The Story of Dean Park

(originally called Hyde Park)

John Morgan Dean

John Morgan Dean

On August 28, 1902, John Morgan Dean purchased a 37-acre parcel of land from Ferdinand W. Peck and his wife, Tilla I. Peck, both of Chicago.  The land, for which Dean paid $8,500, ran along the Caloosahatchee River and Billy’s Creek, and it included all of what was to become Dean Park.

John Dean’s dream was to construct the city’s finest residential development.  But he delayed starting this project until he believed that local real estate buyers were ready to pay for the paved streets, sidewalks, underground utilities and lush landscaping he envisioned.

In 1915, Dean hired a crew of about 40 men to dredge and pump 150,000 cubic yards of sand from the Caloosahatchee into the 38 acres of low, swampy land that became Dean Park.  In 1916, construction started on the first home to be built in Dean Park, a two-story house at what is now 2716 Providence Street.  It was built for Marvin Picton, an accountant, and his wife Mabel, who had recently come to Fort Myers from Tampa.  .

When the first homes were built in Dean Park, John Morgan Dean had not yet filed the map for “Dean’s Subdivision” and theNews-Press referred to the project as “Hyde Park.”  After Mr. Dean recorded the new subdivision map with the Lee County Clerk of Courts on May 1, 1920, at Plat Book 4, Page 29, the project became known as Dean Park.  Before 1920, deeds to lots in Dean Park (then called Hyde Park) were described by “metes and bounds” that referenced existing streets such as Evans, Cranford and First Street, rather than subdivision map that would be recorded later.

Mr. Dean took the street names of Rhode Island and Providence from his beloved home state of Rhode Island, where he was also a well-known developer and philanthropist.  What is now Michigan Avenue was named Banana Avenue until 1920, when the street was renamed.

First Street, Palm Avenue and Cranford Avenue existed before Dean’s Subdivision was laid out.  Cranford was part of an earlier subdivision, “Evans Addition,” a 366-lot subdivision that extended to the lots on the south side of Michigan Avenue.  For more information on “Evans Addition,” see its story below.

Florida Land Boom.  By 1920, Dean Park and the Florida land boom were in full swing.  There were Craftsman-style bungalows and homes reflecting Spanish, Colonial and Tudor revival styles so popular in the 1920’s.  Some of the homes were built by John Dean’s United Construction Company.  Other homes were built by investors who bought a lot from Dean and constructed a house there for a profitable resale.  Dean Park became home to many of the city’s most prominent businessmen and civic leaders.  It was the place to be!  However, construction slowed after the devastating hurricane of 1926 and came to a standstill with the stock market crash of 1929.

Several Dean Park lots were left unimproved and remained the property of Annie Powell Dean, Dean’s widow, after Dean died in 1938.  When these empty lots were sold in the 1950’s, a new flurry of development in Dean Park took place as the new, popular ranch-style homes were constructed on these vacant parcels.

Historic District.  In  the 1990’s, interest in Dean Park and its historic character resurged and lead to Dean Park’s designation as a Historic District by the Fort Myers City Council on April 7, 1997.  A map of the Historic District boundaries can be found on the “Maps” page of this website.

National Register of Historic Places.  In 2013, Dean Park was named to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  This followed an intensive approval process under that also included endorsement and approval of this status by the Fort Myers City Council and the State of Florida.

The Story of Evans Addition

Major James Evans

Major James Evans

In 1858-59, the U.S. government hired a team of surveyors to survey the Caloosahatchee river area.  This team included James Evans, who became fond of the area.  When the Civil War began, Evans returned to his native Virginia and joined the Confederate Army, rising to the rank of Major.

After the Civil War, the federal survey of the Caloosahatchee area was completed on September 30, 1873, and Major James Evans immediately filed his homestead claim for 139.45 acres – all of downtown Fort Myers, including the location of the old Fort Myers and the homes of the earlier settlers.

When Major Evans returned to Fort Myers in 1873, he hired Julian G. Arista, deputy surveyor of Monroe County (in which Fort Myers was then located) to lay out a town site, with streets and lot numbers.  This plat of the Fort Myers downtown area was entitled “Homestead of James Evans” and was first recorded in December 1876 in Key West, then the county seat of Monroe County, and later recorded in Fort Myers after Lee County was split from Monroe County.

Evans wisely laid out the streets on his “Homestead” map exactly where they already existed and, even more wisely, he conveyed many parcels of “his” property to the early pioneers who had settled in the downtown area.

In 1885, Major Evans undertook his second major development:  the conversion of a 52-acre parcel into a 336-lot subdivision to be called “Evans Addition to Fort Myers.”  Evans, then 61 years old, hired the Fort Myers real estate firm of Huelsenkamp and Cranford to prepare a survey map that would convert this acreage into 50-by-150-foot lots and put them on the market.  For a map of “Evans Addition,” see the “Maps” page of this website.

The subdivision map for “Evans Addition” was originally filed in Key West. It showed the new subdivision to be bounded by Banana Street (now Michigan Avenue) on the north, by Palm Avenue on the east, by Anderson Avenue (now Martin Luther King Boulevard) and Evans Avenue on the west.  And running north-south through the center of “Evans Addition” was Cranford Avenue, named after Robert Cranford, principal of Huelsenkamp and Cranford.

Major Evans died on January 12, 1901, at age 76, and was buried in Suffolk, Virginia.  After his death, the administrator of his estate filed the Evans Addition map with the Lee County Clerk of Courts on January 28, 1905, in Plat Book 1, Page 29.

Dean Park Happenings