Official Collier County History Website, Collier County Centennial (2024)

There is much debate about who first coined the name for our little slice of paradise on the Florida Southwest coast. Here, where early promoters likened our balmy climate and expansive bay to that of Naples, Italy, is where we start our story.

Roger Gordon and Joe Wiggins are credited as the first white pionee rs to settle in Naples around 1874 . Both men drifted on a short time later however their legacy in Naples’ history continues today through passes bearing their respective names. Two years later in 1876, Naples gained its first permanent residents when brot hers John and Madison Weeks put down roots near the northern edge of present – day Gordon’s Pass. However, the Weeks brothers were removed from their homestead when Hamilton Disston purchased four – million – acre s of Florida real estate in 1881 – the largest amo unt of land ever bought by a private individual in U. S. history – rescu ing the state from bankruptcy.

Naples’ future changed dramatically in 1887 when two Kentucky gentlemen, John S. Williams and Walter N. Haldeman purchased a combined 112 lots in Naples. Work soon began on building a small, twenty – room hotel at Naples, with six beach cottages . Since road and railroad connections to Naples were still non – existent in the 1880s, the town’s developers began building the first 600 – foot pier to serve as a lifeline to the outside world . A small shed at the shore end served as the town’s first post office.

Without fast and affordable rail service, the town’s financial future could not be sustained. On January 30, 1890, virtually the entire town of Naples, inc luding the hotel, pier, ships, and about 8,600 acres of undeveloped land, was auctioned off to Walter Haldeman, the only bidder, for $50,000.

The Town of Naples was incorporated by a special act of the Florida Legislature in 1923 however the process was n ot completed until several years later when the first town meeting of the Town o f Naples was held. At this meeting, the need for an official mayor became upmost importance for Naples’ town council. On April 13 th , 1925, Kentucky born Speed Menefee was chose n as Naples’ first Mayor. Ever the colorful and eccentric man he was, Menefee chose to resign 15 minutes later, even after being sworn in, reciting the oath, attending the appropriate ceremonies, and giving an acceptance speech. In his place, Judge E. G. W ilkerson was chosen by Naples’ town council to take over the position of Mayor where he served for several years.

While Naples was in flux, Solomon Davies Warfield , Seaboard Air Line Railway chairman and president , l aunch e d an aggressive expansion program to push his railroad across Florida and down the state’s east and west coasts . Warfield’s greatest, and last, project in Southwest Florida was the Seaboard’s new extension from Fort Myers to Naples, a tiny community with less than 300 souls that Warfield enthusiastically promoted as “a most attractive place with beautiful beaches… and one of the best situated winter resorts on the west coast.” The line reached the outskirts of Naples in early December 1926 and was officially opened on January 7, 1927, with a gala celebration and the arrival of the Orange Blossom Special, the pride of the Seaboard fleet.

Along with the railroad connecting Naples to a vast array of railroad routes throughout the country , a major development came about in the way of the “Tamia mi Trail ;”a name coined by the combination of the two cities to be connected by the road, Tampa and Miami. The Tamiami Trail officially opened April 26, 1928, 13 years after it started. At the time the Tamiami Trail was considered a major acheivement of en gineering as it was the only route from Naples, and by extensions, from Tampa, to the southeastern coast of Florida.

The charter of the City of Naples was incorporated June 13, 1949. Structure – population shift. Include the army air field, growth of Naples, population totals.

The number of permanent residents did not reflect the growth of the town. By the time the Seaboard Airline Railroad first rode into Naples, there were only 300 residents. By 1945 there were less than a thousand.

Official Collier County History Website, Collier County Centennial (2024)
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