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How a 93-pound tarpon helped Fort Myers morph from cow town to modern-day city

George Shultz's daughter poses with 150-pound tarpon she caught off Punta Rassa.
George Shultz's daughter poses with 150-pound tarpon she caught off Punta Rassa.Courtesy of Florida State Photo Archive

On this day in 1885, the first tarpon ever caught with a rod and reel was boated off Punta Rassa by George Schultz guest W.H. Wood. It took Wood 26½ minutes to land the 5’9” 93 lb. Silver King, which attracted illustrated articles in many of the leading magazines of the day and put Fort Myers on the map as the tarpon capital of the world. (Prior to Wood’s feat, tarpon had always been caught using a shark hook and chain line or by harpooning them.)

That angling milestone led Shultz' Tarpon House to become a magnet for New York millionaires and celebs and would ultimately induce Ambrose and Tootie McGregor to choose Fort Myers as the site of their winter residence. Ambrose would back Harvie Heitman in his first building project, the Heitman Brick Building on the northwest corner of First and Jackson, and Tootie would partner with Heitman in 1904 to build a 41-room hotel that they named The Bradford in honor of Ambrose and Tootie's son, who died tragically in 1902 just two days after marrying his high school sweetheart, Florence Quintard.

Between 1905 and her death in 1912, Tootie McGregor had more money invested in Fort Myers than anyone else, regardless of gender. And it was Tootie who was responsible for getting the road from Monroe to Punta Rassa paved and renamed McGregor Boulevard in honor of her late husband, Ambrose. Her accomplishments are memorialized by the fountain that resides out at the Fort Myers Country Club on McGregor. That artistic landmark celebrated its 100th anniversary on August 17, 2013.