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Naples Florida History

by J Arthur Stewart

I was born at 55 12th Avenue South in Naples on August 13, 1909 and spent all of my early life here. At that time the year round population was less than 40 and when I started school there were just 15 students enrolled in grades 1 through 8 in the little schoolhouse just west of our house at 165 Broad Avenue South. Since I am one of the very few people, now living, that remember what Naples was like in those early days, I thought it would be worthwhile for me to record my observations for posterity.

Up until 1912, the only part of the hotel was the center section. The first wing was put on the south side around 1916. I can't be sure of that date. but that is about right, there was nothing else built until after the north wing was constructed in 1926. That was built before the pool and the Seminole Room, which was the lounge and dance floor, and then the Solarium. or front porch, was built, extending clear across the front to the annex. There was an artesian well out back of the hotel, one could smell from any place in town that supplied the swimming pool with water. The well flowed constantly overflowing into a ditch that ran into the Old Indian Canal, just south of what is now Broad Avenue, along which the servants' houses were built. I don't know if filters were used or not but they may have had some type of aerating device, to take the smell away. The pump house was down by the bath house where one could change clothes for the pool. When Mr. Fohl was here, between 1925 and 1932, there was a beautiful flower garden where a laundry was later built. That would have been about the rear center of the hotel sIte opposite the Camargo House that is presently there. A shell walkway went from Third Street to the back entrance of the hotel and around the hotel. We used to drive our car around the hotel before the the extension was built on, and line up again on 12th Avenue South, going down to Crayton Cove, as it is now known. The hotel sat on an undivided two city blocks and just made a street to get around the hotel. Of course nothing was paved in those days.

The water tower for the hotel was almost directly back of the tower part of the hotel. It became one of Mr. Fohl's favorite vantage points for taking pictures of Naples It was from there that he took the great picture, in 1926, of what we now call the Wind-in-the-Willows that is on the rear cover. People have often asked me what was the significance of the number "25" on the little shed out back of the grocery store, in that picture. The shed was used as a feed storage room for the store but I have never been able to figure out why the number was there. You can also dearly see the Minor Johnson house just above the Wind-in-the-Willows and to the left is the old school house where we all went to school. W hen I became the first and only student to graduate from Naples High School in 1928, the graduation services were held in the Naples Company Community Building (now called the Old Naples Building). Note the gasoline pumps in front of the store. In those days you pumped five or so gallons by hand into a graduated glass bowl then let it drain by gravity into the car gasoline tank.

When they built the northern annex to the hotel about 1926 it was a full three stories high near the corner of Gordon Drive and Broad Avenue South. right behind the Company Offices in what we now call the Gourmet Shop. There were also three other dwellings facing Broad Avenue, the Scotch Bonnet. The Nautilus, which was a duplex and the Genonia. That was possible then because we didn't have zoning regulations and set-backs were unknown. My remembrance of Mr. Hartley is very vivid because I used to play Rummy and Set-back (card games) with him over a period of a couple of years, at least He and Mr. Cambier, for whom Cambier Park is named, lived in the Merrill House on the southwest corner of Broad Avenue and Gordon Drive and we lived just across the street. I used to go over several evenings a week and play Set-back or Rummy with them. Those were the only games I knew how to play at the time. I believe it must have been about 1925 that Mr. Hartley was going back to Cincinnati, Ohio and he took me with him for company. It was in January and I got excused from school to take that one week trip Naturally we played Rummy and Set-back all the way up to Cincinnati on the Pullman car. I had the upper berth and Mr. Hartley had the lower. What an experience for a sixteen year old youth! We didn't have trains coming to Naples in those days so I never had any idea I'd ever ride on a train. Dad took us to Ft. Myers to catch the train and we went all the way to Cincinnati on the same train. We spent the night in the Senton Hotel and next morning about 9 or 10 o'clock Mr. Hartely took me back to the Railroad Station and put me aboard the train for the trip back to Fort j Myers where my Dad met me. Of course I came all the way back by myself.

