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How Lee County got its 1915 Beaux Arts courthouse

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On March 18, 1889, voters approved Lee County’s first bond issue. The bonds were intended to finance the cost of a three-story concrete courthouse costing $20,000. But the bonds couldn’t be sold and the county had to settle for a two-story steepled wood structure that cost just $3,640.

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This arcane snippet seems innocuous enough, but these events served as the predicate for one of the most outrageous episodes from Fort Myers' early history. Some 25 years later, workers would dismantle the dinky wood courthouse plank by plank in the light of a bonfire as a large crowd cheered them on and County Commission Chair William H. Towles watched intently from a his perch in a rocker, a loaded shotgun laying across his lap. It was 1914, and Towles was determined to tear down the courthouse before his opponents could obtain a third injunction preventing the courthouse's demolition and replacement with the beautiful Beaux Arts structure that serves today as the County Commission chambers on Main and Broadway.

As folks who take True Tours' downtown Fort Myers historic walking tour learn to their utter amazement, Governor Chris Christy had nothing on "Wild Bill" Towles. The old steepled courthouse had vexed him for a quarter of a century, and Lee County was going to have the courthouse it deserved, no matter what. But to learn why Towles was so determined and who was trying to thwart his plans, you will just have to take one of those downtown Fort Myers historic walking tours. Replete with riveting rivalries and surprise endings, the tour is guaranteed to enhance your overall enjoyment and appreciation of the River District.

For days, times and reservations, please call 239-945-0405 or visit www.TrueTours.net.

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