Calusa engaging in human
Historic cottage at
entrance to Preserve
Rotary Pavilion on Estero Bay
The efforts of many people, residents and visitors alike, have played a part in the
history of this parcel of property. Calusa Indians, Martha Redd, nature
photographers John and Harriett Dunning, The Nature Conservancy, and Lee
County Government all play a role in the history of the Matanzas Preserve.  

Early History
The early inhabitants of the area were the Calusas or Calos (fierce people) with a
chief named Carlos. Early chronicles indicate that Ponce de Leon landed in Florida
in 1513 and was killed by the Calusas in 1521. The name of the area which
incorperates Matanzas Pass appears to come from the Spanish word "matanzas"
for "slaughters". This name was fairly descriptive of the events that took place
between the Spanish and the native inhabitants in this part of Florida during the
first part of the 16th Century. The Calusa met their demise almost 150 years later
due to increasing hostilities, disease, and political and economic upheaval.

The first permanent residents of the area arrived toward the end of the 19th
Century and the first owners of what is now the Matanzas Pass Preserve were Dr.
and Mrs. Winkler who arrived on Estero Island in 1912.  The Winklers bought a
parcel of property from the Gulf of Mexico to Matanzas Pass including the
Preserve area.  Dr. Winkler built the two-story Beach Hotel and pier on the Gulf of
Mexico by moving lumber to Estero Island by barge.

Recent History
The Winklers were attended by Martha Redd in their later years. When they died in
1938, she inherited the property on the bay side of Estero Boulevard in pristine
condition.  As the development boom was beginning, Martha Redd was under
pressure to sell her large parcel of land. For 36 years Martha had lived on the land
in the area of the Matanzas Pass Preserve with little improvement and was
criticized for living in a jungle. Upon her death in 1973, Martha Redd’s nieces and
nephews inherited her property which was believed to be 55 acres. While they
were initially interested in selling it for development, they ended up selling 43 acres
of $125,000 to nature photographers and island residents, John and Harriett
Dunning in October 1974.

Creation of the Preserve
The Dunning's donated 22 acres to The Nature Conservancy, keeping one acre for
themselves, and offered to sell the rest of the property to Fort Myers Beach
residents for $105,000.00.  Through tremendous grass-root efforts, residents and
visitors raised the money to buy the remaining acres and completed the purchase
two years later.  The Dunning's then donated the remaining 21 acres to the Nature
Conservancy. With this goal achieved, The Nature Conservancy was given
possession of the Matanzas Preserve in 1977 to insure that this area would remain
in conservation.  A local volunteer committee named the “Stewardship Committee”
was established to oversee the property and this was the beginning of the
“Friends of Matanzas Preserve.”

Developing and Protecting the Preserve
To make the Preserve a resource that would be available to residents and visitors
alike required a great deal of work. Clearing paths, hauling debris, building an
elevated boardwalk with bridges, placing benches, and trimming vegetation began
in 1977 with volunteers including students from teacher Bill Hammond’s
Environmental Education Program - the Monday Group, from Lee County Schools,
and Boy Scout Troops.  The Fort Myers Beach Rotary Club built the Rotary
Pavilion on the bay, Estero Island Garden Club landscaped the entrance and Lois
Gressman, an original member of the Friends group, wrote a trail guide.  The
Nature Conservancy officially opened the Preserve with a ribbon cutting ceremony
January 20, 1979 with the title, Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve. Click
here to
view the original program from this grand opening of the Preserve. (Program
courtesy of Robin Krivanek.)

Unfortunately, in June 1992, vandals destroyed the main bridge causing the
closing of the Preserve.  The Nature Conservancy held a meeting to investigate
management alternatives. After exploring possibilities, The Nature Conservancy
donated the property to Lee County in 1994 to insure proper future management
and protection of the natural resources.  The title of the Preserve was changed to
reflect a possible discrepancy between the term “wilderness” and what the site
actually represents.

Creation of the Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve
At the time of the passage of title, the Lee County Commission asked the
“Stewardship Committee” with the help of the County to maintain the Preserve
and to act as stewards to keep the Preserve as originally intended - - an
undeveloped Preserve.  On Oct. 15, 1996, the Stewardship Committee was formally
incorporated as the “Friends of the Matanzas Preserve, Inc.”, a not for profit
corporation in the State of Florida. The Corporation has been in good standing
since the date of its formation and continues to work to protect and enhance the
preserve and to provide education opportunities about it.
To protect, enhance, and educate about the Preserve
Fort Myers Beach
Lee County, Florida
History of the Preserve
To protect, enhance, and educate about the Preserve