After the Post Office building at the pier burned, the Post Office was temporarily moved into the northwest corner of the store at the Commissary building. For security it was latticed off with 1/2" X 2" boards, the same way lattice is used to decorate buildings these days. This closed it off from the rest of the store and provided a place for a window to disburse mail and sell stamps etc. Not long afterwards Mr. E. W. Crayton built an addition out from the Southside of the Commissary building, in order to get the Post Office out of the store where the space was needed for shoes, yard goods, etc. That Post Office served Naples for many years and is shown on the rear cover of this Timepiece. I was 13 years old in 1922 when I first went to work delivering groceries for the store. A horse named Old Maud hauled a Studebaker Wagon that made the deliveries. Maud was stabled right in back of the Hotel and belonged to the Naples Company. She was getting pretty old, so after a couple of years she was taken up to Bradley Farms, now the Country Club of Naples, on Frank Road to live out her years and was replaced by a mule that I used for deliveries for a year or two until we got a Model "T" Ford pick -up truck.

Dr. Henry Nerhling's botanical gardens (now called jungle Larry's) was at it's prime when I was growing up. I remember strolling through the gardens with my mother and Dad listening to the botanical names of the plants and trees that I had never heard before. I would get rather bored with all those strange names but Dad and mother enjoyed it. He specialized in Caladiums which he had in many different colors. He also raised many different trees which were not native to this area. They were from all over the world and many of the exotic trees that he planted in the 1920s, are huge trees today, making a walk through jungle Larry's well worth while. He was a Doctor of Botany who came here in 1919 and died in 1929. He is probably the most forgotten man who ever came to Naples and did so much for the area. It's a shame we don't have a marker out at Caribbean Gardens in recognition of the legacy he left to Naples.

Speed Menefee boarded with us when he first came to Naples. I was one year old at the time and we were living near the beach just north of the Naples Pier. He always told me of that and seemed to think well of me. When I went to North Carolina in 1933, he waited a week so that I could ride up there with him in his 1930 2-door Chevy Sedan. He stayed at the Skyland Hotel where he was a regular summer guest. I believe a Mr. Reardon was the manager and for the several years that I was in Hendersonvilte, Speed stayed at that same Hotel. About 1936 Mr. Reardon moved to a hotel in Ashvil1e and Speed moved over there to stay at his new hotel. I lived in Ashville a little while later and Speed would come by and look me up. He was about the most attentive person one could ever know. I guess he thought I was his own son because I grew up right under his wing, sort of. He came to see me all the time. Later I worked in a service station and he'd drive over from Ashville to visit and buy gas from me. I never would have believed anybody could be so attentive to someone not related to them. He called me his adopted son. He had many good qualities, he was an artist, a great story teller, loved the women, but he always seemed to have two, not just one. Guess he believed in "safety in numbers". He was, to me, a real noble person who led a good wholesome life. He got along welt at any place with anyone at any time. He was not well when he first came to Naples; it had something to do with the Spanish-American War. He lived a long life here, however and died in 1968, 8 years after hurricane Donna demolished his home. It crumbled his guest house, left his garage leaning and damaged everything under his main house. Naples didn't have a nursing home then, so he pledged his property to the hospital in return for care in his declining years. His sister, Mrs. Todd, saw to it that the hospital was duly paid for those services, I'm sure.

After the hotel was enlarged, Mr. Crayton brought in professional people for specific management positions. He brought Mr. Robert Fohl down from Indianapolis to be head greens keeper for the golf course and maintain the hotel grounds. He brought Mr. Shultz here, from a big hotel in Ft. Myers, to be chef for the hotel. Because Mr. Shultz was a close friend of Mr. Edison, who wintered 10 Ft. Myers, he frequently would drive to Naples in a Model- T Ford and his family would follow in a chauffeur driven car, to have Sunday dinner at the hotel and visit with Mr. Shultz. I talked to Mr. Shultz in the early 1950s when he was still the chef at the hotel. He owned property next to the Surf Apartments, that I owned at the time, and he wanted to sell his property for S3 ,900 What an investment that would have been!

