The Naples Historic District [†] is significant for its association with the development of Naples during the period 1887-1937. Developed by an ambitious group of investors from Kentucky, organized as the Naples Company, the largely residential district was developed primarily for seasonal use by northern families. The district is architecturally significant through its use of native building materials such as oyster tabby and oolitic limestone and its reference to established architectural styles.
The settlement of Naples, like the rest of Collier County, began slowly. The earliest settler on the strip of land containing Naples referenced in the literature was Roger Gordon. He along with Joe Wiggins used the area intermittently during the 1860s and 1870s. Little is known of their activities and it must be assumed that they were fishing or possibly raising vegetables as did their distant neighbors from the south. The first permanent settlers near Naples were John and Madison Weeks. Both had attempted earlier homesteads in the Chokoloskee area, but changed locations several times. In 1876, they established a homestead on the top of a hill on the north side of Gordon's Pass.
Florida saw the arrival of new railroads in the 1870s and 1880s as a result of land deals with several railroads and promoters. Hamilton Disston acquired thousands of acres fran the State of Florida in exchange for his development of a drainage project for the Everglades. A portion of the property conveyed to Disston was the future site of the Town of Naples. Disston was actively promoting the sale of many of his large tracts. In 1885 and 1886, two parcels near Gordon's Pass were sold to Dr. Jeptha Vining Harris, a physician from Key West. The Florida Land Improvement Company also sold a 909 acre beachfront tract to James H. Raleigh, corporate secretary for the South Florida Foundry and Machine Shop.
The earliest buildings in the district are simple, frame vernacular cottages which exhibit small hints of Queen Anne and Stick Style influences. The Haldeman House, located on the beach at Twelfth Avenue South, is typical of these buildings. The house features a long, single side plan with steeply pitched roofs. THe gable ends contain turned spindlework and shingled areas. verandas extend around the house for shade and cooling. Other buildings display board and batten exteriors, such as those at 38 Broad, 53 Broad, and 60 12th Avenues.
Buildings inspired by the Colonial Revival style are also found in the district. '!he Colonial Revival style developed in America after the turn of the century as a conservative trend associated with the east coast. The style involved the revival of architectural forms fran the American Colonial period. Various elements fran the Adams, Federal and Georgian styles were combined to create a new style which became popularized by mail order plans and hane magazines. In Naples, Colonial Revival buildings are usually three-bay, two-story structures with horizontal wood siding. The buildings at 88 Broad, 15 11th, and 287 11th Avenues are Colonial Revival in inspiration.
The predominant architectural style in the district is the Bungalow. The Bungalow was a popular style in American residential development during the first part of the 20th century. Several types of bungalows can be identified in the district. The most common bungalow includes a gable parallel to the street and incorporates a shed dormer, often with multi-light casement windows. A veranda or porch is inset under the main roof and is supported by tapered posts. Examples of this type are found at 107 Broad, 110 Broad, 180 Broad, 187 Broad, 245 Broad, 157 11th, and 205 11th.
Another type of bungalow found in the District is characterized by a front-facing gable roof. One or more gables project from the facade over an open porch which is set to one side. These buildings have a narrow plan with a living‑dining room combination and kitchen on one half with the bedrooms and bath on the other. Decorative treatment ranges from simple brackets and open eaves to elaborate bargeboards, complex brackets and open lintel systems. A jerkin head roof was also identified. Brick chimneys are characteristic of this type, located on the exterior with small windows flanking the chimney. Examples of this type of bungalow include 44 11th, 210 11th, 223 11th, 230 11th, 244 11th and 256 11th.
Bungalows with a gable placed parallel to the street were also found with a cross gable projecting fran the facade of the building over an open porch. This type is almost square in plan with an exterior chimney and exposed brackets. Examples of this variation are found at 207 Broad, 239 Broad, 123 11th, and 231 11th.
Another revival style that is unusually infrequent in Naples is the Mediterranean Revival. This style generally refers to architectural elements borrowed fran the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It became popular in the late 1910s as part of increased interest in historical styles and elements. In Florida, the style attained widespread popularity through promotional real estate developments, especially during the boom of 1925‑1926. While the style would be expected to predominate in a platted, speculative development such as Naples, it does not. Naples was developed much earlier than the popularization of the Mediterranean Revival style and most of its historic buildings pre-date the 1925‑1926 real estate boom, some by several decades.
