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History of Fort Myers Beach

Our own Estero Island is a geologically young barrier island that was formed well after the end of the Earth's last ice age. Florida's climate was cool and dry, and the peninsula was covered by a grassy tundra. With sea level 150 feet lower than it is today, a south Florida Paleo-Indian of 12,000 years ago who wanted to move his family to the beach would have walked west for about five days - more than 70 miles - just to get there!

Because of its proximity to the rich, food-producing estuaries of Estero Bay, Estero Island was once at the very center of the Calusa Indian heartland. The Calusa paramount king, who the spanish explorers called Carlos, ruled a vast south Florida empire from his ceremonial center on nearby Mound Key - a 125 acre island hidden deep in Estero Bay. In 1566, just months after establishing St. Augustine, the Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived at Estero Island. Menendez had come to secure La Florida for Spain, to make the yet uncharted peninsula safe for shipwreck survivors - Christians lost from Spain's yearly treasure fleets. Many were known to be held captive against their will and were living among the Calusa, whose name signified Fierce People.

While Pedro Menendez was a rich and powerful man, the founder of America's oldest city failed in his attempt to pacify the Calusa Indians and establish a Jesuit mission on Mound Key. Today, the high shell mounds on Mound Key and on the Estero Island Archaeological Site in Fort Myers Beach still stand as monuments to the once-mighty Calusa people.

During the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Spanish Indians, Cuban fisherman and Euro-American settlers all occupied the high shell mounds left by the Indians. Most of the area's archaeological treasures have since been pock-marked by modern treasure hunters, who seek mythical stores of plunder and loot left by equally mythical pirates like Jose Gaspar and Augustus Black. The Gaspar legend - an outright fabrication invented in 1919 - was dredged up by land promoters trying to boost tourism and land sales along what they had named "Florida's Famed Pirate Coast."

In 1893, Dr. Cyrus Teed arrived on Fort Myers Beach. Teed's religious group, known as the Koreshan Unity, had established a settlement on the nearby Estero River. Teed and his Koreshans - who believed that the Earth was a hollow sphere - had purchased large amounts of land on the mainland, as well as at Mound Key and on Fort Myers Beach. Teed died around the turn of the century. His body was put to rest in a concrete vault on Estero Island, but later disappeared during one of the island's major hurricanes.

*Historical information thanks to "Dining and Doing Guide"

 

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