Historical Connection: Tootie McGregor Terry
November 8, 2021
By Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator, Alexandria Edwards
Tootie McGregor Terry was an influential woman who left a major mark on Lee County, making Fort Myers a top tourist destination in Florida and the United States. She was born in 1843 to a middle-class judge, Epaphras Barber, in Cleveland, Ohio. After high school, she married Ambrose McGregor, an ambitious young salesman and barrel maker that she admired for his hard work. To support Ambrose during his early career, Tootie made efforts to save money and sewed clothes for her new husband in their apartment, which was located above a local grocery store.
Life soon changed for the McGregor family when Ambrose got a job working for two oil refineries owned by John Rockefeller and his partner Sam Andrews. By age 32, the young man served as the superintendent of all six of Standard Oil’s refineries and manufacturing operations in Cleveland. A few years later, he was promoted to President of Standard Oil.
In 1868, Tootie gave birth to their only child, Bradford, who became sick as he was growing up. Doctors advised the couple to winter in Florida in hopes that the warm temperatures and fresh air would help Bradford regain his health.
They were lured to Fort Myers for the region’s excellent tarpon fishing opportunities and purchased the former Gilliland home in 1892, located next to the Edison main house, for $4,000. They repainted the home with a warm yellow exterior and white trim and hired Nick Armeda, a 16-year-old captain and tour guide the Edison’s had met on their journey to Fort Myers, as their Caretaker. The family enjoyed exploring the beautiful waters along the Caloosahatchee River and caught a plethora of tarpon, breaking the region’s records for the largest ones that year. They also made large investments to aid the region, including buying more than $150,000 worth of businesses and agricultural land. On what became known as the McGregor plantation, they planted citrus trees and experimented with rice, coffee, and tobacco crops.
The oil tycoon later died of cancer in 1900 at age 58. After the death of her husband, Tootie remained faithful to Fort Myers and got involved in many projects throughout the city, taking an active role in its development. In 1904, she collaborated with one of Ambrose’s business partners, Harvie Heitman, to build a hotel at the corner of First and Henry streets named “The Bradford,” in honor of her son who had also passed away. A couple of years later, she rescued the city’s financially-troubled landmark, the Royal Palm Hotel, and also purchased the Riverside Hotel. This trio of hotels attracted numerous celebrities and well-known industrialists to the area.
While supporting Fort Myers, Tootie did not forget about her hometown. She partnered with her sister, Sophia Barber McCrosky, to establish one of Cleveland’s first private nursing homes. They called it a place for “gentlewomen who could no longer care for themselves.” This establishment, called the A.M. McGregor Home, was incorporated in 1904, and opened in 1908 with 25 residents. This home still serves Ohio’s elderly today.
By 1905, Tootie became reacquainted with one of her high school sweethearts, Dr. Marshall Terry, and they were married on December 12, 1905. Although she remarried, Tootie still sought ways to honor her former husband. She went to the city with a proposal, stating that if they agreed to pave Riverside Drive (an old dirt cattle trail) from Whiskey Creek to downtown Fort Myers, she would pay to have the portion from Whiskey Creek to Punta Rassa paved. She agreed to use any materials the City and the County chose, putting in all the necessary bridges and culverts along the way. Tootie also offered to pay a $500 annual fee to maintain the road for five years after it was constructed. Her only requirement was that this road be named McGregor Boulevard in memory of Ambrose McGregor. The city later agreed; however, Tootie did not live long enough to see the roadway completed. According to the Fort Myers Press, Dr. Terry purchased a barge and several three-ton trucks to haul the materials needed to construct the paved road. This project was completed on July 15, 1914, and the road was named McGregor Boulevard.
During the years they spent together, Tootie and Dr. Terry attempted to use several acres of privately owned land that was formerly a cow pasture to establish the Fort Myers Yacht and Country Club; however, that project never came to fruition. In 1921, they donated the land to the county with the stipulation that “all property shall be used as a park and public property.” It was used to construct a ball field and was named Terry Park in 1923. From 1926 to 1987, it served as a spring training home to several major league baseball teams, including the Philadelphia Athletics (1925-1936), the Cleveland Indians (1940-1941), the Pittsburgh Pirates (1955- 1968), and the Kansas City Royals (1969-1987). Hall of famers such as Jimmy Foxx, Roberto Clemente, and Babe Ruth are just a few of the stars that played on this field who helped bring exposure to the “City of Palms.”
After Tootie passed away, Dr. Terry proposed installing a fountain in Fort Myers as a tribute to her legacy. Under the direction of its president, Olive Stout, the Civic League choose five points for the location of the fountain. It was installed at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue, McGregor Boulevard, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard during the summer of 1913. In the 1950s, it was moved to the Fort Myers Country Club to make room for the construction of the Caloosahatchee Bridge. This fountain features a palm tree rising from a rocky base that originally served as a horse trough; the inscription on the base features a quote from Tootie, stating “I only hope the little I have done may be an incentive.” Since its restoration, the fountain has provided an added layer of beauty to the front of the Edison restaurant. When you visit Fort Myers, be sure to take a drive along McGregor Boulevard to see this inspiring piece of history!