Towns in Hendry County

Big Cypress:

The Big Cypress Reservation is located in the southeast corner of Hendry County and is the largest in land area of the five Seminole Reservations in the state of Florida. This area was originally populated by Calusa Indians, and is now home to some members of the Seminole Tribe. The 2000 census showed 142 individuals.

 

Clewiston

Clewiston bills itself as "America's Sweetest Town" Early Florida history indicates that the Clewiston area was first used as a campsite by the Indians as they fished the bass-laden waters of Lake Okeechobee. Centuries later, fishing was to become the first recorded enterprise in the area; the sandy beach and natural inlet of Sand Point, now the site of the U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers regional office, served as base of operations for scores of professional fishermen as late as the 1920's.

Short History of Clewiston courtesy of the Clewston Chamber of Commerce

Felda

About 15 miles south of LaBelle, Florida on Hwy 29 is a wide spot in the road called FELDA.  This community of some 1,100 people, which is also about nine miles north of Immokalee, was first settled in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when this area was still part of Lee County.  Farming and some ranching was apparently the attraction.
     Mrs. Hurd Reeves, whose family moved here in early 1921, recalls that the community was called Eddy at that time.  It was so named after the founder of the Christian Science Church, Mary Baker Eddy, by George H. Fie some years earlier.  Mr. Fie had been postmaster from 1914 to 1916, but had moved on before 1920.
     Mail was delivered from a mail route that ran from LaBelle to Immakalee.  John Christian had the job about 1915 and John Surrency afterward.  They would drop off the mail with a  local person for unofficial distribution.  Felix Taylor provided this convenience for local citizens around 1920 (he had moved here in the spring of 1917 from Largo).  A formal post office was established in 1923 and Mr. Taylor was appointed Postmaster on May 11, the same date that Hendry County was established from part of Lee County.
     At that time the name of Eddy was found to be unsuitable because another town in Baker County had the same name.  The name of Okaloa was first suggested, but that conflicted with Ocala.  Mr. Taylor them [sic]submitted the name Felda, which was a  contrivance between his name, Felix, and that of his wife, Ida.  Mr. Taylor served as postmaster until June 20, 1934, when he resigned due to poor health.
     In 1921, the ACL Coastline Railroad constructed a 26-mile track from Goodno to Imakalee, and running through Eddy/Felda.  Completed on October 16, the road delivered mail as well as freight, at first weekly and then every other day.  In later years the road was abandoned.
     When settlers first came to the Felda area, land patents were given for homesteading.  Some 33 patents were granted between 1914 and 1931, totaling 4,520 acres.  Henry Stokes received the first and Marlon L. Williams, Sr received the last.  Homesteaders had to prove up their acreage, build a home before receiving title  and live on it three to five years.  Before this there were squatters, and some contention about who should have title to the lands.  One of these homesteaders was Clayton Sumner.  He and his family moved to Eddy in 1918.  Initially they lived in a palmetto shack and were unable to prove up all of the 160 acres, and thus had to pay $1.25 to obtain title.  Clayton was a builder and painter and built a nice wood home which is still in good repair.
     Schools began after A. B. Townsend and family moved there in 1911.  In 1916 there was a one room school with one teacher.  A second room was added later.  In 1926 a large six-classroom brick structure with its own light plant was built by H. L. Wheeler for $27,862.00.  The building was demolished in the early '50's [sic] after being struck by lightning three times. At that time there were fewer children in the area and it was considered cheaper to bus Felda children to LaBelle schools. - by Della Townsend Ridgdill courtesy of LaBelle Heritage Museum.

Fort Denaud

The oldest "white" settlement in Hendry County. Fort Denaud was established in 1838 as one of a series of posts linking American operations south of Tampa to the east coast. It was constructed on the south bank of the Caloosahatchee River 27 Miles east of Fort Myers on land owned by Pierre Denaud, a French Indian trader. The fort originally consisted of tents with a blockhouse in their midst. It was a supply depot for troops in the Lake Okeechobee area and was in use until the war ended in 1842. Fort Denaud was reopened in 1855, soon after the outbreak of the 3rd Seminole War. Additions included company quarters, hospital, guardhouse, prison, Sutler's store, and stables. A farming community formed around it, basing itself on the citrus and sugarcane in the area. A fire ravaged the post in June 1856, and it was rebuilt on another site on the north bank of the river a mile downstream. The fort was ultimately abandoned in May 1858, and the local residents left the area as well. Nothing remains of the fort itself, but the town still has a few old original structures standing. The area is now mainly orange groves and is used for citrus trucking and shipping. The nearby community of Fort Denaud took it's name from the old fort (also spelled Deynaud). In 1963 a swing-style bridge was built across the Caloosahatchee at the site. There is a fairly new housing development nearby, marketing itself on the history and quiet seclusion of the area. - Courtesy of Jim Pike

Fort Thompson

LaBelle's history begins here, along the Caloosahatchee River, on this old Fort Thompson site. Fort Thompson began c.1838 as a military post during the 2nd Seminole War, named for Lt. Colonel Alexander Thompson, who died in the battle of Okeechobee in 1837. The Confederates used the site during the Civil War to raise cattle for their troops. In 1879, former Confederate Captain Francis Asbury Hendry (1833-1917) acquired the property, making it his home in 1889. He established a cattle ranch and soon the town of LaBelle grew along its western boundary. In 1885, steamboat service carried passengers from Fort Myers to Fort Thompson, and in 1912, when LaBelle became a port on Florida's Intracoastal Waterway, it became a river paradise. In 1905, Edgar Everett Goodno (1858-1936) purchased Fort Thompson and built an ice plant and an electric plant to serve a growing population. By the end of the decade, the former fort had become the cattle and citrus town now known as LaBelle. Thomas Edison was known to have visited LaBelle, staying at the Fort Thompson Hotel. In 1924, Henry Ford purchased part of Goodno's property. It remained in Ford's name until 1942 when he sold it to one of Captain Hendry's cousins, Joseph B. Hendry. - Historical Marker

Harlem

This community located southeast of Clewiston was populated by temporary sugarcane harvesters in the 1920s. Most of these workers were African American men, and Harlem quickly turned into a year-round settlement, complete with a school (Harlem Academy). After desegregation, this school suffered in attendance. Recently though, the Harlem Academy Library was established. A Brown Sugar festival is held here each May. Several photographs and displays about the early days of this community are housed at the Clewiston Museum. Advertisements used to lure workers to the region emphasized the good fishing in the area, and some of these are also on display there. - Courtesy of the Pine Island News

LaBelle

LaBelle, "the belle of the Caloosahatchee," had its beginning as a settlement in the 1880s. It is the county seat for Hendry County.

Short History of LaBelle by Joseph Horne Thomas, MAT

Sears

Sears began 1926 when Standard Lumber Company built a mill in the area about twelve miles south of LaBelle. The town was named after Richard Sears, founder of Sears & Roebuck and owner of Standard Lumber. The mill was built along the path of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad and designed to provide Sears & Roebuck with lumber for their expansive sales of premanufactured wooden housing. Soon after completion however, the sawmill and many businesses and homes in the area suffered heavy damage from the Hurricane of 1926. The sawmill was rebuilt, and the town of Sears grew to have a population of about 500, with it's own voting precinct, two schools, a hotel and a Florida Power & Light electrical plant. The mill itself though proved not to be a successful operation and closed in 1928. The community began to disappear soon after, and by 1937 both schoolhouses were closed. Most of the former town buildings were moved to LaBelle and the Sears townsite was abandoned. Courtesy of Jim Pike

Hendry County Map showing small towns 1927

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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