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This Month in History: How Lee County and other nearby counties were formed, named

January 8, 2014
By TIM KNOX - Special to The Eagle , Pine Island Eagle

This weekend I read a book about the history of Southwest Florida during the early 1800s. There were only two counties in Florida back then, but our state was the same size as it is today. So where did the other counties come from and how did they get their names?

Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821 when Spain traded Florida to the U.S. in exchange for $5,000,000 and a draft pick to be named later. Just kidding about the draft pick. Florida retained the two Spanish named divisions of Escambia to the west and St. Johns to the east (they would be called counties later on). Escambia and St. Johns were divided by the Suwanee River. The 65 other Florida counties were created from these two original counties. Florida became the 27th state of the United States on March 3, 1845.

So how did the rest of Florida's counties come about? Numerous times during the 1800s this occurred when citizens of one portion of the county disagreed with citizens of another portion about how the county business should be managed.

Lee County was originally part of Monroe County. In 1886 the area's one and only schoolhouse burnt down. A delegation of local citizens travelled to Key West to get money to build another school. Key West is the county seat of Monroe County. The group was refused any money and were told they should have taken better care of their perfectly good schoolhouse in the first place. This news compounded the anger local citizens felt from previous dealings with Key West politicians. So local residents petitioned the Florida State capital of Tallahassee to form their own county and it was granted. On May 9, 1887, Lee County was created and Fort Myers became the county seat.

The county was named after the confederate war hero, Robert E. Lee, which is ironic because during the Civil War, Fort Myers (the fort) was always under control of Union troops.

At that time Lee County was created it also included the areas of present day Collier and Hendry counties. Both of these counties were formed in 1923. Collier County, south of here, was named after Barron Collier, who was a major land owner and developer in that area. Hendry County, northeast of here, was named after the early Southwest Florida pioneer Francis A. Hendry.

Charlotte County, north of here, split from DeSoto County in 1921. The name Charlotte came from the name of the surrounding waters, Charlotte Harbor.

DeSoto County was created from Manatee County in 1887 and was named after the Spanish Explorer, Hernando de Soto. DeSoto County also included the area of present day Hardee, Glades and Highlands counties. All three of these counties were formed in 1921.

Hardee County was named after the governor of Florida at the time, Cary A. Hardee. While the governor was at it, he created Glades County, which was named after the Florida Everglades. And Highland County, which was named after that area's highland terrain.

I think Pine Island County has a nice ring to it. Do we have any issues with Fort Myers?

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For more history of Pine Island, visit the Museum of the Islands, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.

The museum is conveniently located next to the Pine Island Library at 5728 Sesame Drive off Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1525.

Tim Knox is museum historian at the Museum of the Islands.

 
 

 

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