Squatters Shacks in Matlacha

In 1925 Harry Stringfellow, who would later become a Lee County Councilman,  convinced Lee County to install a bridge linking Pine Island with the mainland.  A swing bridge was acquired from the town of Alva and barged down the Caloosahatchee River into Matlacha Pass and positioned in place in the middle of the pass.  Read more about the construction of the bridge Here.  So in 1926 commenced the dredging of shell and sand from Matlacha Pass to create a causeway between the mangrove islands for the road being constructing to the bridge from the mainland.  The fill was also used to create approaches to the bridge from both sides.  In doing so they greatly enlarged these mangrove islands with high and dry land.

In 1927, the wooden swing bridge was open to span Matlacha Pass. Shortly after Ed Young, who was hired as the first bridge tender, and his family became the first residents to set up camp on the shell fill.  George and Kay Kuhns moved from Buffalo to Matlacha to become the second family to squat on the causeway near the Young family.  At first, the squatters lived in their cars and in tents.  Eventually, they built shacks, shanties, and stilt houses on this “free” land. Some came for the tranquility, and some came for the good fishing nearby.  Over time they developed a full scale fishing community on the unclaimed land.  Eventually a legal battle over the who owned the land followed, but the squatters persevered and the state of Florida eventually granted homestead rights to many of these squatters as a result of “adverse possession”.*  So thus the village of Matlacha was born.  *Adverse Possession is the process by which premises can change ownership by using a property for a period of time without paying for it.  See also Matlacha Goes Hollywood.

A picture below of Ed Young’s shack built on the fill dirt brought in for the road approach to the Matlacha Bridge.  This was the first of many squatter shacks erected on the fill at both ends of the bridge.  For many years this area was referred to “The Fill”.

Squatters Hut in Matlacha

Credit this Photo Museum of the Islands

Picture of Matlacha in 2013.  Many of the shacks have become art galleries and restaurants.  The buildings have been painted in art deco colors and the town resembles a smaller version of Key West.

Down Town Matlacha

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