The History

FRONT VIEW OF THE VIVAS HOME WHEN IT FACED FIRST STREET, BEFORE IT WAS MOVED TO THE BACK OF THE NEWLY FILLED-IN LOT IN THE 1920S (SWFL HISTORICAL SOCIETY)
THIS UNCAPTIONED PHOTO SHOWS SEVERAL MEMBERS OF THE VIVAS FAMILY IN FRONT OF THEIR FIRST STREET HOME. (SWFL HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

THE VIVAS FAMILY

In 1866, soon after the end of the Civil War, newlyweds Jose Vivas and Christiana Stirrup set sail from bustling Key West for the abandoned Union Army outpost of Fort Myers as part of the extended, blended, immigrant family of fabled Fort Myers founder Manuel Gonzalez.

The Vivas settled on a long narrow strip of land that extended along what is present-day Lee Street, from the shores of the Caloosahatchee to present-day second street. Joe and Anna, as they came to be called, had nine children, seven of which survived to adulthood. Anna and her children were all active in the community, and Joe, who was an accomplished carpenter and contractor by trade, as well as an experienced sailor, was elected and served on the town council in 1888.

Over time, the boundaries of the original Vivas tract shifted as Joe parceled off pieces south of what became First Street, and in the early 20th century, the City of Fort Myers built a new seawall and began filling in the riverbank, leading to the creation of present-day Bay Street and extending the Vivas tract northwards by several hundred feet.

Joe passed away in 1914, and during the big Florida Land Boom of the 1920s, Anna sold off the First Street frontage of their family homestead and had the house Joe built moved to the back of the newly filled-in lot. Anna passed away in 1930, after which her three youngest daughters – Rosa, Leonora, and Josephine – moved back into the family home, joining their oldest sister Amelia.

In 1936, the Vivas children deeded the riverfront portion of their land to the city for the creation of a public park, and the “Fort Myers Garden of Palms” was dedicated in 1955 by the Fort Myers Garden Club. In May of 2022, the Fort Myers City Council unanimously approved a motion to rename the space “Vivas Palm Park” in honor of the family.

There was at least one Vivas living on the property for almost 100 years, until the home was sold in 1959. It was demolished soon after, and news articles from the time mention plans for an office building, but the property has remained a parking lot for 62 years.

The Irving’s floor plans are named in honor of the four Vivas children who were born, raised, and lived most or much of their life on the family land – the firstborn child, Amelia, and the three youngest, Rosa, Leonora, and Josephine.

MORE VIVAS FAMILY HISTORY COMING SOON

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