Bonita Springs Historical Society, Inc.

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history of bonita springs, southwest florida, historic preservation, historical homes

bonita springs historical societyThe Bonita Springs Historical Society was formed in 1984 by a small and dedicated group of individuals who shared an interest in discovering and preserving the unique heritage of the area. The Society strives to build enthusiasm about Bonita Springs, and to share historical knowledge with the community. The members are involved in Historical Preservation on the local and county levels.

Members receive a monthly newsletter covering all the Society's programs and events. See below for a membership form. All are welcome!


FOR 2007: The Bonita Springs Historical Society will present an evening lecture series funded by a grant from the Florida Humanities Council. The monthly event, open to the public, will take place at the Community Hall on Old 41 from January through April beginning at 7:00 pm. The theme of the series is, "The Front Porchî ñ Stories of Florida's Unique People and Landscape". The society's goal is to educate and entertain the public about the historical and timely events that shape the culture of Florida. They hope to appeal to a broad range of citizens with outstanding guest speakers from a variety of disciplines. The first speaker, Bill Belleville, will appear on January 18. He is a cinematographer and author of, Losing It All To Sprawl: How Progress Ate My Cracker Landscape. Belleville will present an informative and thought provoking discussion on a current Florida topic of concern & growth. He will share his personal story of the battle for his rural landscape and offer hope in the rediscovery and appreciation of the natural landscape. Eliot Kleinberg, a journalist for the Palm Beach Post, will present on February 15. Kleinberg is an author of 9 books all focusing on Florida. His presentation is titled, "The Wacky History of Florida and Why You Should Care". A native Floridian, Kleinberg travels the state writing and lecturing and receives excellent reviews from audiences. On March 15, Robert Edic , a south Florida anthropologist, author and historian will present his tales of commercial fishing life collected through oral histories. He is the author of Fisherfolk of Charlotte Harbor, Florida. Edic is also a member of the Boca Grande Historical Society and field representative for the Florida Museum of Natural History. Carrie Sue Ayvar, a nationally acclaimed bilingual storyteller will present on Thursday, April 19. Ayvar believes that stories are one of the best means of explaining and passing on the beliefs, traditions and history that individuals or communities wish to keep alive.

Our programs are ambitious, encompassing meetings with local authors, professors, experts, notables in local history and related fields, and exploring the marvelous history of Southwest Florida.

Please call the Society at 239-992-6997 or 239-992-9660 for schedule and location.

Some of the many exciting Member Events scheduled throughout the year: Exhibits at the Liles Hotel in Riverside Park on Old41., Walking Tour of Historic Bonita/Picnic., Mayor of Survey, 4th of July., Historical Society Tea., Historical Tours., Dinner/Dance.

*Newly updated web photo gallery!*

Local historical images for sale!

For those looking for a unique gift or decoration, the Bonita Springs Historical Society has print and digital historical images for sale. Mostly black and white 8X10's, the photographs look beautiful framed and may have special memories to many. The cost is $10 each for a digital JPG or $35 for a mailed print. For a preview of 910 available images you may access on the web gallery of The internet scans are at a much lower resolution and size than the originals. Call Charlie Strader at 239-992-9660 or email for more information.

Highlights of Bonita History

Bonita Springs has long been inhabited; in fact, since the days of prehistoric man. Recent discoveries place men in Bonita some 8000 years ago. Here are some milestones in our history:

Thousands of Calusa Indians were here when the Spanish came in 1539 looking for the Fountain of Youth. Within a couple of centuries, the once mighty Calusa Chiefdom was decimated by European diseases and slave trading. The few survivors moved to the Florida Keys and on to Cuba. Some may have been assimilated into Seminole tribes taken refuge in South Florida.

In the 1870's, government surveyors in a remote part of Southwest Florida pitched camp near a medicinal spring, which the local Indians believed could heal the sick. After the crew left, the site became know as Survey. The stream became known as Surveyor's Creek.

During the next decade only a few homesteaders moved in the area. In 1887 a small, thatched-roof, log-walled public school was built. In the late 1880's the population of the area more than doubled when Braxton B. Comer bought 6000 acres of land around Survey. In 1888 he imported 50 Negro families from Alabama with mules and equipment to work his large plantation growing pineapples, bananas, coconuts and other kinds of fruit. Once here, they stayed in the old Surveyor's camp and called their new home Survey.

