The culmination of the industrial expertise, infrastructure, and commercial ventures is the basis for Fort Myers’s urban development. The natural, rurality of the surrounding lands gave impetus for the attraction of northern elites who brought with them their trades and business acumen that essentially fueled town developments into an economic center of trade, thus creating Fort Myers into a bustling urban city center. The erection of Millionaires’ Row, a byproduct of the town’s, and its residents’, economic successes, represented what the town had to offer, which is effectively showcased in this online exhibit, Ft. Myers’s Millionaires’ Row.
The Exhibit bridges the gap by concluding on the instrumental nature of the industrialists who orchestrated the evolution of the small cow frontier town to a bustling modern city. Montanan millionaires and Cattle Kings, John T. Murphy and Daniel A.G. Floweree, were the first two to set in motion the establishment of stately homes off First Street, all the while heavily investing their fortunes into the agricultural businesses with citrus groves easily totaling a thousand acres of arable lands, when combined – making the southwestern region the most profitable agricultural lands in the State of Florida. Native Floridian, Walter G. Langford, with family interests in the cattle markets, expanded his sights to banking, building the First National Bank of Fort Myers and providing the town with one of the most sophisticated, modern buildings in the southern part of the State. He was also instrumental attracting more northern moneyed men to Fort Myers than anyone else through his business acumen and social skills that led to the establishment of railroad tracks to the small frontier town, providing a new transport and gateway for outsiders and much needed supplies to reach this new destination; thus, leading the way for a tourism industry that would fuel a building boom throughout the Teens and Twenties. The Tennessean Gwynne Family were pivotal figures in that they gifted Fort Myers with its first official school, thus providing a suitable and professional space for the Fort Myers children to learn – the first of its kind. The North Carolinian brothers, Harvie and Gilmer Heitman were fundamental figures in that they both contributed to the beautification of the town. Harvie, locked in a bitter rival between Langford, partook in a building spree that contributed to the boom of the Twenties, knocking down every visible wooden structure and replacing it with imposing brick edifices and stately structures – the result of today’s historic downtown, owing much of its appearance and state to Harvie, and later Gilmer’s, contribution and visionary mission. The Chicagoan Chadwicks were prominent members of Fort Myers society, investing in agriculture and hotels in the surrounding lands and islands. The New York lawyer, Frank Alderman, built one of the most lavish and exotic looking estates off First Street, establishing a law brokerage firm and providing loans for the construction of other prominent buildings in the downtown region.
Overall, this Capstone project has finally come together in that the history of these estates, and once presiding families, is no longer fragmentary and obscured, but appropriately assembled and visually displayed in a cohesive, organized manner that deservedly sheds light on their achievements.
Fig. 1: Capstone Creator, Jonathan Papanikolaou, posing on one of the open terraces on the Langford-Kingston Mansion during one of the many travels to First Street to document the fading architectural gems.
Please click below to view and listen to a video narration of the page's conclusory research.
This endeavor has developed into a long, fulfilled journey, and as such, I want to thank the following institutions and persons: Joanne Iwinski Miller and John Dahowski.
Special thanks goes out to the Fort Myers Historical Society (FMHS), the Lee County Clerk of Circuit Court (LCCCC), and the Imaginarium, History & Science Center (IHSC), all my professors who had a hand in helping progress and better the writing, research, and methodology, and my support system - my family
(Galit, Taz, Dani, and Karina).
A very special, and warm hearted thank you goes to my brother, Daniel Papanikolaou, who helped in the final stages. I am blessed to have such a wonderful brother who strives and succeeds just as I do, and is always willing to provide.
John Dahowski, the volunteer historian at the Imaginarium, History & Science Center, has been instrumental in supplying primary source documentation on First Street and its colorful residents. His personal knowledge of the area is first rate. His attention to detail allowed the obtainment of key documents to assemble narratives that fit each estate presented in the online exhibit for this Capstone. Furthermore, his help in combing through the archive ephemera and primary photographs contributed to piecing together the intricate stories and establishing a visual representation of the Capstone’s thesis.
Joanne Iwinski Miller, the Deputy Clerk of the Lee County Clerk of Court, who gave tremendous assistance in her guidance of how to operate the online county records database to search for specific documents. Additionally, her knowledge of First Street, and her willingness to help locate information on various estates, as well as opening the Historical Document Library located in the County Records Department, has been truly helpful in obtaining valuable research. Her work on digitizing key documents and photographs onto another platform has helped this Capstone refocus its attention on architecture, as it led to the discovery of obscure newspaper articles that were of help in adding further context to family dynamics.
Fig. 1: Photograph of Jonathan Papanikolaou posing on the open terrace of the Langford-Kingston Mansion, east elevation, Photograph by Daniel Papanikolaou, 2021, Fort Myers, FL.