Two commercial buildings are located in the District: the Mercantile Building at 1177 Third and the Naples Company Building at 1148 Third. The Mercantile Building, now restored, is a masonry vernacular building with a capped parapet and niche with wrought iron balconies. The Naples Building was built in 1922 to serve as offices for the land company. The masonry vernacular building displays a jerkin head gambrel roof unique to the district. The building has been significantly altered through a one-story shingled addition.
The buildings located within the District are in excellent, well-maintained condition. The integrity or the District faces development threats from commercial encroachment and insensitive remodeling of residential structures. The commercial core of the old section is an anomaly to the area, yet the scale and well-defined borders provide a convenient, urban content to the area, as well as maintain the integrity of the historical development pattern which included a pier surrounded by houses and a small commercial area.
The District was delineated as a result of an historic and architectural survey sponsored by the City of Naples. The survey involved the systematic location, identification and evaluation of structures dating to the historic period, generally relating to development prior to 1930. Field analysis, historic research and photography were employed to identify the district and delineate its boundaries.
Charles Adams, Disston's agent in Florida, retained William J. Loper and three companions to survey the Disston holdings south of Ft. Myers in 1886. Loper recorded the characteristics of the land re-recommending that the land was good for truck gardening and tropical fruits. Eventually Adams purchased 3,712 acres for himself but he did not retain the land long.
A few weeks before Adams purchased the land from Disston, several prominent Tallahassee residents formed the Naples Town Improvement Company. The company included the Secretary of State, Jim Lovick Crawford, Dr. C. L. Mitchell, State Commissioner of Lands and Immigration, Edward Lewis, a member of Florida's oldest banking family, Robert T.J. Munroe, George Saxon, John A. Graham, William N. McIntosh, Jr., James Munro and Aaron Levy. On November 10, they purchased the Adams property for twice the price he had paid and acquired additional acreage from William and Mary Rawls bringing their holdings to 4,276 acres. By August 1887 a plat of Naples was filed with the county. During the spring months preceding the filing, the company actively promoted the property through salesmen who fanned out around the country to secure settlers. By May 1887, 252 lots were sold at a cost of ten dollars apiece. In June of that year, another 267 acres were sold to investors and prospective settlers.
The holdings of the Naples Town Improvement Company were also expanded and changed in 1887. Dr. Harris sold his acreage to the company at a loss in May. Two partners, William McIntosh and John Graham, sold their undivided half‑interests in a seventy‑acre block consisting of present downtown Naples to the company. Charles Adams sold the board an additional 5,050 acre tract south of Gordon's Pass. In 1887, the offices of the company were relocated from Jacksonville to Orlando where R.G. Robertson became the Acting President and General Manager.
Robinson was destined to change the makeup of the company and its backers. A Kentuckian, Robinson had successfully developed the business near Orlando at Zellwood. Robinson was well‑connected with several Kentuckians and was able to get articles placed in the paper promoting Naples and Florida in general. Soon a group of investors were involved in the project, including General John S. "Cerro Gordo" Williams, a Kentucky war hero and U.S. Senator. By the end of the year, he had purchased over 110 lots for himself and Walter N. Haldeman, owner and publisher of the Louisville Courier‑Journal.
The company was reorganized in late 1887 as the Naples Company. It was headed by General John Stuart Williams, President, and R.G. Robinson, Vice President. The Board of Directors were replaced with new members from Louisville, including Bennett H. Young, a lawyer, writer and president of the Louisville-Southern Railroad and several other companies; William T. Grant, a Louisville tobacco merchant; Charles D. Pearce, Vice President of the Louisville Courier-Journal and Walter Haldanan who was the majority stockholder.
With the reorganization of the company completed, the real development of Naples began in 1888. The company acquired the steamship "Fearless" in January and the following February 14th the investors gathered in Naples to start the new project promising "to spare neither money, time nor work to boom their town." The first project was the development of a small hotel which was started at the end of February about two hundred yards from the beach. The carpenters and laborers were housed in tents and palmetto huts. The hotel was completed by April and G. Brockman was hired to operate the facility.
Naples developed in a pattern similar to many communities in Florida. In April 1888, it was designated a post office. The company issued a thirty page booklet about Florida and Naples. Construction of more facilities and houses began. A small office and general store were built and a contract was let for the construction of three tabby cottages. One example of this construction is Palm Cottage which has been restored and is operated as a house museum. THe house was built for Marse Henry Watterson. General Williams also had a house completed near the beach in 1888. By July 1888, six residences were constructed for winter homes and several others were under contract. Four streets had been cleared of dense underbrush and spread with shell for a surface. The main roads were lined with foot paths and Royal palms transplanted from the Everglades. The Company started the construction of two 400‑foot wings onto the original hotel. During the same period, a 600 foot pier was constructed to provide a good dock facility for the steamers in the hope that trade with Cuba and other lucrative Gulf markets would be established. The intensive construction activity outstripped the company's capital and it was forced to issue additional stock and borrow heavily to complete the project.
