I’ve been a little quiet on the blog front this month, and here’s why–my newly published book/ebook of Days Out Around Naples. If you want a peek, here’s a quick history of Naples which is the introduction to the book. Chapters include a host of less well-known attractions, curiosities, boardwalks, beaches, museums, scenic drives, restaurants, gardens and more. Who wouldn’t want to visit this beautiful city in southwest Florida?
An Introduction to Naples, FL
Like much of Florida, Naples had little to attract tourists just 100 years ago. Virgin forests, cypress swamps and a stunning stretch of sugar-white sand marked what is now a most desirable city for residents, snowbirds and international tourists.
The first street to be developed in Naples was Gulf Street and it ran beside the beach which at that time was 100 feet wide. Both the beach and Gulf Street have since fallen victim to erosion. Naples oldest house was at 60 12th Avenue South and was built in 1886 by John S. William. It was later occupied by six generations of the founding Haldeman family before sadly being lost to development.
Naples Hotel and Early Development
Early tourism began in 1889 with the building of the Naples Hotel, built by Kentucky native and visionary, Walter Haldeman. The hotel became the social hub of the growing community at that time and the food it served was legendary.
The 600-foot pier was also built by Haldemann in 1891, along with the first Post Office on the quayside. The pier was used to unload building materials from the steamboats which were the only means of transport at that time. It also served the town’s early visitors and their luggage, which was hauled to the hotel along a wooden boardwalk.
Haldeman also built Palm Cottage, now the home of the Naples Historical Society HQ and the city’s oldest surviving home. It was pressed into service as overflow accommodation for guests when the Naples Hotel was full. Such was the hospitality and success of this hotel outpost, by 1916 a 40-room annex had been built along with The Inn which stood on the corner of 13th Avenue South and Gordon Drive.
Naples’ first school was built at 151 Broad Street South in 1905. The single-room schoolhouse had one teacher who taught all grades. As the town and school expanded, a second school was built in 1920 on Fourth Street South, between 10th and 11th Avenues. When this was replaced by a new school on Third Avenue South (now the Gulfview Middle School) the Fourth Street building was divided into four residences which can still be seen.
It was not until 1919 that the first grocery store opened on Third Street South and is still part of the downtown community. The same year, Naples’ first golf course opened between Fifth and Eighth Avenues South and Third/Eight Street. Primitive by today’s standards, golfers had to make their own tees using wet sand as there were no wooden tees at that time. This downtown golf club was superseded in the 1930s by the new Golf Club and Beach Club Hotel on the oceanfront, which remains a luxury resort today.
The grocery store was followed in 1927 by Ed Frank and his brother Kousi and Rudy opening Naples’ first garage, after filling in a huge gator hole on the corner of 11th Street South and Tamiami Trail. Ed loved tinkering with mechanics and built several Swamp Buggies to go hunting in the Everglades. The original prototype “Skeeter” vehicle, which was built from a junk Model T Ford with an orange crate seat, has since been restored and is now part of the Collier County Museum. Later models of Ed’s swamp buggies were used for racing and always took part in the annual Swamp Buggy Parade. A surviving 1941 “Tumble Bug” can be seen at close quarters at the Naples Depot Museum.
Rail and Road Connections
The Tamiami Trail was a major feat of construction connecting Miami with Tampa, hence its name. It finally opened in 1928 and the incredible story is told on display boards at the delightful Museum of the Everglades in the old laundry in Everglades City. Part of that story includes how the construction of the trail was underwritten and supervised by local businessman Barron Collier, who was later honored by having the newly formed county named after him.
Although the Tamiami Trail made Naples far more accessible, a greater impact was the arrival of the railway in early 1927. The Orange Blossom Special arrived at the Seaboard Air Line Railway Depot in a cloud of steam and a blaze of publicity.
Life continued in Naples in a pleasant but far-from-easy manner due to the heat, mosquitos and other hardships. Much of it is recorded in a Prohibition-era movie entitled Naples on the Gulp by Naples’ resident doctor Earl Baum. He lived in Palm Cottage with his wife Agnes from 1927 and they frequently hosted social evenings with screenings of the film, much to the delight of their family, friends and neighbors.