John Hachmeister was quite a guy. He lived practically next door to us. There was the original schoolhouse in between, but his house was next to that and he called it "Hack's Shack". He used Cabbage Palm posts for his carport like shed in front. There were no cars kept in it , but the Woodpeckers made their nests in the posts. I'll never forget that. He was always quite the man-about-town and certainly one of Naples most memorable characters. William J. Pulling, John Pulling's dad, was one of the six people that came to Naples first in 1912 to stay for a month at Palm Cottage and wound up spending winters here for the rest of their lives. The others were George M. Hendrie, Charles H. Price, David Gilhe, John Hachmeister and Walter O. Parmer. They were all interested in the entire social life of the community and were active in fishing, golfing and having cocktail parties. As time went on many others came to Naples winter after winter but the original six that first came here in 1912 formed the nucleus of the social life here up until W.W. II. They all fitted right in and thoroughly enjoyed their stay in Naples. Of course I was much too young to be part of those goings on. I don't remember that Mr. Parmer was as outgoing as Speed Menefee, Jack Hachmeister or some of the others, but he was here every winter and owned Palm Cottage. For years he had the same colored couple who came down from Nashvilte each winter and lived in the little guest house in back of Palm Cottage. They were a very nice couple as were nearly all of the servants who came down with families like the Hendries. McKays (who lived just east of Palm Cottage) and the Haldemans. They were top notch black people that one would consider middle class citizens. I used to look forward to seeing them at the Post Office, where I helped sort the mail and empty bags, when I was a kid and before I was old enough to work in the store. In Nashville Mr. Parmer was a very prominent person who owned a mansion and had a school named for him. The mansion later became a museum and the school was in existence for a long time until it burned down. It is remarkable that both his home in Nashville and in Naples have become museums. There is a golfing trophy. in the den room of Palm Cottage, that was presented to him by his old friend Mr. W. J. Pulling in 1928. What makes it so unique is that it is the only item in Palm Cottage that was here when the Parmers lived there. It was given back to the Historical Society by a lady in Nashville who had learned that Palm Cottage had been purchased by the C.C.H.S.

My mother worked for the Bruce Haldemans as a seamstress and took care of their children. The Haldemans brought her down here one winter and that's how she met my Dad. He was the skipper of the Bon Temps at the time and brought them down from Ft. Myers. Sometime later they were married in the Bruce Haldeman home on April 22, 1902. The Bruce Haldeman house is the oldest residence in Naples and is on the beach just south of the pier. It was originally built for General Wlliams.

Palm Cottage, Naples second oldest residence, has a very interesting history. It was built about 1895 out of tabbie mortar by Walter N, Haldeman as a winter home for his good friend and distinguished editor Henry Watterson, In 1916 it was sold to Walter O. Parmer who spent his winters there until he died in the early 1930s, From then until 1944 it was owned by two Canadians, George M. Hendrie and David S. Gillies, After their deaths it was purchased by Alexandra and Laurance Brown who lived there until they passed away. The Historical Society purchased the property from their estate in 1979 and has completely restored the property to it's original grandeur, so as you can see it did not go through too many hands, Palm Cottage was rented to several different people, Mrs. Day rented it for use as 8 boarding house before she built her own building, the Royal Palms Lodge. When Mrs. Day rented it a number of the school teachers stayed with her. Among them were Leila Bryant Canant, Inez Hall, Lucille Buckles and Stella Carroll who was Secretary to Mr. Hartley. Before Mrs. Day rented it, the Homer Klays lived there. Mr. Klay was an electrician who worked for my Dad in the early days of the power plant. Homer Klay Jr. was my age and we used to go hunting and fishing together.

Later on several of the teachers rented the Bowling House on 10th Avenue and 3rd Street South. The engineers who were building the Tamiami Trail also lived in the Bowling House at one time, Later Bob Wilson, Rudy Rudisell and Shortie Basket, who married Ernie Carroll's sister Hilda also lived there. In 1920 the house now owned by Martha Kinkaid, now the third house on the beach north of the pier. was moved to that location and enlarged. Mrs. Louise Ramsey bought it in 1922, I saw the abstract that Mrs. Kinkaid has. That house was moved in the spring after the Bruce Haldemans went up to Kentucky. We moved over into the Haldeman house where the very first work I did was pulling weeds along the walk for ten cents an hour. We lived there four summers and in the fall, when the Haldemans came back down we moved back to our house on Broad A venue South Mom used to can about 100 quarts of guava jelly for Mrs. Haldeman. They had a regular guava grove in their back yard, next to 13th Avenue South. They had at least 15 trees that produced bog yellow tart guavas that were ideal for jelly. You don't see that type of guava around any more because the salt and cold weather got most of them.

