The legendary Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed to Southwest Florida coast in the winter of 1521 with 2 ships carrying 200 men. They found a paradise and incredible population of wild life. Naples was home of Calusa Indians until the early 1700’s and then to Seminoles in the mid 19th century.
The first settlers Roger Gordon and Joe Wiggins arrived in Naples in the late 1860’s.
The Italian craze began in the 1880’s when a popular columnist began “writing a series of articles about Our American Italy”. The name Naples caught on when promoters described the bay as “surpassing the bay in Naples, Italy”.
The newspaper and magazine stories telling of the area’s mild climate and abundant fish and game likened it to the sunny Italian peninsula.
In 1887 a group of Tallahassee businessmen brought 4,275 acres of land on Florida’s West coast and formed the Naples Town Improvement CO. The pier was built as one of the first improvements. The “Naples Hotel” originated in this time also.
Naples gained a reputation as a winter resort. Celebrities like Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, Thomas Edison, Rose Cleveland were visiting. As the Town of Naples went up, so did the price of properties.
In 1911 Barron Collier bought over a million acres of untouched swampland including most of today’s Naples. Where many people saw Southwest Florida as a swamp, Collier saw a paradise and a big business opportunity. In 1923 the state legislature created Collier County of which Naples is the county seat. Collier spent more than $1 million of his own money to construct the Tamiami Trail the only highway from Tampa to Miami completed in 1928. He died before he could see his dream. He once owned hotels, bus lines, banks, utilities and newspapers including what is now the Naples Daily News. He also owned the Fort Myers News-Press. He owned a construction company and even printed his own money to pay his workers in the company- owned town he built from wilderness in Everglades City. He bought a steamship line and started a telephone company.
Collier was a man before his time, who had a vision that drove early development in Southwest Florida. By 1930 Naples had about 300 residents, many of whom lived in the town only in the winter months. Naples developed as a resort community for the wealthy, who came to fish, hunt and socialize.
In 1931 The Naples Golf and Beach Club arrived, built by Allen R. Joslin, a well – known sports man. It had a 18- hole golf course and the club became a popular hangout. Today, the Naples area has nearly 100 world- renowned golf courses.
During World War II, the USA Army Air Forces built a small air field and used it for training purposes: it is now The Naples Municipal Airport, privately used today.
In 1949 was the opening of the first bank, the protection and restoration of the beach, new streets, parks, the development of Naples continued.
In 1960 hurricane Donna destroyed the Pier and flooded the area West of US 41 to more than 4 feet high.
The Naples area is easy beach access and all the beaches are public, 7 miles of white sandy beaches. Paradise coast is popular tourist destination with outstanding dinner cruises, sailing out of Gordon Pass into the Gulf of Mexico, with multi-million dollar homes of Port Royal with the upscale 5th Ave., 3 Rd Street and golf courses. More golf courses per capita than anywhere else in the world, reportedly.
In today’s day Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States with the sixth highest per capita income in America and the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita in the US. Naples real estate is one of the most expensive in the country with houses for sale in excess $60 million.