June 6, 2021
LaBelle, Florida is the seat of government of Hendry County. The town is located on the Caloosahatchee River about 18 miles east of Fort Myers at the intersection of SR-80 and SR-29.
Hendry County is largely rural with thousand of acres of citrus, farms and cattle ranges.
The population of Labelle is just under 5,000, which makes it a metropolis in this small county of only 39,000 people.
Captain Francis Hendry, a civil war veteran of the Confederate army and pioneer Florida cattle rancher, named his new town for his daughters, Laura and Belle. Hendry County is named for him; in his time he was known as "The Cattle King of South Florida".
Hendry began to build his cattle business after the Civil War. He made arrangements with a lot of cattle buyers in Cuba, and was one of the first ranchers in Florida to ship cattle there.
He eventually owned 25,000 acres of fenced in grazing land and 50,000 head of cattle.
His old home is open to the public and is a good example of how prosperous pioneers of the era lived. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The old drawbridge downtown carries State Road 29 over the Caloosahatchee River and is a focal point for traffic in the area.
There is a small city owned boat dock at the southwest corner of the bridge where a few boats can be accommodated at no charge for overnight stays.
There is also another marina on the northeast corner of the bridge with plenty of sailboats in storage.
Labelle has several good restaurants, and is the county seat of Hendry County. The courthouse and city hall are major employers in the area, along with agricultural workers.
The Old Hendry County Courthouse was built in 1926 and is still in daily use. It is located on the main drag in town at the corner of Bridge Street (SR29) and Hickpochee Avenue (SR80).
The courthouse is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
LaBelle hosts the annual Swamp Cabbage Festival, which is held in honor of the official Florida state tree - the cabbage palm - during the last full weekend of February.
Here is a recipe for modern swamp cabbage from Cooks.com:
6 slices bacon, diced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1-14 oz can hearts of palm
1-16 oz can stewed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute bacon and onion until transparent. Add swamp cabbage, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Good with fish or poultry.
If you would like to see more recipes for swamp cabbage and other Old Florida favorites, go to Florida Cracker Recipes.