When most people come to visit Southwest Florida, they first think about the beach, the sunny weather, and the rugged wilderness of the Everglades. However, few tend to consider the unique and valuable history that helped to shape Florida, especially Southwest Florida into what it is today.
If you look carefully, you can find lovely, well-preserved and artifact-rich museums and historical sites all throughout Naples and Southwest Florida.
One of the prime examples of these is the Collier County Museum. Located off of Tamiami Trail East in the Collier County Government Plaza, the Collier County Museum houses exhibits that help to retell Southwest Florida’s colorful, diverse, yet complex history.
Self-guided and Free!
The museum itself is self-guided and free of charge. The exhibits are very easy to follow, as all artifacts are grouped together according to chronological order in the history of Collier County, Naples’ home county and a region that is in the heart of the region of Southwest Florida.
Your self-guided tour of the museum first begins with Florida’s natural history and Southwest Florida’s pre-historic past. You will learn how the Florida peninsula emerged from the water to become the land-mass it is today, and see some of the fossils of pre-historic animals that once roamed Southwest Florida.
Examples of fossils you will see on display include a mammoth’s tooth, a rhinoceros toe bone, giant ground sloth teeth, giant land tortoise strut, a fragment of a mastodon’s tusk, the intact skull of a sabre tooth cat, and remnants of alligators, crocodiles, dire wolves, and deer from the same time period. All artifacts in this exhibit were found either in Naples or in the surrounding towns within Collier County.
The next exhibit is a look at Pre-Columbian Southwest Florida, in particular, the civilization of this region’s most important Native American tribe, the Calusa.
Presented in excellent written detail, along with artifacts and artfully created replicas of ceremonial Calusa spirit animal carvings like the famous Marco Cat, this exhibit with these elements work together perfectly to help piece together for the visitor how this elusive yet important civilization thrived.
La Florida exhibit
This exhibit bleeds in slightly with the one on La Florida, which shows how to demonstrate how the Spanish transformed Florida into a colony and how they tried to use the Calusa and the land to their commercial advantage.
You will get to see some of the weapons the Spaniards used to subjugate the Calusa, in addition to artifacts related to the trade and maritime activities the Spaniards carried out while Florida was a part of their colonial empire.
BONUS TIP: Before you leave the La Florida exhibit, be sure to check out the small archeology display. Here, you will find an interactive display with authentic artifacts found in Southwest Florida from every period in its history.
The next exhibits are related to the Seminoles, a Native American tribe that has had a significant impact on Florida’s history since the 18th century.
In this section, you will see artifacts, and very in-depth descriptions about the origins of the Seminoles, their sociological structure, cultural traditions, their impact on Southwest Florida’s development and society in the past and present, their art, and also their political impact, through the Seminole Wars.
You will learn about all three Seminole Wars, in particular Southwest Florida’s involvement in these wars, through descriptions and artifacts from this period.
Home on the Frontier exhibit
This exhibit soon shifts and also collides into one called Home on the Frontier. In this exhibit, you will learn how the earliest pioneers to Florida lived their lives and worked to make a living. The reason why this exhibit and the Seminole one intertwine is because early settlers often traded with Seminoles, or worked side-by-side with them.
This exhibit is probably the most expansive, because this led to much of the urbanization and modern development that led to modern-day Naples and the rest of Southwest Florida. You will not only see artifacts from the pioneer days in Southwest Florida, but also see replicas, creative displays detailing pioneer life, and very focused exhibits that intertwine with this one.
Arrival of Barron G. Collier
You will learn how the Tamiami Trail was constructed, about the clamming industry, the early cities established and how they grew into the ones we know of today, the arrival of Barron G. Collier, and the logging industry in Big Cypress and the oil industry that was there. Your visit to the exhibit area will end with a peek of what life was like in Collier County during WWII, and the films that were produced in the area.
Outdoor exhibit and artifacts
However, once you are done visiting the exhibit area of the museum, don’t forget to outside behind the museum. There, you will see a collection of replicated buildings representing Southwest Florida’s past, large artifacts from Naples’ past like a boat used by the Naples Hotel, a swamp buggy, and an old train.
You will also see an old cottage from the 1920s with authentic furniture, the original kitchen and nostalgic photos about Naples’ early days as a tourist destination in the 1920s, and some old biology labs that belonged to some of the earliest scientists that came to Southwest Florida in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Time: Between 30 minutes to an hour
Your tour of the Collier County Museum should take between 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon how much time you decide to spend reading all of the panel information, look at the displays and artifacts, and the outdoor section behind the museum.
The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm to the public. Be sure to look out for events and lectures held at the museum throughout the year to either co-inside or enhance your visit to Naples.
To learn more, please visit http://www.colliermuseums.com/locations/collier_museum.
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