Southern Boating

Historic Naples, Florida

Gordon Pass then and now.

Naples, Florida offers a bit of the old and new to visiting cruisers.

Naples, Florida, is and always has been about the water. Surrounded by the Gordon River, Naples Bay, Gordon Pass, and the Gulf of Mexico, Naples began as—and remains—a maritime haven.

Centuries before Columbus, the area we know as Naples, Florida was inhabited by the Calusa Indians. They were the earliest to harvest fish and clams from the surrounding waters. They were were canal excavators long before Spain staked claim in 1513 to what is now Florida. By the early 1700s, Seminoles became the dominant native tribe on the waterfront until the mid-1850s when they were driven inland by the U.S. Army.

After the Civil War, small numbers of farmers and squatters made their way to Southwest Florida by wagon, ox cart, and even sailboats. Naples evolved into a boating community with abundant fish and game. The bay’s beauty was thought to surpass that of the bay in Naples, Italy, hence its name. By the time the town was officially founded in 1886, Naples had already attracted investors and gained popularity as a winter resort for wealthy Northerners.

Storied Past

In the 1920s, Baron Collier (Naples is in Collier County, named for him) brought paved roads, electric power, telegraph service, and thriving business to the area. Silver screen legends Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr and Gary Cooper were frequent visitors, as were business moguls like Firestone and Edison.

Their frequent visits started a trend that established Naples’ reputation as a favorite spot for the rich and famous. Today, that rich and famous trend continues. According to the Naples Daily News, five Naples residents are on the 2017 Forbes list of billionaires. Celebrities like Bob Seger, Mike Ditka, Janet Evanovich, and Judge Judy own homes in the exclusive city.

Let’s rewind to the mid-1950s. Economic activity was centered around the tin-roofed buildings on the Gordon River, the home of Naples’ fishing industry, clam shelling and oyster processing along with boat construction and repair. As the fishing industry waned, this “tin city” was repurposed in the 1970s as The Old Marine Marketplace. It featured shops and restaurants. Current-day Tin City retains Old Florida charm with unique shops, rental boats, and water-based tours like the Double Sunshine and the Naples Princess.

Everything Old is Old Again

In a testament to Naples’ desire to keep the old Florida feel, Kelly’s Fish House, in business since 1953, still serves up seafood like Florida red grouper and Apalachicola oysters just across the river from Tin City. The Naples City Council has turned down developer requests to raze Kelly’s and make way for a large underground parking garage topped with shops, modern restaurants, and condos, maintaining this historic treasure and local favorite—for now.