Fort Myers Beach is situated on the barrier island of Estero Island in Southwest Florida. The entire island is just 6.2 miles long and 3 miles across--at its very widest-- and offers a beautiful sunset overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Myers Beach has a year-round warm climate that is close to the boundary between tropical and subtropical climates. The area has short, warm winters, and long, hot, humid summers. The temperature rarely goes above 100 °F or below the freezing mark.
Aerial view of serpentine-shaped Fort Myers Beach, circa 1979
(All aerial views are from old post cards of Fort Myers Beach, so the appearance is a little grainy.
As with all of the photos, click on the picture to enlarge it.)
Mid-19th century settlers to Estero Island began as a result of the Homestead Act of 1862. By 1914, all the island property was homesteaded with little industry beyond fishing, gardening, a sawmill operated by the Koreshan Unity and a hotel. (The Koreshans were a group of people living in a utopian commune near Estero, Florida--theirs is a fascinating story in and of itself.) Development on Estero Island, then named Crescent Beach, was slow until the 1920s when Florida gained national attention as a vacation destination. By 1921 a toll bridge was opened connecting the beach to the mainland, followed closely by new construction. The land boom was short-lived, as the hurricanes of 1921 and 1926 brought home the inherent danger in southwest Florida’s climate and slowed further development. However, small businesses, restaurants, and residential areas continued to crop up on Crescent Beach. The Great Depression pushed back further development of the island, but fishermen were living on the island and thriving in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. During the 1950s, there was a renewed interest in the island as a vacation getaway destination. Tourism and commercial fishing have both been major players in the history of the island.
The 1950s brought modernization and tourist development to Fort Myers Beach with new hotels and the electrification of the swing bridge to facilitate traffic. The discovery of “pink gold” off shore sparked not only the shrimping industry but the ancillary businesses to support it as the population of our island increased by fifty percent from 1940 to 1950. Numerous civic organizations, churches, local newspapers, weather and US Coast Guard stations, the Beach Library and the annual Shrimp Festival were all initiated or expanded during this second land boom.
Aerial view of Fort Myers Beach with the swing bridge open between San Carlos and Estero Islands
These days, it is a beach vacation paradise with family-friendly resorts, Gulf-side seafood restaurants and a plethora of beach-oriented shops. There are a lot of recreation possibilities, where back bays and mangrove forests make for great kayaking and wildlife watching. Further down the island, residential properties and condominiums afford visitors and residents a quieter beach experience. Along Estero Boulevard there are many beach access points, allowing the public to enjoy this coast's pristine white sands. Fort Myers Beach is a great vacation destination and also a mecca for snowbirds from up North and even from Canada.
The beach looking toward condos on the south end
The beach with a view of Bonita Springs in the background
The beach in front of Red Coconut RV park
Fishing on the beach
Walking on the beach at sunset
Looking toward homes all along the beach
Jogging on the beach with high surf
A rainbow over the beach
GETTING TO FORT MYERS BEACH: THE MATANZAS PASS BRIDGE
Before bridges connected Estero Island to the mainland, Fort Myers Beach was a 7-mile (or so) stretch of coastline known for its pristine white sands and shallow water. And not much more. That all changed as Florida became known as a vacation destination, and a bridge to connect the Florida mainland with Estero Island was built in 1921. The original Matanzas Pass Bridge was a small, single-lane, wooden drawbridge that cost 54 cents to cross; however, it was destroyed by a major hurricane in 1926.
Stone archway leading to Fort Myers Beach, Florida
Built in 1924, the limestone and coquina shell arches were located just before the Matanzas Pass Bridge and served as a gateway to welcome visitors to Fort Myers Beach. The arches allowed traffic to flow both on and off the island under a separate arch, with sidewalk arches on each side for pedestrians.
In 1927, a concrete swing bridge was installed to replace the original. The swing bridge had formerly been used on the east coast of Florida and was operated manually by a bridge tender. An electric motor was installed on the bridge in 1950 to accommodate the shrimp boats, whose coming and going caused the span to be opened frequently. The shrimping industry grew rapidly in the 50s with the discovery of “pink gold,” (sweet pink shrimp) in the Gulf waters. Although the bridge was motorized, it was still a recycled bridge, and residents worried about its reliability in the event of a hurricane evacuation. This concern led to the construction of the Bonita Beach Causeway at the southern end of the island in 1965.
Matanzas Pass with swing bridge and shrimp boats passing through it, 1961
The Matanzas Pass bridge connecting the mainland with Fort Myers Beach
A view from the bridge toward a small island in Estero Bay
The bridge on the Fort Myers Beach end
A Coast Guard cutter on the Fort Myers Beach side of the bridge
The Coast Guard station
The Mooring Field
The Town of Fort Myers Beach operates the Matanzas Harbor Municipal Mooring Field, located in Matanzas Pass. There are 70 spaces available for public rental year-round, and the field accommodates vessels up to 48 feet in length.
The Matanzas Pass Bridge towards the marina on Fort Myers Beach
This is the view of Fort Myers Beach and the Gulf of Mexico as you come over the bridge
The Dixie Fish Company with shrimp boats in the background
The Dixie Fish Company, a fixture on Fort Myers Beach, was founded in 1937 and is located under the Sky Bridge. It claims to have the freshest seafood in Southwest Florida.
A view of Fort Myers Beach from the bridge
Houses, many with their own docks, line the bayside of Fort Myers Beach.
A canal from Estero Bay, with the bridge in the background
Every Friday during Season (Nov-May), there is a Farmers Market underneath the bridge on the Fort Myers Beach side.
The Farmers Market
DOWNTOWN FORT MYERS BEACH: THE PIER AND TIMES SQUARE
Aerial view of the Fort Myers Beach pier at Times Square, circa 1977
The intersection at Old San Carlos and Estero boulevards is the liveliest spot on Fort Myers Beach, often referred to as Times Square. The pier, which reaches out from the main public beach, is located to the right of the Sky Bridge (Matanzas Pass Bridge) and the surrounding area is full of beach shops, bars and restaurants
Artist rendering of Times Square clock
The Times Square clock and pier
A view of the Times Square clock in the direction of Old San Carlos Boulevard and the Matanzas Pass Bridge (at the far end)
Old San Carlos Boulevard
The pier, a Fort Myers Beach landmark
The poinsettia “tree” at Christmastime on Times Square
Face painting at a downtown festival
Weavers at Times Square
Evening at Times Square
Fountain pavilion at the far end of Old San Carlos Boulevard
Friends Poly and Morrie at the fountain pavilion