- Lee County
The current and second incorporation of the City of Bonita Springs in 2000 is a recent chapter in a long local history.
People inhabited the area 6,000 years ago and Native American villages date back over 4000 years. The later Calusa Indians, like later pioneer settlers, found the rich coastal river basin and forests productive. Juan Ponce de Leon sailed our coast in 1513 and made contact with the Calusa Indians who controlled South Florida at the time. After several days of negotiations and while sounding depths of port in what is probably San Carlos Bay, on the north end of the beach, Ponce was attacked by men in canoes, and left. But being determined to discover riches and gather slaves, Ponce returned to SW FL with plans to build a settlement on our coast, in 1521, well before the settlement of St Augustine in 1565. Once again he was attacked by the Calusa, this time incurring an arrow wound from which he died of 3 days later.
The early pioneer community was called Survey after the riverside encampment of the Army Corps of Engineers, who surveyed the region in the 1870’s. In 1888, Braxton Comer purchased 6000 acres and along with a crew of 50 African-Americans, began cultivating tropical fruits. By 1897, there were enough families in Survey to warrant a schoolhouse. In 1901, a Post Office, and soon hotels were built for visitors attracted to the unspoiled area’s bounty. The 1910 Federal Census recorded the occupation of residents as Fruit farmers. Fruit was shipped out by boat till the coming of rail in
the early 1920′s.
By 1912, a group of developers renamed the community, Bonita Springs and Surveyor’s Creek was renamed the Imperial River. With completion of the Tamiami Trail in 1928, and Florida land boom, the community grew large enough to be briefly incorporated as Bonita Springs only to dissolve the incorporation during the Great Depression in the 1930′s.
Roadside attractions like the Everglades Wonder Gardens, numerous shell shops such as the Shell Factory, along with the orange-shaped Dome Restaurant, a Seminole Indian village, a Mystery House, a dog track, beach access, hotels, such as the historic 1921 Shangri-La Hotel and restaurants enticed stopovers.
Interstate 75, opened in the mid-1980′s, ushering another land boom. Today, Bonita Springs is an attractive area with beautiful parks and beaches, along the Gulf of Mexico including Lovers Key State Park. The Bonita Springs Historical Society has an active resource library in the City’s Liles Hotel Bldg., formerly a hotel built in 1926. Historic downtown Bonita Springs has several buildings dating back to the early 1900′s and one private home, relocated from Naples, built in 1886. The namesake of the city, the springs, are located at the Shangri-La Hotel opened in 1921. A self guided walking tour of the historic buildings is available at the Liles Hotel Building on Old 41 Rd. Along the Imperial River, one might find remnants from long gone burial mounds, one which is archived at the University of Florida.
Story of City’s Founding
Bonita Springs, previously known as Survey, was renamed by developers from Fort Myers in 1912. It was incorporated in the mid-1920’s and later dissolved its incorporation in the mid-1930’s. Keittie A. Leitner served as Mayor. The City suffered during the Great Depression and could not pay its bills. It second incorporation was by citizen initiative. A ballot referendum for cityhood passed in December of 1999. Incorporation was granted by the State Legislature in 2000 on its first presentation to that body. Mayor Paul Pass and a new city council was seated in April 2000.