Library, a 1922 brochure funded by Lee County and published by the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce — “the chief Information Bureau of Lee County” as the small type on the back page proclaims.
It’s a wonder: a 38-page artifact that encapsulates the region’s collective hopes for itself with an astonishing mix of facts and mythmaking (see it online here: ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00008427/00001/1x). Back then, Lee County encompassed the region we know as Southwest Florida. Stretching from Lake Okeechobee to the Ten Thousand Islands, it included what later became Hendry and Collier counties.
The pamphlet includes sketches of the county’s towns and settlements, including a reference to Upcohall: “Upcohall, between Woodrow and Olga. All kinds of citrus fruits are successfully grown in this section. The soil is also well-adapted to general farming and the growing of sugar cane is extensively carried on.”
A section titled “Social Conditions” boasts that “Its moral tone is of an unusually high standard. The citizenship is composed of people from almost every state in the Union and many European countries. They are progressive and energetic and all labor together for the general welfare of the community”
But what I found most interesting was the little volume’s last page.
Across from a description of the area’s marine industry — “The Ocean Leather Company with factory on Sanibel utilizes the skins of sharks, porpoises and other species of the whale family in preparing leather, oil and fertilizer for the market” and under a photo of two men on a pier peeling a bottlenose dolphin like a mango captioned “PORPOISE FISHING FOR THE SKIN OF THE FISH (sic)” — is a list of telling facts about the city and the region.
Here’s a selection:
• Population 6,500
• Paved streets
• Cement sidewalks
• Public park
• Artesian water supply
• Electric light plant
• Third largest ice plant in the state
• Four citrus fruit packing houses
• Two produce packing houses
• Three cigar factories
• Seven churches
• Four schools
• Three banks
• Robert E. Lee Memorial Hospital
• Two moving picture theaters
• Western Union Telegraph
• Two daily papers
• Daily boat service
• Four drug stores
• Free band concerts twice a day