Between 1887 and 1910, high school-aged students in Fort Myers attended classes in a loose configuration of buildings that were neither adequate nor fully accredited. In 1887, Myers School was built and in 1902 a two-story wooden addition was added. As early as 1900, references were made to Myers School as Fort Myers High School and in 1902 the school was dignified by being called the Lee County High School. The school was admittedly a disgrace to the community and severely overcrowded as enrollment passed 300 in 1908. Additional classroom space was made at the Holiness Church on Second Street and the County Commissioners also made room for classes in the county barn.
Colonel Andrew D. Gwynne, a wealthy cotton broker and wholesale grocer from Memphis, Tennessee, was a winter visitor to Fort Myers. He was appalled at the sight of children attending school in the county barn. He told his wife that if Fort Myers ever launched a campaign for a new school facility he would gladly make a donation to take care of part of the expense. Colonel Gwynne died in Memphis on July 20, 1909 but his widow, Andrea, and son, Captain William F. Gwynne, remembered his pledged donation.
The citizens of Fort Myers were concerned about their children’s education and saw that a need existed to create a new school. During the summer of 1909, parents took their plea to the school board to provide a modern building. The board members admitted that the current situation was an embarrassment to the community and not serving its purpose nor meeting the children’s needs. However, they insisted they did not have enough money to build the type of school that Fort Myers needed but they promised to do what they could.
At that point, Mrs. Andrea D. Gwynne and her son pledged to match any sum raised by the town. With that incentive, the townspeople started a subscription list in 1910. Carl F. Roberts, a well-known citizen, headed this whirlwind campaign and in two months raised $8,000. The Gwynnes then pledged an equal amount. An additional $10,000 was obtained from a special bond issue. The school board kept their promise and provided enough additional funds to pay for the building which, with equipment, cost $45,000. Of all the private citizens, none deserve more honorable mention than the Gwynne family.
On October 19, 1911, the Andrew D. Gwynne Institute opened its doors as a fully accredited, state-of-the-art school that the entire community was extremely proud of. It housed 10 rooms, a principal’s office, a library, a spacious 500-seat auditorium, four restrooms, water fountains, and heat by radiation. Its enrollment that first year was 285 students, grades K through 12.
Although Colonel Gwynne did not live to see the opening day, no one was more interested in the betterment of educational conditions in Fort Myers than the Colonel. It was his oft-expressed wish before his death that the children should be better provided for in educational matters. As a fitting testimonial of the love that his fellow townspeople felt for him and for the interest that he showed in them, the first official high school in Fort Myers bore his name.
Romero M. Sealey served as the principal the three years it operated as the high school, October 1911 through May 1914. But soon growth caught up with the Gwynne Institute and a new building was needed once again to house the high school students. Today, the Andrew D. Gwynne Institute still stands at the corner of Second and Jackson Streets and is used as an annex by the School Board of Lee County.
By 1914, growth demanded that more facilities be created to properly educate Fort Myers high school students. At a cost of $40,000, supported by a bond, the Gwynne High School opened its doors in October of 1914. The building faced Second Street on the corner of Royal Palm. It was slightly smaller than the Gwynne Institute but was still very impressive. It was three stories tall and made of red brick. Over the entrance, “Gwynne High School” was carved onto a large concrete stone. The first floor housed the principal’s office and four large laboratories which included room to room- telephone service. The second floor had seven large classrooms, the library, and two rooms equipped to show movies. The building was equipped with electric bells and fire alarms. The lower level had showers, restrooms, a cloak room, and a boiler room. It was another facility that the community took great pride in. At that time, the Gwynne Institute became the elementary school while Gwynne High School accommodated grades 7 through 12. This particular building was also referred to as Fort Myers High School, Myers High, and the New High. This building served as the high school from October 1914 through May 1921.
Four men served as its principal during that span: R.M. Sealey 1914, J.F. Farrow 1915, C.W. Crumly 1916-18, and H.F. Steedly 1919-20. In the fall of 1920 a beginning and end took place. Principal H.F. Steedly welcomed back 126 students, including members of the very first football team, however, this would be the last year that Gwynne High School would house the high school. In the Fall of 1921 it became the Junior High with grades 7 through 9 and would remain so until 1950. In 1976 the building was torn down and today the site serves as a parking lot for the United Telephone Company.
The third high school in nine years opened its doors on October 20, 1921. The new building was made of yellow brick and was constructed at a cost of $224,500. It was located facing Thompson Street and bordered by Royal Palm, Anderson, and Fowler Streets. It was known as the Lee County High School and also referred to as Fort Myers High School. The students still affectionately called it “Gwynne High.” The community once again settled for nothing but the best and the school was acclaimed as one of the finest high school facilities in the state of Florida. This would not be a short stay, however, as the first two high schools had been. This location served as the high school, grades 10 through 12, for 29 years, from October 1921 until May 1950.
Principal James L. Orr welcomed 160 students in 1921, which was a comfortable fit. By the time Principal Ray Tipton opened the school in the fall of 1949, 1,116 students squeezed into the severely overcrowded little school. It was once again time for a change.