After my mother stopped working for the Haldemans, Henry. Doris and Mrs. Earnshaw. along with Mr. Earnshaw. looked after the place for a good many summers, I would guess about 4 summers. In the meantime my older brother and I did what little weeding was done along the shell walks and I used to sweep the dust off the porches that ran parallel to the long building The Bruce Haldemans were always our friends but after they sold their interests here, Dad went to work for Mr. Crayton and Mr. Jones. A Mr. McDonald was the bookkeeper for the store and Miss Tudor was the telephone operator in the winter months. Their offices were upstairs above the store. None of us worked for the Haldemans, Mr. Crayton, or anyone else after Dad went to work full time with the Post Office. A big improvement was made in Naples in the early 1930s, they started paving the roads. I was away at the University of Florida in 1930 &. 1931 then both my older brother and I were away in 1933. I last talked to Mr. Crayton in january 1931. he died in 1938.

Now going back in time, I can remember when, as a lad of about 14, I had dinner at the Franklin Arms Hotel in Ft. Myers with Mr. Hartley and Mr. Cambier. I used to drive them there in the Model T Ford owned by the Naples Company so they could transact business at the Courthouse. If we had to spend the night, they would stay at the Franklin Arms and I'd go down to the River View Inn, where Mom always stayed, because we knew the people who ran the place. After the Courthouse was built in Everglades I'd also drive them there. We had to drive to Carnestown in the Model T, then take a little flanged-wheel Model T on the railroad track to Port Dupont and then take a ferry down the Barron River, to get to the Courthouse, a rather time consuming process, until the road from Carnes town to Everglades was finished in 1928. If we had to stay overnight we'd stay at the Everglades Inn. a two story building with a drug store and dining room on the first floor. They seemed to enjoy having me along so anytime they needed someone to drive, they always called on me. Sometimes I got to drive an old Buick with a shift that was just the reverse of a standard shift.

The first time l drove a Model T Ford, Captain Bill Collier came up from Marco and wanted somebody to show him where the shell mound was up north of Naples, near Doctor's Pass. He was trying to get an idea what shell was available and what the county could do to get shell for paving some of it's streets. We drove as far as we felt it was safe then walked down the road to the mound. The procedure they were using was to dig the shell with shovels and wheel barrows then move it out to trucks that hauled it to Naples for paving roads. After Captain Collier finished his survey we walked back to the car and he said, "Here you drive". I told him OK but I don't know if I can because I have never driven before. He said, "I'II show you how". He showed me how to backup, turn around in the sand, and drive on the road so that was my first driving lesson. Of course everyone was eager to learn to drive at that time. It wasn't long before my Dad had a Model T Ford which I think was the first automobile based here. He bought it from Mr. Haldeman and each year when he came down. he'd rent it back from Dad and get Bud Kirkland to take him bird hunting.

At first my Dad lived in Coquina Cottage. at II th A venue and the beach. which was originally Captain Large's home. He was the boat captain for the company. before my Dad took over, and had also been the captain of the Fearless, a large steamer that ran from Punta Gorda to Naples before the railroad came to Fort Myers. Once supplies were available at Fort Myers the company could replace the large steamer with a much smaller boat for the short run to Naples. Mom and Dad lived in the Captain Large house when my two older brothers were born. They then moved to the house at the pier about 1908. At that time the Post Office was connected to it, but later the Post Office was moved to the foot of the pier.

When Mr. Kelly thought about moving from North Carolina to Naples, to work for the Naples Company, he came out to the service station where I was working to talk with me about Naples and kind of get a feeling about the place before he came down here. Everyone in Hendersonville, N.C. liked the Kelly's but Mrs. Kelley didn't like the idea of all the mosquitoes in Naples. I later saw him here at Naples at Christmas. a time or two, when I came down to visit the folks. He was here two or three years during WW II.

I returned to Naples in 1936 and 1937 to work for Mr. Jack Prince at the Gulf Station at 10th Street and the Tamiami Trail. In 1942 the Army Air Force built the airport in East Naples, as an annex to Buckingham Field near Ft. Myers. and us_d it as a training base for gunners before they were sent overseas--. Sleeves were towed behind planes from Naples for gunners flying in B-24 aircraft out of Buckingham. Lt. Co1. Harrison Thyng was the first Base Commander here. After the war the airport became the Naples Airport and has been a great asset to the greater Naples area.

