by Jeff Lytle
Q: This must be an exciting year for the Naples Historical Society, with the 125th anniversary of Historic Palm Cottage, your living museum?
A: Yes, it is! The society is the central voice of Naples history and steward of the. oldest house in Naples. It was amazing to see the public support for our nearly week long Open House in January.
We hosted over 800 people – residents and visitors alike. That affirms there are many, many people, far and near, who understand the power and symbolic value of historic preservation successes like this cottage.
TripAdvisor shows that Historic Palm Cottage ranks #10 of all things to do in Naples and #2 of all museums (right behind the autos of Revs Institute).
Q: You are big on hosting school children for Palm Cottage history tours. What surprises them the most? What do they ask?
A: Many of our young and curious visitors ask about the 1931 Royal typewriter in the library. Once two young ladies — fourth grade students — were trailing behind their classmates who were going upstairs for the next presentation. Rather than suggest they move on to join the others, I witnessed how they pondered the typewriter. One whispered to the other, “This is what computers looked like a long time ago.” They were dead serious and I smiled from ear to ear.
Q: The Historical Society is a beacon amid so much new construction throughout the city. Does that make expanding your membership more timely?
A: Membership in the Society is rooted in numerous reasons. The top of the list is the quintessential preservation of Historic Palm Cottage. Close behind that compelling reason to join is our work on the Naples Historic District Initiative, geared to help homeowners rehabilitate historic houses inside and outside of the District. And, of course, we have many other strategic educational programs that draw intense interest such as our Archival Repository Initiative, a major project that is geared to digitize our entire archival collection and ultimately share it with the public, free of charge.
Q: Palm Cottage is sponsoring some interesting public participation events. There is a croquet demonstration on your lovely courtyard, and a game of Clue where patrons try to solve a Palm Cottage mystery. What is your goal?
A: The overarching goal of both events is to host activities that are reasonably priced for the majority of our population. These are not fundraisers, but friend-raisers. Too many people pass the cottage to go to the Naples Pier without stopping to visit. To overcome that shyness, naiveté or disinterest (if you can believe that!), we added four events to our annual slate. Two events earlier in the season were Brews in the Garden and Gatsby at the Cottage, both very popular and priced with a neighborly smile.
Q: How many weddings and parties do you host at Palm Cottage each year?
A: Fewer than we’d like. We believe the cottage property, which includes The Norris Gardens and docents for tours, is perfect for small weddings, vow renewals, anniversaries, mile marker birthdays and corporate parties. The cottage sits gracefully in a residential neighborhood, and we have excellent relationships with our neighbors, with sound down by 8 p.m. and lights out by 9 p.m. Being neighborly is not just a thing of the past; it’s important to us.
Q: Can you tell us more about plans for expanding access to your archives?
A: The overarching goal of the Archival Project is to make available a digitized, user-friendly archival repository that serves anyone, far and near, who is interested in the history of Naples. The society has always had, in some form, a storeroom of sundry archival material. Over the last few years, it grew almost without effort. The relatively vast collections in the society’s possession are from donors who want their precious materials to be safe and/or not simply tossed aside, which can be hard to believe.
We’ve learned that old photos and documents are priceless to some, but may lack the same significant meaning to others, as often happens when that material is passed from one person, or generation, to another. Naples Historical Society sees immense value in all material related to the history of Naples.
Q: What items can the public donate to your history treasures?
A: The Cottage is beautifully curated at this point, but periodically we are propositioned with items that we simply must have; most recently, a community member gave fireplace implements and old, cast iron tools. Very cool. We do always ask for old photos of Naples’ past — people, places, things. Whatever showcases Naples from long ago, we’ll take it.
Naples Historical Society offers tours of Historic Palm Cottage, 137 12th Ave S., and the surrounding Naples Historic District; phone 261-8164.