Memories of The Orange Blossom Special

 

Lois Bolin Old Naples Historian

Like politics – all history is local. With so much of our nation’s history being lost, removed and rewritten, it is important to remember how this “place” became a community.

It is also important to understand how your “home”, when wrapped in human memory as told through stories, traditions, and civic commemorations, establishes a foundation to understand the magic in this place we call home and part of Naples magic began with the arrival of the Orange Blossom Special.

The Magical Pull

Although the Iron Horse began its gallop in the late 1880s, it was nearly 40 years before the tracks finally reached Naples. Originally, the only way to enter Naples was via the Naples Pier and later in 1915, a dirt road from Ft. Myers to Naples opened up. But it was the “the great train race” that intrigued America.

It began in 1926 and ended in January 7, 1927, as two rival railroads reached Naples 11 days apart.

The Race is On

With thousands of new residents settling in Florida during the land boom, railroad executives took note. They were eager to capitalize on the growth of 13 new Florida counties– even the itty-bitty little resort town of Naples.

In 1916, the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) extended their main route to Immokalee because of the valuable timber and later continued the line through Deep Lake, home of vast grapefruit groves owned by Barron Collier. ACL purchased Mr. Collier’s rail line between Deep Lake and Everglades City, which became the southernmost point of the ACL railroad system.

By 1926, ACL and the Seaboard Air Line (SAL) railway were competing to build a hub in Naples. S. Davies Warfield, president of SAL (and uncle of renowned socialite, Wallis Simpson Warfield, who became the Duchess of Windsor), ultimately subsidized the building of the depot in Naples.

Orange Blossom Special

Five trains comprised the SAL’s Orange Blossom Specials, and Mr. Warfield had spared no expense in making them the creme dela crème of trains. They were plush Pullman trains, each with an observation library car, valet and maid services, barber and manicurist and even personal writing desks complete with orange-blossom scented stationery.

To little fanfare, the first train owned by the ACL arrived at its station at Airport-Pulling and Radio Roads on December 27, 1926.

On January 7, 1927, SAL’s famous Orange Blossom Special, puffed into town, carrying with it some of the nation’s top businessmen and bankers, the president of the line and Florida’s then governor John Martin.

Its station still sits at the end of Fifth Avenue South and 10th Street South. It’s rumored that starlet Gloria Swanson, who was aboard that first trip to Naples, thought the fanfare was all for her. No one had the heart to tell her differently.

After the ceremonial bagpipes and speeches, where visiting VIPs were given local produce, flowers and fish, Mayor E.G. Wilkerson escorted the guests to the Naples Hotel for a grand lunch and lemonade (due to Prohibition). After lunch the entourage made its way back to the Naples Depot to return to Fort Myers.

End of the Line

As competition from cars and trucks took its toll on the railroads, Naples was no exception. (The Tamiami Trail opened in 1928.)

The last train out of the Naples Depot departed in 1971. On September 10, 1974, the Naples City Council supported the Naples Jaycees in their bid to place the depot on the Register of Historic Places. On April 1, 2005, the county signed a 90-year lease with the intent of making the Naples Depot a central point in the Fifth Avenue South’s redevelopment and another county museum site.

Currently the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce is looking to refurbish one of the train cars for a Chamber Visitors office. (Thanks Joe Cox.)

While science and technology did revolutionize the lives of folks inNaples, it is still the memories that make life in Naples so special.

Special exhibits coming in March:

Antique CarShow, March 23, 9:00 am – 3 p.m.;

Museum NightOut, March 29, 6 p.m.- 9 p.m.; throughout March,Muffy Clark Gill Batik Exhibit.

For more information, contact Lisa Marciagno, Museum Manager at 239-252-8421. Don’t forgot to see the newly renovated 1947 Budd Tavern Train Car and the Naples Train Museum, founded in 2000 and funded by a grant from the William J. Von Liebig Foundation.

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