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City historian recalls the early years, need for incorporation

By Staff | Aug 26, 2010

CONTRIBUTED Cape Coral historian and long-time resident Paul Sanborn, right, with sportscaster Bill Stern, center, and Alan Sundstrom in 1968. Sanborn was named Outstanding Citizen that year and Sundstrom Outstanding Teenage Citizen.

Paul Sanborn said he moved to Cape Coral on May 1, 1962, because he was offered a job to work for Gulf American Land Corporation as the assistant to the managing director.

“Our job was to work with the community and as the growth came we needed amenities,” he said. “We did things when the population got large enough.”

There were only 1,100 people living here, Sanborn explained about the early ’60s.

Gulf American Land Corporation helped the community build a volunteer-based fire department, and in 1963 as the community grew, the company raised funds to buy the first fire engine.

“If there was a fire in Cape Coral, it had to be fought by a North Fort Myers Fire Department, which was a reason why we needed our own fire department,” he said.

Cape Coral also needed a police department for the community, which was called Security Force. It was made up of five deputies and one vehicle that served as the police vehicle and ambulance.

In the early ’60s, Sanborn, who is now the official city historian, said there were only two television stations available to Cape Coral residents.

“We started the first cable company,” he said about Gulf American Land Corporation. “We provided cable as more people came in around 1967.”

On June 10, 1962, the Yacht Club was opened to provide recreational activities for individuals to participate in as the community grew.

“Prior to that there weren’t any facilities for recreation,” Sanborn said.

One of the interesting things about Cape Coral, Sanborn said, was that there was absolutely no development north of Cape Coral Parkway. As the development of Cape Coral began, they dug the canals and used the fill to put the base of the homes on, which all began around the Yacht Club.

“The canal structure is something that could never be done again because of the environmental concerns of today,” he said.

The opening of the Cape Coral Bridge on March 14,1964, was a turning point for the city because it cut down travel time to Fort Myers and made the progress of Cape Coral much easier, Sanborn said.

“It was a major factor of the growth of the community at that time,” he said.

All the government activities were handled by the county, prior to the establishment of the city in 1970, Sanborn said, which is why the residents needed local control.

“That is when the charter was voted on in 1970,” Sanborn said. “When the city was established, the county didn’t have as much control and there was more local control.”

Upon Sanborn’s arrival, he said the average age of Cape Coral was 62; therefore claiming the city as a retirement community. He said that quickly changed as more families moved into the area creating a need to develop schools within the city.

“There was a need for more schools with the new population coming in,” he said.

The average age of Cape Coral is now 42 years old, which Sanborn said is a very important part of the growth of the city.

He said he enjoyed seeing something that started from “absolutely nothing and become one of the largest cities in the state because of what we did in the early days.”

“I feel proud that I had something to do with the starting of the city … not that many people have that opportunity,” he said. “Gulf American did a magnificent job.”