At first the hotel had an old steam power plant located between the hotel and the store. Slabs of wood from a saw mill, out about where High Point Country Club is today, were used for fuel. Mr. Agner ran the saw mill and sawed the local pine lumber for nearly every house in Naples that was built in those days, making fuel for the power plant was a by-product of that operation. The piling for the rebuilding of the pier after the 1910 hurricane I was also logged locally. Those slabs, about 4 feet long were piled up about 6 feet high in four or five tiers clear out to Broad Avenue South and used to fire the old steam boiler that ran the generator and compressor for the ice making equipment. The big old flywheels for that steam engine must have been 12 feet in diameter. It was huge equipment with the cylinder laying down flat. As you can see, getting wood for that old steam power plant was a big logistical problem, so when the hotel was enlarged it was necessary to bring in more modern equipment.

The new power &. ice plant was built between 5th and 6th streets, the Fairbanks-Morse Company sent Mr. Francis Kerney down here for the purpose of supervising the construction and teaching local people to run this rather advanced equipment. The building was designed and built especially for Naples and Mr. Kerney stayed on for two years after the plant was in operation to train my Dad to run the plant. After that Dad became the chief engineer and operated the plant. Later as the community grew, the Post Office needed Dad's full attention, not just part time, so the Naples Company sold the plant to Florida Power and Light Company and a Mr. Best was sent over from Miami to run the plant for a few months until Mr. A. E. Canant became chief engineer in 1930. Others who worked at the plant were Hilton Peers. Mr. Crow, Ossie Jones, Bert Williams, Jessie Jones and Mr. Ed "Pop" WambIe.

Originally the garage and dormitory for the help were South on 13th Avenue South. This was all built before the swimming pool and the pump house. Later the dormitory was moved up front on Gordon Drive and rebuilt into an Inn. The Naples Inn that was run by Mrs. J E. Foxworthy from Ft. I'Myers. It was a nice little Inn that was used for a long time. It also served as a hotel in the summer time when the Old Naples Hotel was closed. You I can still see the sidewalk that led to the front entrance. When Red Ferrel I tore it down in 1957 I bought some of the 2" X 10" planks from it to build an outside stairway to reach the patio roof of my Surf Apartments. This was required to meet the new fire regulations that required stairs at both ends of the building. In front I had concrete stairs so at the back I built them from this fine old Florida Hard Pine and they are still there exposed to all the weather. When I remodeled our house at 165 Broad Avenue South, the battens on the back side were 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick with bark on the outside that I could rip off and see where the termites had eaten into the bark but the pine under the bark was as sound as ever. I didn't replace it because the nails held tight and it was almost impossible to get the slats off. After all these years that wall is as sound and tight as ever because the termites just couldn't do much with it.

In addition to termites we have another kind of borer that gets into oak flooring, doors casings and desks. When I was working for the Wilson, Miller Co. at their old location and we moved out to Airport Road I took my old desk with me. Before long I noticed a little pile of sawdust on the desk. I watched that closely and could see a tiny hole appear. The next day there was about twice as much sawdust and then you could feel a soft spot where they had eaten underneath the surface. I kept that desk and used it for 6 or 8 years longer before I retired. I had one of those little wooden rulers, in the desk, that I occasionally used to draw straight lines and one day I noticed a hole in it. I took my knife and dug around the hole and found a little worm. a regular borer. not a terrestrial termite that comes from the ground up.

I have talked about the Jones house and the Fred Mostller house that was on the beach. I know the Mandalay Cottage was built for the Mostellers. I think that name was given it by Mr. Jones after they came here in 1919. They remodeled the house, put a circular driveway around the front of Coquina Cottage and into their front yard. They filled the drive with shell from the beach, but it wasn't a practial idea because the storms washed it away. Several years ago there was an article in a local paper about Naples and the school. Mrs. Mosteller sent me a picture of a whole group of kids in front of the school house that used to be right neIt door to us. Included in the picture were Elmer and Wilmer Weeks, Minnie Weeks, Preston Tuttle, Francis Stewart and l. That was the first year that I went to school. There were about IS students in the picture. Ruth Williams and I couldn't identify all the kids that were in the picture but we think her brother Bert was one. I showed it to Anna Lee Williams McSwain and she was able to name off everyone in the picture. I'll have to get her to identify them again for me.

My father, who came from Preston England as a young lad in 1900, certainly made a lasting impression on Naples. There now have been five generations of Stewarts who have lived here, the youngest of whom is just 9 months old.

Provided by the Naples Historical Society
For more information: 239-261-8164.