Lee County, named in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, was founded in 1887, and originally occupied most of southwest Florida. The partition was motivated by the difficulty of transacting county business in Key West, which could be reached only by boat – a bit of historical trivia which plays a small role in Peter Matthiessen’s epic novel Killing Mister Watson. The site of the county seat, Ft. Myers, dates from the Seminole War, after which time a settlement grew up around the fort. The name honors the army’s chief quartermaster of Florida, Col. Abraham C. Myers, himself later a Confederate general.
The first courthouse was built in 1895 at a cost of $3,640. It did not provide adequate space and was replaced in 1915. According to historians Marian Godown and Alberta Rawchuck, county commission chairman William Towles “stood guard with a shotgun” as local men ripped the older structure apart. The 1915 Classical Revival courthouse was designed by Francis J. Kennard and built at a cost of $85,000. The Ft. Myers area is renowned for horticultural curiosities including the ancient royal palms that still line MacGregor Boulevard. This is also the site of two famous winter residences, those of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, both of whom planted ornamental gardens.