We were leaving Charlotte County on US 41 last time. You’re about to re-enter Lee County now. From here on, you’re not going to see anymore "nature" on US 41 until you get out of Naples. Then you’ll see nothing but nature until you reach Miami.
First you’ll reach North Fort Myers. Take a right onto Pine Island Road and you’ll get to the old J. Colin English School. Like most schools, you’ll have better parking options if you visit on the weekend. Plus you can get pictures of the buildings without all those annoying kids in the way.
The next few spots are way west on Pine Island. I’ve not seen a one of them, so can’t say whether they’re worth the trip or not. You’ll have to get to the north end of the island to catch a boat to Cayo Costa State Park. So if you want to see that, you can always check out some of the other things along the way. (see Google map)
- J. Colin English School (120 Pine Island Road) (NRHP)
- Cape Coral Historical Museum (544 Cultural Park Boulevard)
- Museum of the Islands (5728 Sesame Drive)
- Cayo Costa State Park (Jug Creek Marina, Tortuga Street (ferry))
- Useppa Museum (8115 Main Street)
South on US 41 again, you’ll encounter another big bridge. This one crosses the Caloosahatchee River, whose start you may have seen if you did the Lake Okeechobee circumnavigation. You’ll also be going over the Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, which is a small island in the middle of the river. You may feel a bit deja vu, because once again you’ll be in a historic district on the other side. But this time you’re in Fort Myers, and the district is a bit smaller.
- Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (under the Caloosahatchee River Bridge)
This next several miles will be educational in more ways than one, since you’ll see four old schools. All are still in use, but not all are schools now.
We’ll start in Alva. Don’t know if the name of the town has anything to do with one of the most famous winter residents of the area, Thomas Edison. Bit of a coincidence if it didn’t. On the north side of Okeechobee Waterway are the Alva Consolidated Schools. They remind me of the old Clewiston Schools, in that they are two different styled buildings next to each other. Cross the Waterway and visit the Eden Vineyards & Winery. No, not been there yet, but hope to. Next are the Olga School and the Buckingham School, both of which are now community centers.
After that, you’re out of the suburbs and in Fort Myers, or close to. You’ll pass the old Merge-Hansen Marina, the last old school (Tice Grammer), and the Terry Park Ballfield. Which was full up when I stopped there. (see Google map)
- Alva Consolidated Schools (21291 North River Road) (NRHP)
- Eden Vineyards & Winery (19709 Little Lane)
- Olga School (South Olga Road) (NRHP)
- Buckingham School (Buckingham and Cemetery Roads) (NRHP)
- Menge-Hansen Marine Ways (5605 Palm Beach Boulevard) (NRHP)
- Tice Grammer School (4524 Tice Street) (NRHP)
- Terry Park Ballfield (3410 Palm Beach Boulevard) (NRHP)
Further in are some historical houses and museums. Oh, and a couple more historic schools. I think Lee County may have more schools on the NRHP than any other county, now that I think of it. (see Google map)
- Paul Lawrence Dunbar School (1857 High Street) (NRHP)
- McCollum Hall (2719 Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard) (NRHP)
- Imaginarium Hands-On Museum (2000 Cranford Avenue)
- Southwest Florida Museum of History (in old Atlantic Coast Line RR Station) (2031 Jackson Street) (AGFHA)
- Edison Park Elementary School (2401 Euclid Avenue) (NRHP)
- Burdette-Roberts House (1249 Osceola Drive) (AGFHA)
- Jewett-Thompson House (1141 Wales Drive) (NRHP)
Next are a number of older homes, some of specific interest. My favorite is the Murphy-Burroughs House. It’s somehow palatial and casual at the same time. Plus behind it you can get an amazing view of the two US 41 bridges. (see Google map)
- Gilmer Heitman House (2581 1st Street) (NRHP)
- Alderman House (2572 1st Street) (NRHP)
- Murphy-Burroughs House (2505 1st Street) (NRHP)
- Langford-Kingston Home (2466 1st St) (AGFHA)
Finally back in the historic district. It’s roughly a square mile, so it’s very walkable. If you can park in the middle, that’s ideal. But if the streets are filled up, you should park at two of the opposite sides, which works almost as well. It seems like most of the buildings here are historic, but they may have building codes set so new construction has to blend in. However they did it, they did it right.
