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February 20 is one of Fort Myers' most historic dates

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February 20 is a very historic day in the annals of Fort Myers.

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On this day in 1521, Ponce de Leon set sail from Puerto Rico with two ships, 200 men, settlers, priests and 50 horses intending to set up a fort on Florida's west coast. Historians believe he landed somewhere along the mouth of the Caloosahatchee, where he was suffered a mortal wound during a battle with the Calusa native to this region. The ersatz the conqueror was taken to Havana, where he died from the wound.

On this day in 1850, a major by the name of Ridgely landed with two companies of artillery somewhere near the spot that is occupied today by the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. Following the orders of General David Emmanuel Twiggs, he raised the American flag and declared that this would be the site of a new fort to be named Myers in honor of the General's soon-to-be son-in-law, who was engaged to the General's 13-year-old daughter, Marion. At the time, all of the lands south of the Peace River and west of Lake Okeechobee had been promised to Chief Billy Bowlegs and his people, but the Army had been ordered yet again to deport the remaining Seminoles to Indian territory in Oklahoma - by diplomacy or force. Hence the need for a new fort in the heart of Bowlegs' land.

On this day in 1865, some 250 men from the Confederate "Cow Cavalry" attacked Fort Myers, which was a Union stronghold during the final 15 months of the Civil War. Had they succeeded, the Cow Cavalry had orders to burn the fort to the ground, which may have prevented settlers from coming and staying here in the years following the war's end. But the Union soldiers, which contained two companies of black soldiers from the 2nd Regiment of the USCT, repelled the attack in a day-long battle that saw few casualties on either side.

On this day in 1904, Fort Myers entered the modern era when the railroad finally crossed the Caloosahatchee and rail service came to town.

And on this day in 1915, Fort Myers gets its second bridge spanning the Caloosahatchee River, this one upriver at Olga. (The other was installed in 1903 in Alva.)


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