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A look back at some of the owners of the land that would become Cape Coral

By Staff | Nov 12, 2020

Frank Mann

A cowboy turned Lee County commissioner. A man who helped create Alka-Seltzer. Kennels filled with hunting dogs. The stories that enriched the land we now call Cape Coral are magical in their shape and scope and forever a part of this community’s history.

Creating the initial portrait of what would become a community of almost 200,000 residents were owners of massive ranches and other farmland spread across the now 118 square miles of the city.

George Mann, father of current Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann, owned about 700 of those acres on land where the current City Hall now resides. A general contractor by trade, Mann wanted property where he could keep “the kids out of mischief,” he said in the book, “The Other Side Of The River,” by Betsy Zeiss.

Frank Mann was just a teenager when his father bought the property in the 1950s. The 640-acre tract of land was purchased from Gerald Moody for about $40 an acre.

“He bought a section that was about one square mile and we had about 250 head of cattle,” Frank Mann said. “We dug thousands of fence post holes and we worked the cattle. We were cowboys. We would round them up and we would doctor them. While other kids were out water skiing, we were working the cows.”

The eastern border of the Mann property was Harney Point Road, which is now Del Prado Boulevard. “They built the first landing strip there and we used to watch the planes go in and out,” Frank Mann said.

George Mann made quite the profit, selling the property to Gulf American Cooperation and the Rosen brothers for $350 an acre about seven years after he purchased it. With the sale came a surprise.

“Gulf American would not buy it unless we provided a survey,” Frank Mann said. “We had the land surveyed and it came out to 689 acres. “We got 49 free acres.”

Dr. Franklin Miles also became aware of all this land west of the Caloosahatchee. In 1908, he purchased over 1,600 acres where the current downtown area and the Cape Coral Bridge are located. He was told only citrus could grow in Southwest Florida’s harsh climate, but he wanted to experiment growing vegetables. He also created a school for local farmers. Before his days growing vegetables, Miles’ medical laboratory created the product Alka-Seltzer. Miles also was the founder of the Indiana pharmaceutical company, Miles Inc., a subsidiary of Bayer.

The Rosen brothers also benefited from the sale of about 17,000 acres from Ogden Phipps, an avid hunter and fisherman who was the grandson of wealthy businessman Henry Phipps, who owned Bessemer Investments Company. Phipps used his inherited wealth to purchase the land, which he called the Matlacha Plantation and Game Preserve, from the Matlacha Cattle Company. The land was west of Santa Barbara and ran south to the Caloosahatchee. He used the land to plant 3,000 acres of grass, build thatched shelters with tables and grills, five homes for staff and kennels for his hunting dogs.

He never lived on the land but spent much of his time on his yacht in the Fort Myers Yacht Basin, entertaining people like baseball star Ted Williams and the Pulitzer family. He sold the property to the Rosens in the 1960s.

The Matlacha Cattle Company was owned by Elmore Daniels, M.F. Pafford, David Ireland and Seth Daniels. They had 25,000 acres of land, stretching from Pine Island Road to the Caloosahatchee and east to what is now Santa Barbara Boulevard. They used the land to raise cattle, but the property was eventually sold to the Rosens.

Other large land owners in Cape Coral were Granville Keller, who owned Four Mile Ranch and several hundred acres east of Del Prado and north of Everest Parkway, as well as Paul Franklin, who had 1,200 acres on land that stretched from Del Prado to Santa Barbara to Cape Coral Parkway. After World War II, Dr. Harvie Stripe purchased about 10,000 acres north of Pine Island Road from a vast parcel owned by lumber tycoon J.W. McWilliams. Stripe had 1,200 head of cattle on the property.

All of this land also went to the Rosens, who purchased 103 square miles for $678,000 in 1957 and called it Cape Coral.

Submitted by Tom Hayden, a Cape Coral Museum of History board member. As we celebrated 50 years as a city, much of our area’s history, chronicled at the museum, will be featured twice a month in similar articles provided to the Cape Coral Breeze.