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From impossible dream to reality: Cape Coral turns 50

By Staff | Sep 17, 2020

Although Cape Coral’s start as a community dates back to the late ’50s, the city passed a major milestone this summer.

The city — now the largest between Tampa and Miami — opened the 50th anniversary of its incorporation with a Jubilee Celebration in January and then capped the commemoration in August with a reenactment of the “signing of the documents” that made formal an Aug. 18, 1970 vote for self-governance.

Cape Coral has come a long way since a pair of brothers from Baltimore, Jack and Leonard Rosen, flew over Southwest Florida looking for land to develop and decided a raw stretch of pasture and hunting land at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee in Lee County was their site.

In July of 1957 the deal was done, with the hair product manufacturers paying $678,000 for 103 square miles, including five miles of riverfront.

Four months later, on Nov. 4, they broke ground for the first phase of development on a 1,000-acre triangle poking into the Caloosahatchee known as Redfish Point, giving birth to a new town “across the river” from historic Fort Myers.

By the new year, a sales machine like no other geared up to tout nationwide the availability of homesites in the “waterfront wonderland” the brothers would ultimately carve from the wilderness by digging 400 miles of manmade canals.

The first lot sale came on Jan. 23, 1958 when Charles and Gertrude Frease of Bell, California bought a parcel. The Cape’s first family took residence in June when Kenneth Schwartz, general manager of the development firm, Gulf Guaranty Land & Title Co., moved into one of the first half dozen homes built.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It didn’t take long for new residents to decide that to become the community they envisioned, they needed to incorporate and so take control to provide the services needed to grow.

Incorporation efforts began in July of 1969 as the community’s population topped 12,000. By November, a committee spearheaded by the Cape Coral Civic Association recommended that the process of becoming a municipality begin.

The bill requesting that the matter be brought to voters was presented to state legislative delegates in February of 1970, in time for the next session where it was approved.

On Aug. 18, 1970, Cape voters then cast their lot with incorporation by a vote of 2,067 to 1,798 with the final tally, after absentee ballots were counted, landing at 2,249 for and 1,955 against.

Today, Cape Coral is home to approximately 200,000 residents with, literally, more than double that tally on the horizon.

In terms of developable land, Cape Coral is at only the halfway point toward eventual buildout.

In terms of population, projections predict more than 450,000 residents will call the Cape home when all the remaining pre-platted lots and tracts have rooftops.

Today’s Cape is much more than the Rosens envisioned, much more than those farsighted pro-incorporation voters dreamed.

May the best be yet to come.

— Breeze editorial