The crown jewel of Southwest Florida attracted interest during the Florida land boom of the late 1880s.
By 1887, Civil War General and U.S. Senator, John S. Williams, along with Walter N. Haldeman, publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal, formed the Naples Company.
Their ambitious vision was based on development (at $10 per lot) and tourism with future rail and sea commerce.
By the summer of 1888 with a seasonal population of 80 people in the town, Naples began to promote its 600 foot pier, a general store, post office and a hotel. The Town of Naples remained a private winter retreat for well-to-do Kentucky and Ohio families due to sagging land sales for the next several decades.
By 1915, with access only via the pier, a small road from Naples to Ft. Myers made Naples more accessible. By 1928, the Tamiami Trail and The Seaboard Air Line Railway, (1927) with its arrival of the inaugural Orange Blossom Special, brought new visitors to this “little bend in the road” nestled between Miami and Tampa. Yet development was hampered with the onset of The Great Depression and WWII.
It wasn’t until after WWII, when hundreds of servicemen had their first glimpse of our west coast paradise, that Naples blossomed.
Our Town’s Mystique
On May 8, 1923, the Florida State Legislature partitioned Lee County to create Collier County placing the towns of Immokalee, Marco, Everglades City and Naples, which began their development in the 1880s, under a new county government.
Twenty-six years later, the Florida State Legislature approved a new charter for Naples, changing it from a town to a city on May 25, 1949.
Florida Trend, founded in 1958, was the nation’s first regional business magazine. Naturally they wrote a piece on this “nothing to do in little town” as they were befuddled why so many millionaires wanted to move to this one stoplight town noting “for every millionaire that moved in (and there were lots) an alligator was pushed out (and there were a lot of those too)”.
The mystique of Naples was (and still is) centered around the Downtown Old Naples Business Districts: Historic Third Street S., Crayton Cove, Old Naples Waterfront (north and south of the Gordon River Bridge), 10th Street S. and Fifth Avenue S.
These authentic areas grew out of the needs of the residents of the “Town of Naples” and became the genesis of the magic in this place we call home.
Intellectual Capital Stays Home
Once upon a time, this “nothing to do in little town” lost much of its intellectual capital as local fledglings, who ventured off to college, decided to make their life elsewhere. Happily, I can report, such is no longer the case and you need to look no further than your own backyard, (i.e. Downtown Old Naples), to see the many locals who stayed or came back to Naples to start a business and a family.
In the Historic Third Street District, your will find two charming restaurants called Sea Salt and Barbatella, whose manager is Lili Montes. Ask her to tell you about the photo taken on Third St. S. with her Mom when Lili was thirteen.
Stop by Harmon-Meek Gallery on 12th Avenue S. to chat with Juliana or Kristine Meek to learn about the history of art in Naples.
The Wynn Family businesses started at Crayton Cove in 1938. Their location at 141 Tamiami Trail N. host Ace Hardware. If Mike is not there, just look up to get a glimpse of what Naples used to look like.
On the corner of 6th Ave. S. and 10th Street South you will find Randy Smith, CEO of Naples Transportation & Tours, home of the Heritage Trail Museum and proud dad of a United States Marine.
Matt Moen, veterans supporter and owner of M & M Café, owns one of the most fun stops at Tin City.
Walk under the Gordon River Underpass to Bayfront, and look for Kevin Stoneburner, owner of Bayfront and more. Dave Algers of Whitman Lighting (999 5th Ave. Pkwy) is located at the former Linderbury Nursery.
Oh…the stories they all can tell.
Walking Local History In 2010, I participated in the development of a colorful new “Walking Map of Downtown Old Naples”, which showed the walkability of Downtown Old Naples.
How sweet it is to introduce you to a few special gems in SWFL’s crowning jewel.