Compared to the first European explorers in these parts (namely the ambitious explorer Ponce de León on his quest for the Fountain of Youth), the guys on the Mayflower got red-carpet treatment! First of all, one of these signs would have been handy. Second, the only way a Conquistador got invited to the table was if he was the main course. OK, that might not be entirely as it happened, but historians insist that the native people inhabiting Naples and Southwest Florida, the Calusa, practiced human sacrifice on captives and most likely weren’t above cannibalism. (And no, that has nothing to do with cranberry sauce…)
The Calusa were not a friendly people as their other name, the Shell People, would imply. In fact, they were regarded as fierce warriors on land as well as sea. They met de León and his men well before they made shore in 1513, attacking with a fleet of 80 canoes and forcing his withdrawal. Instead of the Fountain of Youth, some believe de León eventually met his early demise at the hands of the Calusa.
In the earlier days, the tribe plundered gold from Spanish shipwrecks throughout the Keys, and during the two centuries since they acquired notoriety as pirates, turning into a sort of conquerors themselves by raiding all non-Spanish ships (by then they made friends) and murdering all aboard without mercy and, of course, stealing gold and booty and such.
Find your own Fountain of Youth on the tranquil, sandy shores of Naples and Vanderbilt Beach, and if you’re curious about the transformation of the Paradise Coast from the wild, wild west coast to the luxury playground it is today, fascinating facts are yours to discover at:
This is the flagship museum of Naples on 5 acres of native Florida landscaping. Here you’ll learn the story of “a self-made multi-millionaire who dreamed of taming a wilderness swampland the size of Delaware. Along the way, we’ll introduce you to the hardy and colorful folk – the cattlemen, clam diggers, trail blazers, plume hunters, hermits, loggers, railroaders, rum runners, Crackers and Indian traders – who wrote the pioneer history of Collier County.”
Take time out to explore the native gardens, restored Naples cottages, the archaeology lab, Seminole village, and Calusa Indian camp.
Coming in January and running through March 31 is ArtCalusa, an exhibition featuring Florida’s leading historical artists and their research-based depictions of historical events and themes. ArtCalusa is presented in conjunction with the Viva Florida 500 commemoration.
3331 Tamiami Trail E Hours: Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Naples, FL Closed National and County Holidays
March 7 & 8, 2015
Every March, Collier County Museum is host to the Old Florida Festival, a weekend-long family-friendly event. Witness living history as 100 of the state’s finest historical reenactors and craftworkers recreate over 10 centuries of everyday life on the Southwest Florida frontier. Spend a day in the past with a Calusa Indian, a Seminole Indian family, British redcoats, a Civil War soldier, a Cracker cattleman, a Spanish Conquistador in authentic armor, and dozens of other costumed time-travelers at the Old Florida Festival.
Experience blacksmith, soap maker, telegraph operator, flintknapper, basket weaver and other craftworkers, along with 1800s-style music and entertainment, cannon and musket firing, a Seminole War skirmish, and authentic military drills by soldiers from the American Revolution to World War II. Artists, settlers, and traders will also offer handmade gifts, toys and craft items for your homestead, as well as kettle corn, old-fashioned candy, Southern barbeque, and other traditional treats.
The Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is located in downtown Immokalee, a scenic 44-mile drive east of Naples.
1215 Roberts Ave. Hours: Monday – Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Immokalee, FL Closed National and County Holidays
Here you can check out the famous Key Marco Cat, easily one of the greatest archaeological finds in North America. Among others, the cat (most likely a panther) is an intriguing example of the art produced by the Calusa and their Paleo-Indian ancestors. The small artifact appears to have been dipped in animal (HUMAN??) fat as a preservative.
The culture, long since vanished, comes back to life through a recreated village scene. The island’s early history as a fishing village, pineapple plantation, and clam cannery are also explored.
180 S. Heathwood Dr. Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Marco Island, FL Closed on National and County Holidays
Everglades City, gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands, is home to this unique museum housed in a pre-Depression era commercial laundry. This backwater trading post was once only accessible by boat.
Faithfully restored to its original, 1920s Collier-era appearance, the museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is located 35 miles east of downtown Naples.
You will enjoy an in-depth look at more than 2,000 years of human history in the area and the story of “those adventurous enough – and stubborn enough – to settle” South Florida’s lush “River of Grass.”
105 W. Broadway Hours: Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Everglades City, FL Closed on National and County Holidays
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this museum is a restored Seaboard Air Line Railway passenger station in downtown Naples and a favorite with the kiddos.
Naples Depot Museum will take you back to the “railroading boom days of the Roaring Twenties” and lead you through the conquest of a “vast and seemingly impenetrable frontier. Seminole dugout canoes, a mule wagon, antique swamp buggy, restored rail cars and exciting interactive exhibits tell the story of how trade and travel transformed Naples from a napping village of 300 souls into today’s glittering Gulf coast resort.”
Also located on site is the Naples Train Museum, featuring a train ride for children and an interactive model layout.
1051 5th Ave S Hours: Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.