FIRST POPULATED: Late 1800s
CITY POPULATION: 3,400
GREATER LABELLE: 12,000
HENDRY COUNTY: 37,000
INTERESTING FACTS: LaBelle, located in a vast oak hammock on the shores of the Caloosahatchee River, at the intersection of State Roads 29 and 80, 26 miles east of Ft. Myers. The town and unincorporated communities within a 15-mile radius watch the number of inhabitants rise to 12,000 or more during the winter growing season.
The area was originally settled by the Caloosa Indians, who held religious rites here. LaBelle means "the beautiful" in French. According to Florida history books, Capt. Francis Asbury Hendry named the area in 1896 for his daughters, Laura and Belle. The greater LaBelle area includes North LaBelle on the north side of the Caloosahatchee River and Port LaBelle, 3 miles east of downtown LaBelle. (photo: LaBelle City Hall)
Citrus, mainly oranges and grapefruit, and vegetable growing drive the town's economy. Until the late 1940s, LaBelle, and nearly all of Hendry County, was owned by cattlemen. But cattle ranches then began to downsize and range land gradually turned to farmland. Since 1986, citrus plantings in the county have more than doubled, from 40,000 to more than 90,000 acres. Today, Hendry has more than 15 million citrus trees, more than any other Florida county. (St. Lucie County has 12 million while Polk county has 11 million.) Hendry is third in citrus acreage with 100,000 acres. St. Lucie county has 107,000 acres while Polk county has 104,000 acres.
Music is an important part of the culture of the area. LaBelle's schools are noted for their outstanding music programs and the large number of students who play in the school bands. The LaBelle Middle School had over one hundred students in the band, a large percentage of the student body. Lots of fine bluegrass and country musicians can be heard at local restaurants and community events.
LaBelle is also home to the annual Swamp Cabbage Festival held on the last full weekend of each February. Visitors from all over the world attend this big festival. The Festival is named in honor of Florida's prolific state tree, the Sable Palm, nicknamed the "cabbage" palm because of it's sweet, tender pulp, the "heart of palm" found inside the trunk. The Sabal palm and the mighty Live Oak trees help give LaBelle it's famed scenic beauty.
LaBelle is also just 20 miles north of the new Catholic University town of Ave Maria, Florida and Ave Maria University, located in Immokalee.