First Avenue Homes

2590 First Street – Ben Mar Condominium – Home of Harry Poe Johnson – circa 1917

This parcel at the corner of First Street and Evans Avenue is the only lot on the original “Dean’s Subdivision” map on the westerly side of Evans Avenue.  For many years, this lot was vacant and was always owned in common with an impressive large two-story house next door on First Street.

The first owner of the house was Harry Poe Johnson, a Chicago native who first came to Lee County and owned groves of mangos, peaches and plums in Buckingham and Bokeelia.  By 1921, the Fort Myers City Directory shows Mr. Johnson had moved to Fort Myers and became something of a local celebrity as a horticultural expert, toastmaster, real estate salesman and manager of the Fort Myers Golf Club.  The house and adjacent corner lot were later owned by a series of prominent Fort Myers residents including Annie Powell Dean, Thomas & Alice Ness, Dwight & Elizabeth Kirtland, Berry & Princess Williams, and Jack & Edith Welch, who purchased the property in 1956.

In 1963, Mr. Welch decided to raze the home and build “Sherri Lee Apartments” on the two adjacent lots.   According to the News-Press, the project would be named after his young daughter, Sherri Lee, and would contain 30 one-bedroom efficiency apartments renting for $125 per month.  The entire project would cost $200,000.  After Mr. Welch died two years later, at age 39, his wife sold the project for $220,000.  In 1968, it was re-sold to Ben Mar Associates Limited and converted to Ben Mar Condominium in 1974.

Earlier addresses – Johnson house:  940 First Street until 1926, 217 First Street until 1955; Dean’s Subdivision: Block F, Lot 1.

 

2608 First Street – Home of Herbert F. Bryant and Alta Marie Bryant – 1955

This mid-century modern duplex includes the many popular features of the ranch homes being constructed throughout Fort Myers during the 1950’s:  a horizontal profile under a low-slung roof, stucco siding, large jalousie windows and unimposing front doors flanked with modest wrought iron columns. 

The home faces First Street, but the driveways and carport enter onto Providence Street.  The landscaping surrounding the home was awarded the City of Fort Myers Beautification Award in June 2004.

Herbert F. Bryant, who had just arrived in Fort Myers from Indiana, purchased this parcel for $4,000 on December 24, 1955, and immediately obtained a building permit to construct a “CBS” (concrete block stucco) home on the parcel at an estimated cost of $17,000. 

The parcel had been vacant for many years and was one of many vacant lots that John M. Dean transferred to his wife, Annie Powell Dean.  It was conveyed to her on December 24, 1924, with a building restriction that a house costing at least $7,500 be constructed on the property.  After Dean’s death in 1938, Mrs. Dean moved into the Morgan Hotel downtown and did not sell the lots until the early 1950’s.  She sold this lot in 1952 to a local real estate developer, and the lot was sold once again before being bought by the Bryants. 

 Herbert F. Bryant was one of 17 children born to a farming family, Carl and Nola Bryant of Campbellsville, Kentucky.  He married Alta Marie Tory of Missouri and briefly moved in with her parents and worked as a laborer on the Tory family farm, according to the 1930 census.  The Bryants left the farming life and moved to Michigan City, Indiana, where Mr. Bryant worked as a debt collector for L.B. Price Merchandising Company.

In 1954, when Mr. and Mrs. Bryant were both 45 years old, the couple moved to Fort Myers.  Mr. Bryant became active in the local real estate market, buying and selling several homes and parcels of land, as well as purchasing the Floridan Motel, a 20-unit motel in Cleveland Avenue, and selling it seven weeks later.  He also worked as a painter for local building contractor C.E. Ross and others. 

In 1980, the couple returned to Campbellsville, Kentucky, where Mrs. Bryant died in 1994, and Mr. Bryant died in 2004 at age 95. 

Earlier address:  133-135 First Street; Dean’s Subdivision, Block E, Lot 6.

 

2666 First Street – Home of Dr. William F. Grace & Annie Lee Grace – 1959

For many years, this lot at the corner of Cranford Avenue and First Street stood vacant.   On April 10, 1920, Dean Development Company sold the Lot 1 to an investor, Ida M. Galloway for $1,000, with a building restriction that any house built on the property must cost at least $2,500.  However, no home was built on Lot 1 until 1959, despite its prime location.

After a succession of owners, Lot 1 was sold in 1951, to Dr. William F. Grace & Annie Lee Grace, who had lived since 1931 at the large craftsman-style home at 2706 First Street, on the opposite corner of Cranford Avenue.  In 1959, the Graces, now in their 70’s, built two ranch-style dwellings on this property. 

 Dr. Grace was born in 1881 in Graceville, Florida.  He graduated from Tulane Medical School in 1906 and married Annie Lee Brownell of Westville, Florida, the next year.  He practiced medicine in Chipley, Florida, until 1924, when he, his wife and their three children moved to Fort Myers.  He continued his medical practice from his office on McGregor Boulevard until his death on March 23, 1961 at age 79.  His obituary said Dr. Grace “was highly esteemed by his patients for his willingness to answer calls in all weather and at all hours of the day and night.”

