Florida map circa 1855 from Florida Memory.
For you history buffs out there:
If you were visiting Southwest Florida in the mid-19th century, you’d be visiting Monroe County, not Lee.
Founded in 1823 when Florida became a United States territory and named for President James Monroe, Monroe County stretched more than 300 miles, from Key West north past Charlotte Harbor.
It took a fire to inspire the creation of Lee County.
In May 1886, Fort Myers’ only school burned to the ground. A delegation made its way to Key West, the county seat, to ask officials for money to build a new school. That request was declined.
After looking at the condition of the area’s roads and bridges, local leaders decided to separate from Monroe County. In May 1887, the Florida Legislature passed a bill creating Lee County, named after Confederate commander Robert E. Lee. Fort Myers became the county seat.
The county stretched from the bottom of the state north and east to Lake Okeechobee, until the creation of Charlotte County in 1921 and Hendry and Collier counties in 1923.
Fast forward to 2020 and those changes still delineate Southwest Florida. Thanks to our friends at Florida Weekly for the info!