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Former resident shares history of Cape Coral — pre-Rosen brothers

By Staff | Mar 10, 2009

Not that interested in history when she first arrived in Cape Coral as a full-time resident in 1965, Betsy Zeiss Lewis eventually caught the bug to learn everything she could about Lee County, which spurned her to write her first book, “The Other Side of the River.”
The book chronicles a history of Cape Coral that far predates the Rosen brothers — it spins yarns about a time when the Cape was more akin to a Wild West cow town, when crackers, pastures and farmland were as prevalent as the fast food joints and strip malls that dot the current city landscape.
Zeiss Lewis said writing the book was like solving a mystery, one that held as many wild characters as any piece of fiction.
Those characters lived a far different life from what most have grown accustomed to. It was a time when people traveled more by boat than car, when the Koreshans ruled Estero, when mail was delivered via the water by way of Key West.
“That was the most wonderful adventure in my life, to unravel the story,” Zeiss Lewis said. “I wanted to know what was here out of a sense of curiosity. One thing just led to another — like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle, it’s very interesting.”
Now a resident of Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville, Zeiss Lewis returned to the Cape Tuesday as a guest of the Cape Coral Historical Society’s speaker series.
A founding member of the city’s historical society, Zeiss Lewis gave a presentation at Cultural Park Theatre about those heady, long lost days, a talk that reached as far back as the late 1800s.
She spoke about the time and effort it took to compose her book — five years — and when she began writing the book she called the Cape “Drawing Board City.”
Historical Society President Anne Cull said these kind of presentations are crucial to the future generations of the Cape, many of whom are on the verge of coming of age.
Without speakers like Zeiss Lewis, the history of the Cape might be lost to time.
“The new generations are establishing roots and they need to know the history,” Cull said. “What better way than to get that history first hand.”
While the youngest person in the roughly 60-member audience was 47, it did not stop Zeiss Lewis from spreading her message that Cape Coral is a special place, one that has a unique and valuable history.
She summed up her feelings when she told the audience, “I hope every time you drive into the Cape you realize what a wonderful city you have.”
Zeiss Lewis’ meticulously researched book is available for sale at the Cape Coral Historical Society Museum, 544 Cultural Park Blvd.
The telephone number is 772-7037.