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Naples - From the Beginning

Downtown Naples
This remote area began to attract interest during the Florida land boom of the late 1880s when a group of Tallahassee businessmen founded the Naples Town Improvement Company. The future town site was surveyed in 1886 and immediately offered to customers at the bargain price of $10 a lot.

In 1887, the Naples Town Improvement Company was reorganized under a group of prominent Kentucky business leaders led by Civil War general and U.S. Senator, John S. Williams. Together with newspaperman Walter N. Haldeman, they formed the Naples Company and launched an ambitious town-building program based on tourism and future rail and sea commerce.

By the summer of 1888, the new town of Naples consisted of a 600-foot pier, a general store, post office, hotel, and a seasonal population of about 80 people. Despite a promising beginning, sagging land sales and mounting debts collapsed the Naples Company and for the next thirty years, Naples remained a private winter retreat for a handful of well-to-do Kentucky and Ohio families.

Years of isolation began to draw to a close in the late 1920s as roads and railroads penetrated the Florida wilderness and eventually reached Naples. The Seaboard Air Line Railway’s depot at Tenth Street and Fifth Avenue South was still only partially complete when the first passenger train – the Orange Blossom Special – pulled into Naples on January 7, 1927.

World War II introduced hundreds of servicemen to Naples when the U.S. Army Air Field was activated in December 1943 to train pilots for combat flying. The airport was returned to the city and county after the war and was dedicated as the Naples America Airport in 1953.

Much of the groundwork for Naples’ impressive growth and development was laid after World War II. From a total of 390 people in 1930, within twenty years the city’s year-round population more than tripled. Naples opened its first bank in 1950 and a hospital in 1956.

Since the 1960s, a steady increase in population and economic growth have made Naples the fastest developing part of Collier County and an appealing destination for seasonal visitors. Tourism and its economic benefits have surged ahead with renewed vigor, while construction, real estate and banking have become major industries.