The Lee County Mosquito Control District (LCMCD) was created on January 21, 1958 under Chapter 57-2059, Florida Statutes. The LCMCD was created by consolidating three of the four organized mosquito control districts in Lee County and adding all of Lee County not previously within a mosquito control service area. In 1957, only 8% of Lee County was within a mosquito control district. The three districts merged their assets and liabilities to create a new district encompassing 98% of the geographical area of Lee County. The LCMCD was developed from the Fort Myers Mosquito Control District which was formed in May 2, 1950, the Boca Grande Mosquito Control District which was formed May 27, 1952, and the Sanibel-Captiva Mosquito Control District which was formed October 6, 1952. The fourth district was the Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control District which was formed July 12, 1949 and is still providing mosquito control service to their area.
The county-wide approach to mosquito control was the result of a Lee County Chamber of Commerce project. Mr. Robert Halgrim, who was a member of the Chamber and a Commissioner of the Fort Myers Mosquito Control District, headed up the committee whose work led to the submission of a bill that would form the LCMCD. After gaining approval of the Florida Legislature, the voters of Lee County passed the referendum by a margin of nearly four to one.
A young engineer, T. Wayne Miller, Jr. was employed on December 1, 1956 to direct a county-wide permanent control program funded by the Florida State Board of Health. Once the Districts consolidated, T. Wayne Miller, Jr. was appointed Director of the LCMCD. His vision and passion for mosquito control led to cutting edge control techniques, research, and education programs which propelled LCMCD to becoming one of the leading mosquito control programs in the world.
The District started with 14 employees, including the Director and increased to 25 with seasonal employees during the height of mosquito season. The District was located at 2647 Canal Street in Fort Myers. Today the District has over 80 permanent and 30 part-time employees and is located at the old Buckingham Army Airbase at 15191 Homestead Road in Lehigh Acres.
The first budget for the LCMCD was $299,061.39 from State funds and a special tax of 1.5666 mills. The 2007 operational budget was $ 15,985,543 from Ad Valorem tax of 0.1695 Mills.
Buckingham Army Airfield was a flexible gunnery training base, used to train gunners who would defend bombers. It was constructed in 1942 at a cost of 10 million dollars. It encompassed a total of 7,000 acres and had a series of canals constructed on it to drain the swamp land. During its peak the base had 6 runways, housed over 16,000 men and women, contained approximately 700 buildings and graduated over 48,000 aerial gunners. Buckingham Army Airfield was the first school for flexible gunnery instructors. The base was closed on September 30, 1945.
For a brief time the barracks of Buckingham Air Field were used as the classrooms for Edison College. Edison moved out in 1948. In 1968, the Lee County Mosquito Control District (LCMCD) moved its’ operations from Canal Street in Fort Myers to the Buckingham Army Air Field in Lehigh Acres. The six runways were gone along with almost all of the buildings. The site had shrunk to approximately 250 acres. There remains one, original building from the base on the property. The airport is often referred to on aeronautical maps as Lehigh West Airport. It is operated as a private field and called FL59 – Buckingham Field Airport by LCMCD.
On July 5, 2002 the Fort Myers Historical Museum; Experimental Aircraft Association, Florida Warbirds, Squadron 24; Lee County Board of Commissioners; Leadership Lee County and LCMCD celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the Buckingham Army Air Field. The Anniversary was celebrated to set aside time to remember those civilian and military personnel who worked, served and trained at the base. A historical marker commemorating the former Buckingham Army Air Field was erected at the intersection of Gunnery Boulevard and Sunset Road.
Dawn Seymour, World War II WASP, Tours Buckingham Airfield
On March 15, 2014, Dawn Seymour, a WWII B-17 Pilot, visited the Buckingham Airfield for the first time in 70 years. As a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, better known as WASP, she was one of only 13 women who completed the challenging B-17 flight training program- the same program designed for the male pilots who trained for combat missions. Kirby Bradford, Tactical Flight Officer from the Lee County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit, displayed dozens of items of memorabilia for the visit. Such items included including pictures, postcards, newspapers, and books, but he also displayed navigational charts and a target used for aerial gunnery.
Lunch was provided by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at their hangar before touring other parts of the Buckingham Airfield, including Lee County Mosquito Control. As Seymour’s toured, she recalled experiences with thoughtfulness and clarity. When she was told that the beacon used during WWII still operated atop a maintenance hangar she smiled and commented, “That beacon was always a friend,” and then added, “And lighted oil drums lined the runways for us at night.”
Seymour faced many challenges during her days at the Buckingham Airfield. Flying the B-17 meant dealing with various mechanical issues. “It was the number three engine that always seemed to give us
trouble,” and then added, “But it wasn’t a big problem to lose the number three engine- not like losing the number one or four.” Additional details about the era were also relayed. “There were three means of communicating long-distance,” she explained. “Telegraph, letters posted with a 5 cent stamp and by telephone- as long as you made an appointment for one.” Newspapers cost 25 cents and Seymour earned $250 per month.
During her visit, Seymour never lost enthusiasm or energy. When asked about her secret for long-term physical and mental health she considered then answered, “Being around young people; they charge me.” Then she quickly added, “And of course the loving support of my family.”
For more information on Dawn Seymour go to: http://operationfifinella.org