With streets lined with palm trees and an abundance of artwork, Bonita features a quaint downtown district with a rich history. Prior to Ponce de Leon coming to what is now Bonita Springs in 1513; the region was previously home to the Calusa Indians. In the 1870s, the community was known as Survey and the picturesque Imperial River was called Surveyor’s Creek.
History buffs can take guided walking tours with members of the Bonita Springs Historical Society to learn more.
From Calusa Indians to Citrus Groves
According to the Bonita Springs Historical Society, the area’s population more than doubled in the late 1880s when Braxton B. Comer bought 6,000 acres of land and hired people to work the large plantation growing pineapples, bananas, coconuts and other kinds of fruit.
Over the next 10 years, Survey saw a boom in citrus groves. And as a result, within the next few years, Survey grew from a handful of homesteaders into a bonafide community.
Becoming Bonita Springs
Bonita was on its way to becoming a legitimate town in 1912 when Tennessean J.H. Ragsdale and fellow investors from Fort Myers bought 2,400 acres around Survey.
Ragsdale and his associate, Dan Farnsworth, surveyed the area and laid out a small town with streets and avenues named after the investors. However, the name Survey lacked sales appeal, so the town was renamed Bonita Springs and Surveyor’s Creek was renamed the Imperial River.
From 1925 to 1934, Bonita Springs expanded and structures such as churches, saw mills, and two hotels were built. The old Banyan tree on Old U.S. 41 (which runs through downtown Bonita Springs) was also planted during this time.
A roadside attraction built in 1936 by the Piper brothers helped draw in even more visitors. The attraction displayed alligators, cougars, other wild animals and native plants. It was called the Everglades Reptile Gardens, and later named the Everglades Wonder Gardens. It remains a cultural icon in Bonita Springs to this day.