One unusual occurrence to break the predictable routine of life in Naples was the beaching of 20 whales on the beach in1933 and a further tragic suicide of 69 blackfish whales two years later.
Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone were known to be regular visitors to Naples from their winter estates in Fort Myers – another fascinating place to visit. Photographs of their picnics, camping, hunting and fishing expeditions from early Ford motors can be seen at the Edison-Ford Winter Estates Museum and decorating the walls of the Bass Pro Shop in the Gulf Coast Town Center Mall in Estero.
Naples Real Estate Pioneers
The explosive growth of Naples can best be charted by its telephone exchange. In 1947 the city had 142 telephones; 89 for residents and 53 for businesses. Today the city has over 20,000 residents and over 17,000 homes.
Early developers recognizing Naples’ potential were Forrest Walker and his sons Lorenzo and Robert. They developed the prestigious Aqualane Shores which now has multi-million dollar properties on the prime waterfront estate location. They opened the project in 1950 with a barbecue and gopher tortoise race, such was the limit of their early marketing budget! They also established the First National Bank of Naples and Lorenzo served on the Board of County Commissioners from 1950-56 before being elected as a Democratic state legislature.
At much the same time, Port Royal was being developed by Glen Sample who had made his money in radio advertising. His marketing was in a total different style to the Walkers, producing glossy magazines featuring luxury homes at Port Royal with a luxury yacht moored at the end of the garden and a Silver Cloud Rolls Royce on the drive. Sales were slow in the late 1950s and 1960s but he held firm to his advertising slogan that “There’ll never be another Port Royal” and time has proved him right.
Fame arrived in Naples in 1951 in the form of the cast and crew of the Warner Bros film Distant Drums, including the heartthrob actor Gary Cooper. The movie later premiered at the Naples Theater and the whole city was there to see it. This put Naples firmly on the map, and the city embraced the inevitable growth and development that followed.
In 1960, the 160 mph winds of Hurricane Donna brought devastation and huge change to the area. The county seat was moved from Everglades City, which was too remote and vulnerable to continue as the Collier County hub. The obvious choice was Naples, by then a flourishing city which was going from strength to strength.
Modern-day Naples Attractions
One enduring Naples landmark is the huge banyan tree that stands in the garden of Palm Cottage. Said to have been planted by Norman Prentice Sloan on his arrival in 1916, it has certainly witnessed remarkable changes over the decades. Today, a tour of Palm Cottage and the adjoining Norris Gardens introduces visitors to Naples’ early history, told through the eccentric characters and historic buildings of this unique city.
Palm Cottage has had several names reflecting its multiple changes of ownership and use. Perhaps best remembered are Alexandra and Laurence Brown, who bought the spacious cottage (at that time known as the Hamilton Ontario house) for $8,000 in 1944. Their legendary cocktail parties, announced by them hoisting a flag, and their eccentric lifestyle with their basenji hunting dogs and vintage Mercedes coupe are all part of Naples’ colorful history. In 1979 the Naples Historical Society bought Palm Cottage from the Brown estate. Now fully restored, this oldest surviving home is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and is one of the city’s most popular attractions.
A visit to the Naples Depot Museum introduces more of these enterprising early settlers, including characters such as Speed Menefee who was pressed into service as the city’s first mayor in 1925. After being sworn in and making a speech, he promptly resigned and became known as “The Fifteen Minute Mayor”.
Browse the galleries, boutiques and shops on Third Street South, dine al fresco at some of the wonderful restaurants on Fifth Avenue South or relax on the beach and enjoy this unique and prosperous city. When you fancy taking a scenic drive, delving into Naples’ history, getting out on the water, visiting Naples Zoo, exploring the Botanical Gardens or visiting Naples Bird Gardens, Days Out Around Naples has everything you need to fully enjoy the plethora of attractions that now surround this fascinating southwest Florida city.