Lee County is a county in the U.S. state of Florida. Located in southwest Florida, the principal cities in the county are Fort Myers (the county seat) and Cape Coral (the county's most populous municipality). In 2003 the population of the county was 586,908.
The county is coextensive with the Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) designated by the Office of Management and Budget and used for statistical purposes by the United States Census Bureau and other agencies. The MSA was first defined as the Fort Myers, Florida Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area in 1973. In 1981 Cape Coral was added as a principal city, and the MSA was renamed the Fort Myers-Cape Coral, Florida Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area. In 1983, the name was changed to Fort Myers, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area. In 1990 it became the Fort Myers-Cape Coral, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area. In 2003 the name was changed to its present form.
Incorporated in 1886, Fort Myers is the center of a popular tourist area in Southwest Florida and the seat of Lee County. It is about south of Tampa at the meeting point of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caloosahatchee River. Fort Myers was the frequent winter home of Thomas Edison, as well as Henry Ford. Lee County has been the host to several Major League Baseball teams for Spring Training, over the past several decades. Currently, it is the spring home of the Boston Red Sox, as well as the Minnesota Twins.
Fort Myers, built in 1850 as a military fort to fend off Seminole Indians that were massacring the area’s few settlers, was named after Col. Abraham C. Myers, who was stationed in Florida for seven years and was the son-in-law of the fort’s establisher and commander. In 1858, after years of elusive battle, chief Billy Bowlegs and his warriors were persuaded to surrender and move west, and the fort was abandoned. Billy’s Creek, which flows into the Caloosahatchee River, was named after a temporary camp where Billy Bowlegs and his men awaited ships to take them west.
In 1863, the fort was reoccupied by Federal troops during the Civil War. In 1865 the fort was attacked unsuccessfully by a small group of Confederates. After the war, the fort was again deserted.
The first settlers arrived in 1866, but it was not until 1882 when the city experienced a significant influx of settlers. By 1885, when Fort Myers was incorporated, it was the second largest city only to Tampa on Florida’s west coast south of Cedar Key, even larger than Clearwater and Sarasota, also growing cities at the time.
Fort Myers first became a nationally known winter resort with the building of The Royal Palm Hotel in 1898. But what really sparked the city’s growth was the construction of the Tamiami Trail Bridge built across the Caloosahatchee River in 1924. After the bridge’s construction, the city experienced its first real estate boom and many subdivisions sprouted around the city.
In 1923, Collier and Hendry Counties were created by splitting these areas from Lee County. As recently as 2004, discussion had taken place surrounding the possibility of the city of Cape Coral becoming its own county, citing in particular a perceived lack of infrastructure support from the Lee County government. However a new county has not yet been created.