The next ten years saw a boom in the planting of citrus groves. And within a few years, Survey developed from a scattering of homesteaders into a community. In 1901, a Post Office was opened in the town of Survey, in 1910 the frame two story, Eagle Hotel was in business catering to visitors attracted to the unspoiled area's bounty of hunting and fishing. By 1912, there were 70 students from 20 families enrolled in public schools.

Also in 1912, a Tennessean named Ragsdale (a land developer and a group of investors) purchased 2400 acres around Survey. He and his associate, Dan Farnsworth, surveyed the area and laid out a small town with streets and avenues named for potential buyers. The developers decided that the name, Survey, lacked sales appeal, so the town was renamed Bonita Springs; Indian Spring Branch became the Oak River; and Surveyor's Creek was renamed to the Imperial River.

At this time, transportation was still mainly by Boat. In 1917, a barely passable road was completed between Fort Myers and Bonita Springs. In the early 1920's, Barron Collier, wanting to expand his empire, had extended his Fort Myers-Southern Railroad south to include Bonita Springs in 1925. This along with the completion of the new Tamiami Trail in 1928, brought another land boom to the area. Also one more pioneer disappeared when Fiddler-ville, so called for its millions of tiny fiddler crabs became Bonita Beach. During this same period, Bonita Springs was briefly incorporated, churches were built, saw mills flourished, there were two hotels and the Banyan tree on old 41 was planted.

Attractions also helped bring more visitors to Bonita Springs. In 1936, the Piper brothers, Bill and Lester, built an attraction displaying alligators, cougars, other wild animals and native plants. The attraction was called the Everglades Wonder Gardens. Today the gardens are one of Bonita's largest attractions. A Canadian, Harold Crant, saw the millions of shells lying, free for the taking, knee-deep in brilliantly colored windrows along the beaches and opened the Shell Factory in 1938. The factory burned down in the early 40's but was later rebuilt in North Fort Myers.

Bonita remained a quiet small town for the next three decades. But, as the years passed, the rush to build was about to start. With the development of air conditioning and the opening of I-75 and the US 41 bypass, access to the area brought shopping malls, modern office facilities and golf courses into the area. Today, Bonita Springs is an attractive affluent area with beautiful beaches, find restaurants, excellent recreational facilities and beautiful homes. It's hard to realize that, a little more then three generations ago, the roots of this thriving community were a scattering of homesteaders' shacks by a creek in the back of nowhere - a place called Survey.

Click here for a 2mb PDF slide show of images from Bonita Springs' past!

Individual & Family Membership Application

Membership Levels & Annual Dues

( ) Individual $25 ( ) Family $35 ( ) Supporter $50

( ) Patron $500 ( ) Lifetime $1000


Name __________________________________________________ Spouse _____________________


Street address ________________________________________________________ Unit # _________


City ______________________________________________ State_______ Zip___________________


Phone ______________________________ E-Mail ________________________________________


Residential Community _________________________________________________________________

Notes: Membership and annual dues are tax deductible. The dues year starts and ends in November.

Five dollars of dues will be used to support the Historical Society's Preservation fund.

Please make checks payable to Bonita Springs Historical Society Inc. and mail check and application to Bonita Springs Historical Society, P.O. Box 3015, Bonita Springs, FL. 34133.


Business Membership Application

Membership Levels & Annual Dues

Note: An ad will be placed in the Historical Society's business journal for distribution at Society events and places where the Society's is represented. Please include your business card when returning this form, we will place an ad for your business in the Historical Society's commercial and business partners ad journal.

( ) Business $100 ( ) Business Patron $500


Business Name _________________________________________________________________________


Street address ________________________________________________________ Unit # _________


City ______________________________________________ State_______ Zip___________________


Phone ______________________________ E-Mail _________________________________________

* Please include your business card when returning this form. We will place an ad for your business in the Historical Society's commercial and business partners ad journal.

Note: Membership feeís and annual dues are tax deductible. The dues year starts in November.

Please make checks payable to Bonita Springs Historical Society Inc. and mail check and application to Bonita Springs Historical Society, P.O. Box 3015, Bonita Springs, FL. 34133.

Below are links to other sites that may be of interest.

Links below via courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History website:

Links by Time Period

Please Email us with any bad links or sites that should be included. - THANKS!

To contact, email:

Please visit our new website for history information, movies, and more at:

This wepage provided courtesy of the travel company, Explorations Inc.

Created 5/13/05. Revised 8/28/12.