Just outside the district limits is the Towles House, which looks like it was built a year ago. Another great job of upkeep. If only more cities had the resources to do the same, or the will. (see Google map)
- Fort Myers Downtown Commercial District (Roughly bounded by Bay and Lee Streets, Anderson Avenue and Monroe Street) (NRHP)
- Earnhardt Building (2258 1st St) (AGFHA)
- First National Bank (2248 1st St) (AGFHA)
- Old Lee County Bank (1534 Hendry St) (AGFHA)
- Richards Building (1615 Hendry St) (AGFHA)
- Robby and Stucky Building (1625 Hendry St) (AGFHA)
- Lee County Courthouse (2120 Main Street) (NRHP)
- US Courthouse and Federal Building (2110 1st Street ) (NRHP)
- William H. Towles House (2050 McGregor Boulevard) (NRHP)
Last but perhaps most are three houses, all in a row. Well, two of them. The third, Casa Rio, is nice, from what I could see through the gate. But next to it are the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Didja know they both lived here and were neighbors, back in the day? I did, thanks to my NRHP obsession. It’ll cost you twenty bucks to get past the fence and see the houses up close. I didn’t feel like laying that much out the last time I was there, so I took shots from the sidewalk. Easy, since it’s a low picket fence. Next time I’m there, I think I’ll actually go in. Hmm, I’m putting together an itinerary to revisit down there, ain’t I? (see Google map)
- Thomas Edison Winter Estate (2350 McGregor Boulevard) (NRHP)
- Henry Ford Estate (2400 McGregor Boulevard) (NRHP)
- Casa Rio (2424 McGregor Boulevard) (NRHP)
The next two locales I’d suggest going to on the weekend, ’cause the road (CR 869) that gets to both is busy, especially during weekday rush hours.
Firstly, Fort Myers Beach. It’s a 30-35 mph speed limit through the developed area, so don’t expect to zoom through. The old school and the Mound House are pretty close together, the state park about five miles down. It has two entrances. If you want a park passport stamp, go to the southern one. You can also see Mound Key to the north from here. If you have a boat, this is one of the places to get there. (see Google map)
- Fort Myers Beach School (2751 Oak Street) (NRHP)
- The Mound House (289 Connecticut Street)
- Lovers Key / Carl E. Johnson State Park (8700 Estero Boulevard)
- Mound Key Archeological State Park
Return to CR 869 and head west to Sanibel. I’d heard about the place, but wasn’t prepared for how wildly popular it was. The downswing in the economy doesn’t seem to have hurt them much, if the massive traffic when I visited is any indication. There’s just one land route, which has a toll bridge. Six dollars later and you’ll be on the island.
A good part of the island is a National Wildlife Refuge, but the rest is developed and then some. The high rises are closer to the beach, with the small touristy buildings near the bridge. I like the old lighthouse on the east end of the island, even with the two dollar parking fee. There’s a very new NRHP there, the ‘Tween Waters Inn. I hadn’t planned on going back, but I guess I’ll have to brave a return visit. Still, if I go on a weekend next time, perhaps I’ll enjoy it more. (see Google map)
- Sanibel Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters (112 Periwinkle Way) (NRHP)
- Sanibel Colored School (520 Tarpon Bay Road) (NRHP)
- Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum (3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road)
- J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge (1 Wildlife Drive)
- Walker Guest House (4146 West Gulf Drive) (FL 100)
- ‘Tween Waters Inn Historic District (15951 Captiva Drive) (NRHP)
- Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge (closed to public)
- Pine Island National Wildlife Refuge (closed to public)
There are a few bits left around the edges. Like the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium, which appears to be surrounded by a golf course. And the Railroad Museum of South Florida, not to be confused with the Southwest Florida Museum of History housed in an old railroad depot. (see Google map)
- Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium (3450 Ortiz Avenue)
- Bob Rauschenberg Gallery (8099 College Parkway)
- Railroad Museum of South Florida (7330 Gladiolus Drive)
Time to go to Naples. But along the way is a state park that made me break my 30 minute rule. One of my top ten favorites, Koreshan Unity Settlement Historic District. It was the home of an odd cult (yep, Florida). They’re not around anymore, since celibacy was part of their religion, and they didn’t get that many converts. There’s a shocker. But most of the wooden buildings they constructed remain, after over 100 years. It’s right on US 41, so it’s easy to find and not a diversion at all.
Oh, the 30 minute rule? Well, I wanted to visit all 150+ state parks in a reasonable amount of time. Especially since I was trying to visit all 1600 or so NRHPs as well. So I decided early on to only spend a half hour in each state park. If I liked what I saw, I could always come back in the future and spend more time. There were only a few state parks that tempted me into staying longer during the first visit, like Koreshan. That it’s on the NRHP as well was a factor, but I’m also a sucker for the bizarre. And Koreshanity? Pretty bizarre. (see Google map)
- Estero Bay Preserve State Park (4750 Broadway Ave West)
- Koreshan Unity Settlement Historic District (3848 Corkscrew Road) (NRHP)
- Bonita Springs School (10701 Dean Street) (NRHP)
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (375 Sanctuary Road West)
There you are, southwest Florida. I shan’t be doing a Naples post for a few weeks, unless there’s a-clamoring. So many places, doncha know. See you on the road!
Route length: 230 miles