Choice Neighborhood: McGregor
A historic, diverse and welcoming community
Wide boulevards and diverse housing stock make the McGregor corridor one of Fort Myers most desirable neighborhoods.
“I just think McGregor is synonymous with Fort Myers.”
Gina Sabiston, a Lee County native, relaxes on the patio of the McGregor Café where the sun has just set and the wind rustles the palm trees. She’s looking out at McGregor Boulevard and reflecting on what the historic, palm-lined road means to her and her community.
“For me, when I was looking for houses, there just wasn’t any other choice,” she says. Sabiston bought a 1953 cottage off Coconut Road two years ago, fulfilling a girlhood wish of living along the McGregor corridor.
In a region where everything feels new, where planned developments have become the norm and anonymous strip malls wipe out any sense of place, McGregor Boulevard is an aesthetic refuge, a step back in time, a reminder that Florida predates the middle 20th century.
Its recorded history harkens back to the 1800s, when it was a series of Indian trails, mapped by the military and later widened for the cattle ranchers transporting herds to Punta Rassa at the base of what is now the Sanibel Causeway. In its heyday, it was Fort Myers, says lifelong McGregor resident John Sheppard. McGregor fed into a thriving downtown that hosted everything from independently owned men’s and ladies’ shops to JCPenney. “Everything else was out in the boonies,” Sheppard says.
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford famously lived near the boulevard’s northern tip. It was Edison who imported McGregor’s famed royal palms from Cuba and solidified “The City of Palms.” James Newton, friend of Edison, developed McGregor’s first subdivision, Edison Park, during the building boom of the 1920s. Sen. Charles A. Stadler developed another historically designated subdivision, Seminole Park, around the same time.
In between those neighborhoods, turn-of-the-century developers sold plots to homeowners, who would commission houses. The homes are as distinct as the families who built them, and the neighborhoods feature everything from Mediterranean to Art Deco to Classical Revival houses until you travel a little farther south and reach newer developments marked by common house plans and landscape features.
Today, homeowners along McGregor celebrate and preserve their past while welcoming new construction and new families.
“The nice thing about this neighborhood is you had prominent people in prominent houses, but then very humble people right next door,” says Tom Smoot Jr., who has lived with his wife, Ann, in their Florida Avenue home for 41 years. The couple lived in Edison Park as children. Their children are now raising families along McGregor, too.
“The old Fort Myers people haven’t changed much,” Sheppard says. “A clannish group, you might say. They used to be called the ‘good ol’ boys,’ but they’ve been very welcoming.”
Terry Purse will attest to that. She and her husband, Toby, purchased their 1939 Art Deco home off Osceola Drive three years ago. They and their children were swept into neighborhood life—the twice-a-year progressive dinner parties and the annual Fourth of July neighborhood parade that’s been going on since the mid-1970s.
“I love the historical part of (the neighborhood) for the kids. And I love that there are a wide variety of homes and of people,” Purse says.
It’s a social place, teeming with activity. Sidewalks make McGregor a favorite route of joggers, bikers, dog-walkers. At the corner of McGregor and Coconut Road, John Meiser and Lisa Duritsch have a signal: If the garage door is open, stop by and hang out. They are restoring a stately, two-story 1926 home to the delight of the neighborhood. One neighbor sent an unsigned post card, reading: “It has brought me much pleasure watching your home come alive.”
Marc and Carol Yorkson, owners of a 1926 Dutch Revival home in Seminole Park, led the effort to win their neighborhood’s historical designation. Today, homeowners along the northwest side of the boulevard are contemplating similar action.
“What’s gone is gone. So now we try not to let them be gone in the first place,” Marc says. “When you’re living in these older houses, it’s kind of like experiencing other generations.”
About McGregor Boulevard
In the 1910s, philanthropist Tootie McGregor offered to pave McGregor Boulevard, then primarily used to transport cattle, from Whiskey Creek to Punta Rassa if the city would pave the northern half leading to downtown Fort Myers. She wanted it to be named in honor of her late husband, Ambrose McGregor, a foreman for John D. Rockefeller.
· Three historic districts fall along McGregor: Downtown Fort Myers, Edison Park and Seminole Park.
· The historic Edison Park School opened in 1927 and continues to educate Lee County children today.
· Its most famous residents were Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, though many of Fort Myers’ forefathers and its contemporary movers and shakers still live there today.
· Tournament Street near downtown was named for the jousting tournaments that used to be held there, a precursor to the Edison Festival of Light, which today includes the nation’s largest night parade.
· Thomas Edison imported the first of the royal palms planted along the boulevard.
· Manuel’s Branch is a creek running through Edison Park named for Manuel A. Gonzalez, a ship captain and the first permanent settler in Fort Myers.
· The Grecian maiden statue at the entrance of Edison Park known as “Rachel at the Well” was commissioned by developer James Newton and was supposed to be nude—until Mina Edison, who lived directly across the street, asked that she be more appropriately garbed.
· Punta Rassa, historically the southernmost tip of McGregor, once included a telegraph station that was considered the link between the United States and the Caribbean. It was the first to receive news of the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana in 1898.
How We Compare
Cape Coral No. 2 on “25 Best Places to Retire” (CNN Money)
Cape Coral No. 1 on “10 Best Big Cities for People with Asthma” (Health magazine)
Cape Coral-Fort Myers area made No. 2 best city for jobs (tied with Greenville-Mauldin- Easley, S.C. area) (Forbes)
Sanibel No. 6 on “Top 10 Islands—United States” (TripAdvisor)
Cape Coral No. 5 on list of fastest-growing cities in Florida, from Florida League of Cities for Municipal Research and Innovation (Florida League of Cities)
Cape Coral No. 1 in Florida and No. 40 nationally on “Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report” (Allstate)
Fort Myers-Cape Coral No. 19 on 25 top cities for air quality (American Lung Association)
Fort Myers No. 2 on list of cities with lowest tax burden for travelers (Global Business Travel Association)
Fort Myers No. 8 on “100 Best Places to Retire for 2013” (topretirements.com)
Cape Coral- Fort Myers No. 15 on “Cities with the Most Millionaires in America” (aneki.com)
Sanibel No. 2 on “Best Florida Beaches” (U.S. News & World Report: Travel)