Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 011218 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Stepping Into History
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
This circa-1909 photo is remarkable for several reasons,
among them visual clarity and the location, a prime intersec-
tion in early Fort Myers.
But it’s also one of those rare photos that invites you to walk
right into it. Step onto that scrubby foreground and a puff of dust
might arise from unpaved First Street.
Notice there’s not an internal-combustion engine in sight. The
street so lacks activity that three men safely hold a conversation in
the middle of First (right center).
Dominating the photo is the Bradford Building at First and
Hendry. By 1909, the first two-story addition had been added to
the original three-story section, multiplying the number of street-level storefronts.
Henry A. “Berry” Hendry’s store occupies the prime corner, coincidentally in the
same spot where his father, William Marion Hendry, had owned a wood-frame store
beginning in the 1870s.
Next to Hendry’s is a hardware store, and then Hunter’s Drug Store, which had
opened in the Bradford in 1905 when the first phase was built.
In the Bradford addition, you’d find the post office.
Backing up to the wooden structure on the northwest corner (far left), stands a relic
of pioneer days. It was originally Jehu J. Blount’s general store, started in the early
Located slightly right of the photo’s center is a round concrete trough in the intersec-
tion, placed there in 1904 for watering horses, mules, oxen and dogs.
It was part of the town’s first water and fire-protection system, but would be removed
in 1910, as the streets took on a more modern look and adapted to automobile traffic.
An attractive drinking fountain replaced it in June 1910, one that had separate drink-
ing levels for people, dogs and horses.
In fact, that arc of water pipe emerging from the ground (in shadow, right) marks the
future spot where the fountain will soon be installed.
On the photo’s right and along the south side of First are the Stone Block (far right),
also built in 1905.
Today that structure is called the Leon Building, and the rough stone façade has been
smoothly stuccoed for decades.
Visible in the space between the pole and the Stone Block are several details worth
Under the awning at the corner hangs the First National Bank sign, which had
opened in the Stone Block in 1907.
Across Hendry, where the First National Bank Building is today, stands an 1890 two-
story wood-frame structure. On the ground floor is Edward L. Evans’s general store and
on the second Phoenix Hall, a community center.
Look closely at the roof and you’ll see the bell (right of pole) that was rung to alert
the town to a fire emergency.
Within five years after this circa-1909 photo was taken, Phoenix Hall would be
demolished to make way for the Neo-Classical Revival-style granite bank, which opened
The old Blount store would also disappear, when the Heitman-Evans Building was
built on the spot and Evans moved his store diagonally across the intersection.
Walk down to First and Hendry and dream of stepping into history, when no cars
were on the streets and a horse’s trough marked the intersection.
Then learn more about local history at the following two research centers.
The Southwest Florida Historical Society is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization
open Wednesday and Saturday between 9 a.m. and noon and Wednesday 4 to 7 p.m. It
is located at 10091 McGregor Boulevard on the campus of the Lee County Alliance for
the Arts. Call 939-4044 or visit www.swflhistoricalsociety.org for more information.
The Lee County Black History Society is located at 1936 Henderson Avenue, adja-
cent to the Williams Academy Museum at Roberto Clemente Park. Hours for the all-vol-
unteer, non-profit organization are Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
and on Saturday by appointment only.
For information, call 332-8778 or visit www.leecountyblackhistorysociety.org.
Sources: The Archives of the Southwest Florida Historical Society and The Story of
Fort Myers by Karl H. Grismer.
THE RIVER - JANUARY 12, 2018
The Bradford and Stone Block remain, but all other structures in the photo were constructed
shortly after the historical photo was taken
photo by Gerri Reaves
The Bradford Building at First and Hendry stands at the center of this circa-1909 scene. Note
the unpaved streets and the open trough at the center of the intersection. On the far right is
the Stone Block, now called the Leon Building.
photo courtesy SWFL Florida Historical Society Bill Turner Collection
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