Fort Myers Timeline

The Menge Brothers Caloosahatchee Steamboard Line's "Thomas Edison" steamer carries travelers down the Caloosahatchee River in the early 1900s.

1850 Fort Myers is constructed. The fort is used during the Third Seminole War, then abandoned until the Civil War.

1862-78 Homestead Act attracts American settlers to southwest Florida.

1868-70 War between Spain and Cuba fuels cattle drive through Florida to Cuba. Jacob Summerlin and son Samuel dominate the trade in southwest Florida.

1870 Major James Evans purchases the fort property and lays out the town site.

1881 Hamilton Disston connects the Caloosahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee via Three Mile Canal, opening the river to steamboat traffic.

1884 Stafford Cleveland (for whom Cleveland Avenue is named) establishes the Fort Myers Press newspaper. The paper frequently reports on Edison for the next 50 years.

1885 Thomas Edison purchases the “Summerlin Tract,” along the Caloosahatchee River. Fort Myers is incorporated, population 349. Edison constructs "Seminole Lodge" on his property over the next two years.

1888 The Menge brothers’ Caloosahatchee River Steamboard Line opens increasing commercial trade to the area; both Menges become friends of the Edisons.

1892 Standard Oil magnate Ambrose McGregor purchases the Gilliland property next door to "Seminole Lodge."

1893 Harvie Heitman opens a general store at First and Jackson. He serves as Edison’s local agent beginning in 1908.

1898 The Royal Palm Hotel is constructed, helping to transform Fort Myers from frontier cattle town to tarpon fishing destination. Electricity comes to Fort Myers, 11 years after Edison electrifies "Seminole Lodge."

1900 Telephone service is first available in Fort Myers.

1901 A volunteer fire department forms, to which Thomas Edison contributes $100. The Edisons return to Fort Myers for the first time since 1887.

1904 The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad is the first in Fort Myers. Due to the railroad, the commercial fishing industry arrives, and the use of steamboats ends. The arrival of the railroad makes travel to Seminole Lodge much easier for the Edisons.

1907 Famous palms which lent their name to the “City of Palms” are first planted on Riverside Avenue (now McGregor Boulevard). Thomas Edison contributes to this initial planting.

1910 The first municipal water system is formed.

1912 Tootie McGregor Terry funds construction of Riverside Boulevard from Punta Rassa to Whiskey Creek; the city and county fund construction from Whiskey Creek to downtown Fort Myers. The completed and renamed McGregor Boulevard paves the way for development.

1914 The largest fire in city history destroys the packing plant.

1916 Henry Ford purchases "The Mangoes," a Craftsman bungalow estate next door to "Seminole Lodge."

1917 The Fort Myers Country Club opens; Thomas Edison is listed as a “course director.”

1919 Tin can tourists invade Florida, turning it into vacation destination. This leads to a
building boom in Fort Myers, which ends in the late 1920s as the stock market crashes.

1924 The first gas plant brings gas to homes and businesses.

1926 The Edison Park subdivision, just across McGregor Boulevard from the Edison Estate, is completed by James Newton, who develops a close personal relationship with the Edisons.

1927 The Edison Botanical Research Corporation is formed. Fort Myers and the surrounding area receive national publicity as the possible site of American rubber production.

1928 The completion of the Tamiami Trail links Tampa to Miami via Fort Myers, putting Fort Myers on the beaten (tourist) path. Mina Edison forms the Fort Myers Round Table, which brings community leaders together to support civic beautification and improvement.

1931 Thomas Edison cuts the ribbon dedicating the new Edison Bridge, which connects the Tamiami Trail across the Caloosahatchee River. Edison dies later that year.

1938 The first Edison Pageant of Light festival is held.

1940 Page Field opens; Mina Edison lunches with American G.I.s there in 1942.

1947 Mina Edison deeds the Edison Estate to the citizens of Fort Myers. She dies later that summer. The property opens to the public in November.