The opening of the hotel in 1889 was a much publicized affair but only brought twenty people to the town. Land sales were slow and the company was spending tremendous capital in its development. A plan was launched to establish a railroad from Punta Gorda to Naples but this failed as money became short and the company fell deeper and deeper into debt. Financial problems finally caught up with the company and it was sold at auction to Walter Haldeman. The Haldeman family took over its holdings in Naples and for the next thirty years visited the small town with friends as it developed slowly but remained an isolated community.
Prospects for development of Naples were not renewed until 1913 when the Haldeman heirs transferred their Naples holdings to the Naples Development Company. The new company was headed by Ohio businessmen E.W. Crayton and J. S. Ralston of Columbus, J. K. Hammil of >Newark and George Cassingham of Coshocton. Crayton was the leader of the group and would eventually bring roads, railroads, and a golf course to the small settlement. A forty room addition to the Naples Hotel was added in 1916 and transportation to the area by bus fran Fort Myers was begun. It was during this period that many of the buildings located in the Naples district were constructed. The pre‑World War I days were an important period of expansion in Florida which was not so much characterized by housing sales as by libraries, schools, and parks.
John Jones purchased the controlling interest in the company in 1922. Jones and Crayton installed the first central electric power plant about 1922, thus replacing the Delco systems which homeowners had used for their lights. The partners also took the first steps toward the establishment of a central water system and constructed the Naples Company building which still stands. An article in the March 30, 1925 Fort Myers News Press spoke of Naples on the Gulf as "more than a beauty spot — a city" and advertisements in that paper claimed "Everybody should pay a visit to Naples ... to enjoy fishing from the Naples Pier, the Naples Hotel and the comforts provided by a "lighting plant, laundry, new wells, golf courses and new tennis courts." The Collier County News ran a front page article on September 1, 1927 proclaiming the advantages Naples offered to its residents. The article reported Naples to be "the Palm Beach of the Florida West Coast" and also noted that "Naples is a resort fit for princes, a region of paramount beauty and a real deluxe quality."
The town was incorporated with Speed S. Memefee as its first mayor. Crayton served as President of the Town Council. The first action of the Council was to designate Room S‑6 of the Naples Company Building as the Town Hall of Naples. At its December 4, 1925 meeting the Council passed an ordinance for planning and zoning the Town of Naples. This action is probably responsible for protecting the character of Naples over the years, including maintaining the old commercial district in what was to cecame a predominantly residential neighborhood. The Town Council utilized its first tax receipts to begin paving the dirt streets with shell and connecting the town grid to Tamiami Trail to the east of town. Street lights were installed in 1927, at a cost of $1,000 for the first twenty lights. The town jail was completed in 1927.
The collapse of the Florida boom and the 1926 hurricane resulted in a decline in activity in the community. In 1928, the Tamiami Trail was completed. Transportation was further improved with the completion of the Atlantic Coastline Railway and the Seaboard Airline Railway within ten days of each other in 1927. Naples waited for its boom to come in the 1930s and more importantly after World war II when many discovered the value of the area as a resort and fisherman's paradise.
Historic construction within the Naples Historic District relied on the availability of local materials and labor, yet the surviving structures also display the influence of established architectural styles. The lack of transportation facilities encouraged the use of local building materials. Concrete tabby was used as a foundation material as well as general construction material. Board and batten siding was relatively common in Naples, as was the use of local quarried oolitic limestone for chimneys and walls. THe simple, indigenous construction found in the district is a significant factor in evaluating the built environment of this community which relates closer to the Everglades than to other contemporary communities in Florida such as Punta Gorda and Fort Myers. The District includes scattered examples of the Bungalow, Colonial, and Mediterranean Revival styles, although the predominant architectural form within the district is frame vernacular.
† Adapted from Gladys Cook, Philip Werndli and Michael Zimny, Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation, Naples Historic District, National Register of Historic Places, 1987, accessed October, 2019.
10th Avenue South • 11th Avenue South • 12th Avenue South • 13th Avenue South • 2nd Street South • 3rd Street South • 9th Avenue South • Broad Avenue South • Gulf Shore Boulevard