Fort Myers Restored to a Florida Jewel


 by Kenneth Bagnell

Fort Myers, Florida  

Among the historic buildings of Fort Myers is the home of Thomas Edison who came to the town in 1885.

The main street of the historic district in Fort Myers has buildings of classical design.

A choice of many visitors to Fort Myers is a paddlewheel cruise over the mile-wide waterway known as the Caloosahatchee River.

The mile-wide Caloosahatchee River, a Florida intercoastal waterway, flows beside and beyond the small city of Fort Myers.

An appealing convenience is the hop-on hop-off trolley taking visitors in and around Fort Myers’ historic downtown at no cost.


                         I’ve known of Florida’s Fort Myers for years, but for whatever reason (maybe the prefix “Fort” gave me a wrong impression) I’ve never visited it. So, early this year, my wife Barbara and I decided to spent the month of March there, renting an apartment high in a gleaming white tower called Oasis, with a view of sky and water so striking that when a delivery man came to our door, he was so taken by the view he stood for almost a full minute slowly shaking his head. Fort Myers is a jewel, its streets lined by gentle palms, rising beside the wide Caloosahatchee River which flows for more than 100 kilometres.

It wasn’t always as appealing. But a decade ago a progressive mayor or two decided it was time to reverse its decline, restore its beauty and open the doors on its rich history. So downtown Fort Myers, about a square mile or two, was given a time-consuming $70 million renewal. It not only brought the area to new life — with attractive shops, sidewalk cafés, boutique offices even an ornate barbershop 100 years old — but along the way discovered a hidden past: workers restoring the main street uncovered the original bricks of the 19th century and using them over again.

Fort Myers, about 65 kilometres from Naples, has a growing population of roughly 64,000, and is the gateway to southwest Florida. Its name came out of a military past, but by the late 1800s, given its year-round monsoon climate, (usually in the mid 20s C in March and April) it became a winter resort, drawing affluent people including Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Today, given its vitality, Fort Myers has a large theatre, the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall on the campus of Edison College — a short ride from downtown — where we saw an inspired production of Les Misérables. The city has a hop-on hop-off no-fee-trolley that takes you here and there to art galleries, film exhibits, grocery shopping and to restaurants of every style including The Veranda, a turn-of-the-century mansion where you may be served by waiters who’ve been there for decades.

Here are a few appealing aspects of our Fort Myers stay that may also appeal to you:

CALOOSAHATCHEE CRUISE: A triple-decked paddlewheeler slips along at 15 km/h over the wide river. It includes cuisine prepared on board and a live narration. You choose from several routes, one a three-hour dinner and dance cruise. Ours was a noon lunch excursion providing broad views of water and shoreline with sun-washed mansions rising among the palms. Check:

DRAMA AND DINNER ON THE RAILS: Trains have been part of South Florida life for over a century. In 1991, a local family joined with a railway to develop a The Murder Mystery Dinner Train. Actors use the aisles as their stage, as passengers dine on a wide selection of evening cuisine and wine. We liked it. Check:

MANSIONS, MUSEUMS: The most renowned citizens of Fort Myers’ past are inventor Thomas Edison who came in 1885, and his friend industrialist Henry Ford who arrived in 1914 and acquired property next door. Both are on the water, and Edison’s is rich in historic artifacts, Ford’s less so, since he spent less time in Fort Myers than did Edison. History lingers in the rooms, the gardens and the properties which are open daily for tours. It’s a natural. Check:

THE BASICS: For full information on all aspects of the city go to

Special to The Hamilton Spectator April 13, 2013