Throughout the 1870’s and ’80’s, magazine and newspaper stories telling of the area’s mild climate and abundant fish and game likened it to the sunny Italian peninsula. The name Naples caught on when promoters described the bay as “surpassing the bay in Naples, Italy.”
In 1887, a group of wealthy Kentuckians, led by Walter N. Haldeman, owner of the Louisville Courier-Journal, purchased virtually the entire town of Naples. One of the first improvements Haldeman and the Naples Company made was to build a pier 600 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. The unusual “T” shape allowed large ships to dock easily. Despite being destroyed and rebuilt three times, the pier’s “T” shape remains.
Naples quickly gained a reputation as a winter resort. Social life revolved around the Naples Hotel, which played host to celebrities such as Rose Cleveland, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr, and Gary Cooper. As the town of Naples grew up, so did the price of a property. The cost of a beachfront lot soon reached $125.
In 1911, Barron G. Collier, who had made his fortune in streetcar advertising, visited nearby Useppa Island. He was so taken with the area that he bought over a million acres of untouched swampland – including most of Naples. Collier believed that Florida’s west coast could enjoy the same boom that the east coast was experiencing in the 1920’s, but first, it was necessary to bring in road and railroads.
Based on Collier’s promise to help build the Tamiami Trail, 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, which opened in 1926 as the only paved highway linking the state’s two largest cities – Tampa and Miami.
Collier died before he could see his dream come true, but come true it did. Today, Naples enjoys unparalleled prosperity. And the area’s unrivaled sport fishing, hunting, boating, sunbathing, and beachcombing attract people today just as it did a century ago.
Today Downtown Naples is an irresistible mix of glamour and laid-back ease. Historic and modern architecture blend together in eclectic sophistication; tropical blooms and lush greenery grace its pedestrian-friendly promenades, and each storefront is filled with wonderful finds and delights. Embraced by Naples Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Downtown Naples is home to award-winning restaurants and cafés, world-class art galleries, chic boutiques, elegant inns and a wealth of professional businesses and services.
Visit the Downtown Naples Information Center at 800 Fifth Ave. S., Suite 103. The entrance is on Eighth Street, half a block south of Fifth Avenue. You’ll find maps and brochures, and the friendly volunteers can answer questions and give directions.
Downtown Naples encompasses a five-mile area that stretches from bay to beach. It includes Fifth Avenue South, Bayfront, Tin City, the 41-10 Area, Third Street South, and Crayton Cove.