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History Highlights of Bonita Springs 

Let's explore the history of Bonita Springs together

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Bonita Springs has long been inhabited; in fact, since the days of prehistoric man. Recent discoveries place humans in Bonita Springs some 8,000 years ago. Here are just a few milestones in our history:

Early Inhabitants


Early Native Americans in SWFL
Native American mound

Due to the rich estuarine environment, Native Americas created a complex chiefdoms based on 6,000 years of fishing and shellfish collection traditions. They built hundreds of villages and mounds and even dug canals to speed travel by water.

Thousands of Calusa Indians were here when the Spanish came in 1513 looking for gold and slaves. 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 that had taken refuge in South Florida.

Early Surveyors


In the 1870's, government surveyors in a remote part of Southwest Florida pitched camp along the waterway now known as the Imperial River. After the crew left, the site became know as Survey. The waterway became known as Surveyor's Creek.

Surveyors in Bonita Springs

Natural springs in the town of Survey

The First Development Boom


Braxton Bragg Comer

During the next decade only a few homesteaders moved into the area.In the late 1880's the population of the area more than doubled when Braxton B. Comer bought 6000 acres of land around Survey and imported 50 indentured servant families from Alabama with mules and equipment to work his large plantation growing pineapples, bananas, coconuts and other kinds of fruit.

Kids playing on a shell mound near Bonita Springs 1930

Braxton Braggs Comer

Early visitors playing in the shell mound

1890's - 1912

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 1897, the pioneers built a small, thatched-roof, log-walled public school. In 1901, a Post Office was opened in the town of Survey, and by 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 school.

Early Bonita Springs citrus groves
Joseph and Elizabeth Mcswain

Early citrus groves

Pioneer McSwain family move to the town of Survey (Now Bonita Springs) 

Town of Survey is now called Bonita Springs


Also in 1912, Harvie Heitman and J.H. Ragsdale along with a fellow investors from Fort Myers purchased 2400 acres around Survey. He and associate, Dan Farnsworth, surveyed the area and laid out a small town with streets and avenues named after the investors. The developers decided that the name, Survey, lacked sales appeal, so the town was renamed Bonita Springs; Indian Spring Branch became the Oak Creek; and Surveyor's Creek was renamed, the Imperial River.

Harvie Heitman
Heitman Ave Bonita Springs Florida

Harvie Heitman

Heitman Ave, now known as Old 41 Rd.

Railway comes to Bonita Springs

1920's - 1930's

When the newly-named town of Bonita Springs was being developed, transportation was still mainly by boat. In 1917, a barely passable road was completed between Fort Myers and Bonita Springs. Barron Collier, the wealthy landowner and developer, 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. Still basically unpopulated, the nearby beaches were called Fiddlerville, so called for its millions of tiny fiddler crabs. From 1925 to 1934, Bonita Springs continued to grow and was briefly incorporated, churches were built, saw mills flourished, there were two hotels and the Banyan tree on old 41 was planted.

Bonita Springs No. 17 Railway Express
B. Miller Owner of Buckhorn Hotel Stern 1936 Bonita Springs

Early Bonita Springs Railway

B. Miller Owner of Buckhorn Hotel Stern 1936 Bonita Springs

Local attractions open in Bonita Springs 

1936 - 1952

Man-made attractions also helped bring more visitors to Bonita Springs. In 1936, the Piper brothers, Bill and Lester, built a roadside attraction displaying alligators, cougars, other wild animals and native plants, called the Everglades Reptile Gardens. Later named the Everglades Wonder Gardens, the gardens are still operating. 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. Crant also built the Dome and Seminole Village to attract tourists. After the Shell Factory burned down on New Year’s Eve in 1952, it was later rebuilt in North Fort Myers.

Bonita Springs Repitle Gardens - The Everglades Wonder Garden
First Shell store Bonita Springs, FL
Bill and Lester Piper

First Shell Factory store, originally located in Bonita Springs

Bill and Lester Piper

Bonita Springs Reptile Gardens

The Dome Restaurant

The Bonita Springs we know and love

1952- Present day

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 “new” US41 and I-75, the increased population brought shopping malls, modern office facilities and golf courses into the area. Today, Bonita Springs is an attractive, affluent area with beautiful beaches, fine restaurants, excellent recreational facilities and beautiful homes. It's hard to realize that, a little more than 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.

Read all of the captivating stories of young Bonita Springs  

Images of America Book highlighting Bonita Springs

Images of America

Bonita Springs


Chris Wadsworth, Allison Fortuna, and the Bonita Springs Historical Society


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