The History of Clewiston
Early Florida history indicates that the Clewiston area was first used as a campsite by the Indians as they fished the bass-laden waters of Lake Okeechobee. Centuries later, fishing was to become the first recorded enterprise in the area; the sandy beach and natural inlet of Sand Point, now the site of the U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers regional office, served as base of operations for scores of professional fishermen as late as the 1920's.
The Clewiston area also attracted its share of early adventurers and pioneer farmers, most notable a temporary settlement of Japanese farmers who began to grow beautiful vegetables in the fertile lakeside soil about 1915.
The first permanent development was undertaken in 1920 by Philadelphia investors John and Marion O'Brien and Tampa banker Alonzo Clewis, who purchased a substantial tract of land surrounding the picturesque lake shore and set about to establish a town. The O'Briens and Clewis soon had a railroad line, the "M. H. and C.", built to connect Clewiston with the Atlantic Coast Line terminus at Moore Haven.
They then commissioned the well-known town planner, John Nolen of Boston, to create a plan for the city, and hired the firm of Elliott and Harmon of Peoria and Memphis to survey, map out and direct construction of the streets and canals.
Many of the early group remained to become permanent residents, founding schools and churches, opening stores, and establishing other needed business and professional services.
Within a few years, the rich muck lands around Clewiston attracted a group of Midwesterners interested in emulating the successful cultivation of sugar cane already undertaken on the lake's eastern shore by F. Edward Bryant.
Extensive sugar cane plantations were laid out and the first crops were so rich and abundant it was easy even then to envision Clewiston's future as a sugar center.
Following two disastrous storms in 1926 and 1928, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers carried out a federal project to help control the waters of Lake Okeechobee, thereby creating even more land suitable for cultivation and putting Clewiston well on the road to achieving its status as the heart of the United States sugar bowl.
During the 1930's, Clewiston's population continued to grow and the town's commercial and social activities gradually became more diversified. During the 1940's, at the onset of World War II, British Flying Training School Number Five was established at nearby Riddle Field. Here young pilots trained for the Royal Air Force. Many of these cadets formed lasting friendships with the people of Clewiston and they and their families return to their Southern "Yank" friends.
By the 1950's and 1960's, citrus, winter vegetables, and cattle had become important to the economic growth of the area.
In recent years, due to freezes in north Florida, more acreage is being planted in citrus. Hendry County has more citrus trees than any county in Florida.
Clewiston's largest industry, however, was, and is, sugar, and the town has become known as "America's Sweetest Town," thanks to the activities of the United States Sugar Corporation.
Clewiston's location on U.S. 27 places it at an important crossroads of both local and south Florida traffic and the seasonal influx of tourists from colder climates--many of whom have chosen to make this pleasant little town their year-round home. The city population is about 6,500 with a zip code population of 19,000.
Lake Okeechobee still abounds in huge bass and vast numbers of other fish. And, in continuing it's Indian heritage, Clewiston has become a nationally renowned sport fishing center with tourist accommodations available all year.
Clewiston's temperate climate and tranquil palm-filled vistas make it a town for all seasons.