Bonita Springs has long been inhabited. Archaeological discoveries place people here about 8000 years ago and mound building was well underway by 4000 years ago. By the time Ponce de Leon sailed along our beaches and first made contact with the Calusa Indians in 1513, this area was home to thousands. Native American village remains and mounds attest to their centuries of prosperity. However, within a couple of centuries, the once mighty Calusa Chiefdom was decimated by European diseases and slave trading.
In the 1870’s, Army Corps of Engineers’ surveyors mapped remote Southwest Florida and pitched camp along the upper Imperial River. After the crew left, the area, and later community, became known and recorded on maps as “Survey”. The river became known as “Surveyor’s Creek”.
Over the years, Survey developed from a scattering of homesteaders into a village. In 1901, a Post Office was opened, and in 1910 the two-story, Eagle Hotel was in business catering to visitors attracted to the unspoiled area’s bounty of hunting and fishing.
Later, developers decided that the name, “Survey”, lacked sales appeal, so the town was renamed “Bonita Springs”; Indian Spring Branch became the “Oak River”; and Surveyor’s Creek was renamed the “Imperial River”.
In the early 1920’s, Barron Collier, wanting to expand his empire, extended his Fort Myers-Southern Railroad south to include Bonita Springs. This, along with the completion of the new Tamiami Trail in 1928, brought another land boom to the area. During this period, Bonita Springs was briefly incorporated as a city.
Later, roadside attractions enticed visitors to stop in Bonita Springs. The first major tourist attraction to open was the Everglades Reptile Gardens in 1936. This roadside tourist attraction, featuring local and exotic animals, helped put Bonita Springs “on the map”. The Everglades Wonder Gardens is one of the few remaining historic resources of this type in Florida. Also, on December 27, 1957, the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track was opened in the city.
Bonita Springs remained a quiet, small town for decades. But, as the years passed, the rush to build was about to start. With the advent of air conditioning, the opening of Interstate 75, a nearby major airport, along with the new US 41 bypass, the growth in population by the 1980’s and 90’s ushered in shopping malls, modern office facilities, and golf courses.
In 1999, residents voted to incorporate Bonita Springs for the second time. Today, the City of Bonita Springs is an attractive, affluent area with beautiful beaches, fine restaurants, excellent recreational facilities, and beautiful homes.
It’s hard to realize that, a little more than three generations ago, the roots of this thriving community were a scattering of homesteaders’ shacks by a creek in the backwaters of nowhere – in a place called Survey.
For more information, photo gallery, walking tour map, and videos regarding the history of Bonita Springs, you may visit the website of the Bonita Springs Historical Society at http://bonitaspringshistoricalsociety.org/BSHS/Welcome.html. Also on the website is information about the wonderful history book, Images of America: Bonita Springs, featuring more than 200 photographs.