Serving as Principal at this site were: James L. Orr 1921-22, J. Colin English 1923-24, Miss Katherine Moore 1925-30, Howell Watkins 1931-32, Sidney Ellison 1933-35, Charles Whitnel 1936-37, Ellis Greene 1938-41, E.B. Henderson 1942-45, and Ray Tipton 1946-50.
In 1950 the building was sold and used as the Masonic Temple. In 1990 the building was torn down and in its place today stands the black-glassed Lee County Constitutional Complex. A part of the front wall of the school with Lee County High School inscribed on it stands in a small park in front as a reminder of the past.
On Monday, September 4, 1950, Principal Ray Tipton welcomed 1,250 high school and junior high school students to their new school, Fort Myers High School. The new school was situated on 22 acres of land in Edison Park and was another state-of-the-art facility as fine as any in the state of Florida. The community raved about the new $610,000 school located on Cortez Blvd. The school has been located at this same site ever since. The original school included the main building, auditorium, an industrial arts building, home economics building, gymnasium, and stadium. There have been numerous additions over the years including the Edison Learning Center, the science building, the new gymnasium, the library, a new cafeteria, and the Commons Area wing.
In 1996 the grand old facility was in need of a facelift and a $14 million renovation took place. Upon completion, Fort Myers High School had expanded to 37 acres and was once again one of the finest schools in the state of Florida as it was now prepared to help students face the new millennium with a complete technology overhaul and upgrade.
Serving as Principal at its current site have been: Ray Tipton 1950, Maurice Coleman 1951, Damon Hutlzer 1952-62, Harold Thompson 1963-73, Herbert D. Wiseman 1974-1992, Dr. James Browder 1992-1994, Joni Logan 1994-1999, Dr. James Browder 2000-2003, Richard Shafer 2003-2006, and David LaRosa 2006-current.
Fort Myers High School has repeatedly demonstrated its excellence by receiving national recognition. During the 1984-85 school year the National Department of Education’s secondary school recognition program cited Fort Myers High School for its “Excellence In Education.” During the 1992-93 and 1995-96 school years Fort Myers High School was named a prestigious “Red Carpet School.” Fort Myers High School was rated as an “A” School by the Florida School Recognition Award from 2000-2003, 2005-2007, and 2009.
In 2008 Fort Myers High School awarded the most I.B. Diplomas in North America and the 3rd most in the world. In 2009, the 5th most I.B. Diplomas in Florida, 9th most in the United States and 24th most in the world. In 2010, the 6th most I.B. Diplomas in Florida and 8th most in the United States and in 2011, the 5th most I.B. Diplomas in Florida and 6th most in the United States.
Fort Myers High School has been named one of Newsweek’s Top 100 High Schools on several occasions: 1998 (49), 2000 (74), 2003 (32), 2005 (63), 2006 (76), 2007 (67), 2009 (97), and 2010 (71). Most recently in 2011 the rank was (164). U.S. News and World Report named Fort Myers High School a Silver Medal school and rated its I.B. program the 5th best in the nation in 2009. In 2011, the Washington Post ranked Fort Myers High School #90 in their inaugural Top American High Schools Challenge Index.
Not only does Fort Myers High School excel in the classroom but on the playing fields as well. An adage at Fort Myers High School is “work hard, play hard.” The FHSAA awards points to a school based on its finish in FHSAA series competition in each sport in the classification in which it has been assigned to compete. The top 16 teams are scored.This competition is called the Floyd E. Lay Sunshine Cup with the winning school receiving a trophy. Since its inception for the 1999-2000 school year, Fort Myers has finished in the “top ten” in its class 7 times: 2000 (5th in 5A), 2001 (10th in 6A), 2002 (2nd in 5A), 2004 (4th in 5A), 2005 (7th in 5A), 2006 (8th in 5A), 2007 (6th in 5A) and in 2010 (3rd in 4A). In 2002 and 2010 Fort Myers was the top public school in its classification. The Green Wave also managed success in three other seasons as well finishing 13th in 5A in 2008, 35th in 5A in 2009, and 11th in 4A in 2011.
Sources: The First 100 Years: Lee County Public Schools 1887-1987 by Donald Stone and Beth Carter, The Story Of Fort Myers by Karl Grismer, and Gridiron Greenies by Bobby Sizemore
There are three acceptable accounts of how the nickname “Green Wave” came about. The first is rather simple. With the school color being green and the school’s close proximity to the Caloosahatchee River and Gulf of Mexico, which at times appears to have a green tint, it was a natural fit. The name was simply a logical geographically-based nickname.
Others claim it began in November of 1921 on a trip to play St. Petersburg. On the ferry ride across Tampa Bay many players got seasick. Someone noted that they looked like a “Green Wave” coming off the boat. The boys played a tough first half but due to sickness ended up losing 6-0.
From 1920 to 1926, Fort Myers was referred to only as the Greenies or Green and White. On Saturday, October 8, 1927, an article in the Tropical News describing the Lakeland contest made the first reference to Fort Myers High as being the “Green Wave.” This was also about the time that local physicians Dr. Fred Bartleson and Dr. Baker Whisnant encouraged the use of the nickname “Green Wave” as both had ties to the Tulane University Green Wave.
Hats off to you.
Ever you’ll find us
Loyal and true.
Firm and undaunted
Always we’ll be.
Hail to the school we love.
Here’s a toast to thee!