Contributed by Jim Melican, President Emeritus
The weather is generally so beautiful in Naples that many residents, even those who have lived here for a number of years, may be inclined to overlook the many and varied indoor attractions that Naples has to offer. One such is the Naples Depot Museum, one of the five free museums in the Collier County Museum system.
In no more than ninety minutes, one can learn a great deal about the history of our area, stretching all the way from the Calusa peoples, the earliest known inhabitants, through the three Seminole Wars of the early to mid- nineteenth century, to very recent times. In the late 1920s – – less than a hundred years ago – – it was the arrival of the railroads that really put Naples on the tourist map. The competition between the Seaboard Air Line Railway and the Atlantic Coast Line to reach the then largely undeveloped expanse of southwest Florida led to the extension of the tracks south from Fort Myers to Naples and Marco Island, and the first steam-powered trains pulled into the newly constructed Naples Depot in January 1927. At that point Naples had only 300 residents, primarily because it had previously been reachable only by water, and the stately three-story Naples Hotel, built in 1889, catered to only the most affluent guests. Currently there are plans to build an Old Naples hotel pretty much on the site of the original hotel.
You will also learn that, in 1946, Henry Watkins bought both the Naples Beach Hotel and the old Naples Hotel. The former has now been owned by the Watkins family for seventy-five years, although it is about to be purchased by the Athens Group and a new resort hotel built on the property. The Naples Depot Museum contains many tidbits of information about our City that may surprise you. Did you know, for example, that the exclusive Port Royal area was named by its developer after the bawdy 17th century Jamaican city which was home to the original pirates of the Caribbean (thus street names such as Galleon Drive and Spyglass Lane)?
Or about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Donna when that Category Four storm hit the city head-on in 1960, at which time the population was just 4,600. This is only a very small sampling of what you might learn some rainy afternoon at the intersection of U.S. 41 East and Goodlette-Frank road in downtown Naples. It is our plan to feature other venues, such as the newly reopened Revs Institute (#1 on Trip Advisor’s list of Museums in Naples), Palm Cottage and the Baker Museum, in future issues. If you have additional suggestions, please let us know.
Naples Depot Museum is located at 1051 5th Avenue South Naples, FL 34102.