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Clewiston is a community of nearly 8 thousand people on the southwest shore of Lake Okeechobee in Hendry County. The area was first used as a campsite by Indians who fished the bass-laden waters of Lake Okeechobee. Fishing continued to be the main enterprise of this tiny farming and fishing community called Sand Point, with its sandy beach and natural inlet. In 1915, a temporary settlement of Japanese farmers relocated from California and began to grow vegetables in the fertile lakeside soil. In 1920 by Philadelphia investors John and Marion O’Brien and Tampa banker Alonzo Clewis purchased land surrounding the picturesque lake shore to establish a town. A railroad was built and a planned township developed which was incorporated in 1925.
Within a few years, the rich muck lands around Clewiston attracted Midwesterners who laid large sugar cane plantations. The success of the first crops established Clewiston’s future as a sugar center. They created the Southern Sugar Corp which in 1931 became U.S. Sugar Corp. It is still the biggest landowner and largest employer in Clewiston. Many of them remained to become permanent residents, founding schools and churches and setting up business and professional services. The U.S. Corps of Engineers set up a regional office there and carried out a federal project to help control the waters of Lake Okeechobee after two disastrous storms in 1926 and 1928. This created more land suitable for cultivation and Clewiston became the heart of the United States sugar bowl.
Vicinity of Clewiston
During World War II, British Flying Training School Number Five was established at nearby Riddle Field where pilots trained for the Royal Air Force. By the 1950’s and 1960’s, citrus, winter vegetables, and cattle formed the main agricultural produce of the area. Today, Hendry County has more citrus trees than any county in Florida. Clewiston’s largest industry remains sugar and provides jobs for the large Latin American population. Lake Okeechobee, the second largest fresh water lake in the US, still teems with huge bass blue gills, shell-crackers (a sun fish) and speckled perch. Clewiston is nationally renowned as a sport fishing center. Besides recreational fishing, the lake abounds in catfish for commercial fishermen.
There is a seasonal influx of tourists from the north, many of whom have made this pleasant little town with temperate climate and tranquil palm-filled vistas their year-round home. Hendry County Regional Medical Center looks after the health needs of the community. A 110-mile long Florida Scenic Trail around the lake is accessible to bicycles and hikers. Other local recreation facilities include a beautifully manitained18-hole golf course, lighted tennis courts, library, public pool and Water Spray Park. The Sugarland Park Recreational Facility boasts nine ball fields, racquetball courts, and soccer field. The adventurous can indulge in sky diving which offers spectacular aerial views of the lake and scenic surroundings.
Tourism is a major enterprise and the historic beautifully restored classical revival, Clewiston Inn on the shore of Lake Okeechobee, offers a perfect blend of country elegance and modern comfort. The local hotels provide visitors with a peaceful retreat. The marinas, motels, and condominiums located on the waterway have dockage space and most of the motels and restaurants offer courtesy transportation.