After Dr. Grace’s death, Mrs. Grace sold both homes, together with all their furnishings, to Abe Shrem of New York in October 1961.  The two homes continued to occupy one lot until 1983, when parcel was split and the ranch home located on the southern half of the lot was sold to a separate owner.    

Dean’s Subdivision, Block E, Lot 1 (northern half).

 

2706 First Street – Home of Dr. Gordon F. Henry & Esther C. Henry – 1919

In the 1920’s, First Street was called “Millionaires’ Row” because of the many grand homes built along this prestigious, palm-lined street.  This home, built for Dr. Gordon F. Henry and Esther C. Henry in 1919, was one of the largest homes constructed in Dean Park, and its Craftsman details included the tapered stone columns that were the hallmark of this style, exposed roof rafters, wide eaves and expansive porches. 

On March 23, 1918, this Dean Development Company conveyed this parcel at the corner of First and Cranford Streets to Gordon F. Henry of Lee County for $3,500, subject to a restriction that any house built there cost at least $2,500.  This property was conveyed using a metes and bounds description, since the Dean’s Subdivision map was not recorded until 1920.  The Henrys bought the parcel with a purchase-money mortgage from Dean Development Company and funded construction of the home with a mortgage loan from Charles W. Turner.

Dr. George Fuller Henry, born in 1886 in Tennessee, was the son of a physician, Dr. George P. Henry.  His father practiced for more than 20 years in Nashville.  By 1900, the family had moved to DeFuniak Springs in the Florida panhandle, where the elder Dr. Henry was employed as the physician for the local poorhouse.  His parents, George and his four siblings all resided in quarters located at the poorhouse, according to the 1900 census.

By March 1912, Dr. Henry was in Fort Myers, where the News-Press reports him vacationing for a week in Useppa with a group that included his future wife, Esther (“Essie”) Lynn of Fort Myers.  They married later that year.  The 1915 Fort Myers directory shows he located his office in the Earnhardt Building and living on nearby Woodward Avenue.  He also had time to dabble in real estate and sold a truck farm in Olga for $21,000 — quite a sum then!        By 1919, the family – which included Essie and their two children – had moved into this impressive 3,480-square-foot home on First Street.  Dr. Henry also had time to dabble in real estate during his stay in Fort Myers and sold a 42-acre truck farm in Old for $21,000 in 1919, according to the News-Press.  But the Henry family did not remain in Fort Myers for long; in March 1921, they sold this house to Essie’s mother, Mary E. Lynn of Fort Myers, in consideration of her assumption of the $1,600 first mortgage and the $8,000 construction mortgage.  Then the Henrys moved to Palm Beach, where Dr. Henry resumed his medical practice (as an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist) and continued to be involved in real estate development until his death in 1957 at age 72. 

In 1934, this house became the home of another well-known Fort Myers physician, Dr. William H. Grace, who lived here with his wife, Annie Lee Grace, until 1959, when they moved to a ranch home they had just built next door at 2666 First Street.

Earlier address:  1102 First Street until 1926; 71 First Street until 1955; Dean’s Subdivision, Block D, Lot 8.

 

2716 First Street – Home of Richard W. Boyd & Bessie Thorp. Boyd – 1925

In the 1920’s, First Street was known as “Millionaire’s Row,” and many Fort Myers businessmen and professionals constructed homes along with palm-lined thoroughfare.  The once-elegant house at this address was constructed in 1925 for Fort Myers real estate developer Richard (“Dick”) W. Boyd and his wife, Bessie Thorp Boyd, who occupied this home until 1936.

In its heyday, this home had an open front porch, supported by five substantial square columns, that extended across the front of the home.  A large gable for the upstairs was centered over the front porch, and fern-filled stone planters stood on either side of the front porch stairs.  Today, the gable remains, but the porch has enclosed with jalousie windows, and the house is surrounded by dense plantings and cannot easily be seen from First Street.  The current owners of the Boyd house also own three adjacent parcels, which are now vacant.

Mr. Boyd, a native of Tennessee, came to Fort Myers in 1923.  In March of that year, he purchased the lot from Dean Development Company for $2,500, subject to a deed restriction that any house built on the property cost at least $4,000.  He also purchased a fruit grove in Tice and became an officer of the San Carlos Corporation, which developed property in Fort Myers Beach during the 1920’s real estate boom.  By 1930, he was Vice President of the Fort Myers Building & Loan Association.  He was also very active in civic affairs, serving on the Board of the Lee Memorial Hospital and as president of the Kiwanis Club when it sponsored the spring training visits of the Philadelphia Athletics in Fort Myers. 

Mrs. Boyd was a life-long resident of Fort Myers and the daughter of early settler Lewis Green Thorp, who purchased 187.5 acres of land in Fort Myers in 1882 under the Florida land grant program.  Mr. Thorp, originally from New York, first brought his family to Key West – then the Monroe County seat and the usual port of entry for southwest Florida in the late 1800’s – and then settled in Fort Myers.  After Mr. Thorp’s death in 1897, Mrs. Thorp ran a boarding house on Lee Street.

Earlier Addresses:   1110 First Street until 1926, 67 First Street until 1955; Dean’s Subdivision, Block D, Lots 4, 5, 6 and 7.