July 6, 2020
Alva is a quiet town on the Calooshatchee River. It's about 11 miles east of I-75 on State Road 80 between Fort Myers and LaBelle. People who live in Alva say it is more than a place: it is a state of mind.
Take Exit 141 and head east on State Road 80 toward LaBelle. After about 11 miles you will come to a little crossroads called Alva. A convenience store on the north side of the highway is your landmark.
Turn left at the flashing light and cross the bridge over the Caloosahatchee River. Turn right on Pearl Street, and you are in the heart of Alva Florida.
A lot of people assume the town got it's name for a famous nearby winter resident: Thomas Alva Edison. This is not the case, however.
A sea captain from Denmark named Peter Nelson came up with the name. He bought a large tract of land and laid out the original village in the late 1800's. He admired a small white flower that grew in the area.
It turned out our sea captain was also a botanist, and he recognized the flower as The Alva Flower, also known as sabatia brevifolia Rafinesque.
Captain Nelson named his little Florida town for the Alva Flower.
The first bridge across the Caloosahatchee was built at Alva in 1903. It became quite a busy little town, with a couple of hotels and several houses. Like many Florida towns of that era, it's life revolved around the river, small farms, and cultivation of citrus.
I first noticed Alva while crossing Florida on the Okeechobee Waterway.
A friend and I were moving my sailboat from Coconut Grove to Punta Gorda. The Okeechobee Waterway connects the east and west coasts of Florida.
The Caloosahatchee River is the western part of this connection.
After a long day on the river, we passed under the Alva drawbridge toward the end of the afternoon. We spent the next couple of nights at Rialto Harbor, 2 miles west of the Alva Bridge.
It was more than a marina; it was an Old Florida experience.
The family who owned Rialto Harbor lived on the property. In addition to a few boat slips, they had an Old Florida style cottage for rent. The grounds were plush with many plants and animals including a horse.
They were friendly folks, and built a campfire each night for everybody to sit around and tell stories.
The guest cottage was beautiful, but more expensive than I like to pay for a night's lodging. It would be perfect for a family who wants to spend a few days there.
Rialto Harbor is no longer open for business, but the memories remain.
There is no shopping district in Alva, but it does have a nice little church and a museum. The museum sign says it is open on Saturday from 2-4 P.M. You have to admire a Florida town whose museum is open only one day a week.
There is a nice boat launching area and parking lot just east of the church. This is a very busy place on winter weekends. This entire stretch of the Caloosahatchee River could use a few more boat launching locations.
The homes in Alva are simple and modest with the exception of a few large new houses on the river. The biggest building in town is a nearby elementary school. There is a nice clean adult mobile home community at the end of Pearl Street.
The entire area around Alva enjoys large oak trees with lots of hanging moss. Alva doesn't quite fit in as one of the Florida ghost towns that are fun to visit. After all, people still live here.
But it certainly is quiet. I recommend Alva as a place to relax and watch the boats go by.
A good place to camp or visit while visiting Alva, try this park:
This wonderful park is on the river and has an extensive network of nature trails.