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First eight homes built in Cape Coral still standing today

By TOM HAYDEN - | Apr 15, 2021

Councilmember Tom Hayden

Eight.

That number famously frames Cape Coral’s beginnings. Just a short distance from the Cape Coral Yacht Club and between River-side and Flamingo drives were eight modest-looking homes that came to life with the first families of the city in 1958.

When the Rosen brothers — Leonard and Jack — purchased 1,181 acres for $678,000 on land that would become Cape Coral, they quickly started construction on the first eight homes close to the Yacht Club basin. All eight are still there today.

The first family to move into their new Cape Coral home was the Schwartzes – Kenneth; wife, Barbara; and their three children, Billy, Tommy and Nancy. Ken, who became known as “Mr. Cape Coral,” was the one person who needed a permanent residence in this yet to be discovered piece of paradise. He was charged with building the community as general manager of the Gulf Guaranty Land and Title Company.

Those eight homes – all built in 1958 – anchor the history of the area. No markers or signs distinguish them from any other house in the area, except for the older looking designs. There is a small, brown sign on Driftwood Parkway, as people head into the Yacht Club, recognizing the homes are in the Riverside and Flamingo neighborhoods. The character of these neighborhoods has changed over the decades. Many of the older homes have been torn down and replaced by much larger ones reflecting the architecture of the times. But these streets symbolize the history, the present and the future as new construction continues in this area surrounded by canals, bordered by the Caloosahatchee and only a short walk from the Yacht Club.

Driving those streets recently, I embraced the sense of history and what it might have been like for those first families. Roads were scarce and there was no grocery store. But sand, mangroves, swamp land and critters of all kinds were plentiful.

As I looked at the original homes, I could almost picture Schwartz out in front of his, dreaming and visualizing what Cape Coral would become, where the downtown might be, where mega developments like Cape Harbour and Tarpon Point might one day rise from the ground and where all the shopping centers would spring to life.

Work on the first home started in March of 1958. By June 14, the Schwartz family was ready to move into their piece of Florida’s Waterfront Wonderland. That significant day in the community’s history was only months after a D-7 Caterpillar tractor – the only one in the Rosen’s possession – began to create the Cape on Nov. 4, 1957.

After the Schwartzes moved in, the Hendricks, the McGinns, Pearsons, Petries, Shoberts and Crauses soon followed, as did a home built by Clarence “Butch” Duffala.

Of course, those first families were the precursor to a boom on property buying in the community. Riverfront property was selling for about $3,000. Gulf American pocketed $5 million in sales in the first five months. By 1965, the population was 5,000. By 1968, it was 10,000 people. Today, the population approaches 200,000.

The first eight homes built in Cape Coral in late 1957 and early 1958. (File Photo)

Riverside and Flamingo are where the first families created our community heartbeat. Not much was around them except the beginnings of what is now the eighth largest city in the state. If you drive the extended oval that connects Riverside and Flamingo, those original homes are located at 5712 Riverside, 5720 Riverside, 5728 Riverside, 5736 Riverside; 5704 Flamin-go, 5711 Flamingo, 5719 Flamingo and 5727 Flamingo. The homes are eligible to be considered as historical sites in Florida, but in the meantime, it is worth the trip through the city’s history.

Tom Hayden is a Cape Coral Museum of History board member and Cape Coral City Council member, representing District 3. He writes a column twice a month for the Cape Coral Breeze on the city’s history.