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Pioneering business leader looks back

August 14, 2015
By CHUCK?BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

You can count on your fingers how many people are still here from when the city of Cape Coral was started.

Mary Harborn is one of them, working as a broker/ salesperson for the developers who created the community in the late 1950s and becoming one of the city's first residents.

Never in her wildest dreams did she think that this blank canvas of a brand-new pre-platted town would become the burgeoning city of 160,000 people it has become today.

"It's hard to believe what it was then and what it has become. When I was a broker there they sold a house for $35,000," Harborn said. "At the time it was hard to believe a house could sell for $35,000."

Harborn was born and raised in Jacksonville and came to Fort Myers to live with her brother in 1945, eventually finding work as a land broker in downtown Fort Myers. But that didn't last long. She soon received an offer.

"I decided to get my broker's license and was in a little office in downtown Fort Myers for a few months when someone mentioned to me about Cape Coral," Harborn said. "I talked to Kenny Schwartz and he came to my office to talk to me and I started working for him."

Harborn started working for Gulf-American in January 1958 in an office on the corner of Old 41 and Pine Island Road.

In 1958, Cape Coral was little more than a dream with a few houses near where the Yacht Club exists today, but she saw enough potential to take a chance. Harborn started in land sales, then went into home sales once housing developments began to rise from the ground.

She also moved to Cape Coral, moving into one of the first homes in the city in spring of that year, a fourplex on the corner of Cape Coral Parkway and Coronado Boulevard. She also became a member of Faith Presbyterian Church, of which she is still a member.

In 1964, Harborn decided to go into business for herself, starting up Mary E. Harborn Realty on Cape Coral Street, next door to Raso Realty, which she ran until she retired to care for her ailing husband, Jack, in 1992.

It proved to be a wise decision, as Gulf-American fell on hard times and was soon sold.

"We did pretty well. I worked for the company and did well. I just decided I wanted to go into business for myself," Harborn said. "My husband was a builder with Hawthorne Construction and he wasn't well so we both retired."

Jack, who died in 1995 and had a big hand in making Cape Coral into the city it is today, built the condo Harborn has lived in since 1980 off Beach Parkway.

Harborn said that if he could see what the city has become, he would be amazed.

"It's hard to realize what it was like then to what it is now," Harborn said.



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