Having an Attitude of Gratitude by Lois Bolin, Ph.D., Old Naples Historian

Photo Credit: Evan Reinheimer – Kite Aerial Photography https://evanreinheimer.com/naples-pier-naples-fl

Oh, how grateful we are for The City of Naples that is coming off its 100th Anniversary of being part of Collier County but come 2026; she will have her 140th Anniversary of her birth. She was originally part of Monroe County but became part of Lee County when Lee gained its independence from Monroe County on May 13, 1887. (Note: Don’t confuse the City of Naples with Greater Naples.)

Never Say Never
Prior to 1885, the Weeks and the Wiggins were basically the only families who lived in the area known today as Port Royal to Vanderbilt; but that was soon to change.

Two Kentuckians, Walter N. Haldeman, owner of the Louisville Courier, and General John S. Williams, who were grateful for the ending of the Civil War, chartered a schooner in Tampa and sailed down the west coast looking for a spot to build a resort paradise. It seemed they had been hearing much about the Naples Town Improvement Company (1886) and its plans.

They spied a native tending to his cattle and learned he had 5,000 acres in the area we now call Venice. They invited him to come aboard and enjoy some of Kentucky’s finest whiskey and conversation, which led to why the native needed to sell his land. A deal was struck. By the next day at 10 a.m. he’d be a rich man and the Kentucky gentlemen would start their plans. Gratitude was as bountiful as the whiskey.

But when Mr. Haldeman and General Williams went ashore after lunch, they learned the native’s wife had given instructions to beware of “them two that got him drunk and tried to take his land.” So, they gratefully sailed further south, eventually anchoring at the mouth of Gordon Pass to launch their plan to gentrify paradise.

Never-Never Land of Impossible Charm
Purchasing the land from Port Royal to the Moorings to Back Bay (Crayton Cove) to the Gulf proved a difficult task, but Mr. Halderman eventually acquired the 8,700 acres for a price of $13,050 ($1.50 an acre). It was the full holding of what the Kentucky syndicate now called The Naples Company. The Fort Myers paper wrote that the company proposed … “to push the town of Naples for all it’s worth.” And they did.

The Naples Company brochure recommended that travelers arrive in Jacksonville on a Sunday and board the train at 11:35 a.m. on Monday. Seven hours later, they’d get to Orlando, stay overnight, and leave on Tuesday to arrive in Punta Gorda by 8:30 p.m. At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, they would board the company steamer, “The Fearless,” bound for Naples. Finally, after stops at St. James and Punta Rassa, they would arrive at their paradise destination around 3:30 p.m.

Did they complain? No, they were grateful for the three days, five train changes, an all-day boat ride coupled with the travel from Kentucky, where anyone could own a lot in paradise for only $10.

In 1963 Florence Price Haldeman, granddaughter of the founder of Naples, Walter Haldeman, stated that after the long journey, Naples became a ‘never-never land of impossible charm’… it was their paradise.

Rocking Gratitude
This paradise’s growth and charm could not have happened without the generosity of those of significant means and those with considerable grit. It was men like Ed Crayton, who refused to sell to gamblers during the World Wars to Mayor Roy Smith, who launched the 1948 ‘Makes Naples a Better Place to Live Plan’ (Naples Plan), who kept the character and identity of the Town in check and launched a community park (Cambier Park); built controls for beach erosion; constructed new streets, (enters the Turner Family); and launched a form of “swamp angels” (mosquito) control.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. There have been countless residents to whom we are most grateful, and I do believe many of them attended the ‘Women Rock Philanthropy’ luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton, where over 600 community stewards honored the recent Women of Initiative who are making Naples a better place to live.

Rock Star, Vicki Tracy, Co-Chair of Women Rock Philanthropy, summed up the essence of community gratitude, “Patty Baker, where would we be without the Baker Center?” Where indeed?

As of this writing, the past has reached into the present to serve us in the future. The Gaynor family, descendants of Naples legacy giants Lester and Dellora Norris, has donated $1,000,000 to help restore the historic Naples Pier.

How grateful we are.

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