Naples Depot Museum: A Look at How Naples Came To Be

Image Credit: Collier County Museums
Image Credit: Collier County Museums

Let’s face it: Naples is a very attractive destination. It has beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife and nature with great opportunities for various water sports and outdoor activities; additionally, there is a beautiful urban city that is very tourist friendly that combines a love for nature, luxury and urbanization in one.

Maybe while you sit in your comfy chair under your beach umbrella facing the beach, you have started to think, “how did Naples become such a rich, beautiful, tourist friendly city?” Well, there is a museum in Naples that you can visit that can answer this question for you. It’s called the Naples Depot, located off of 5th Avenue South, which used to be the old train station.

Now a museum connected to the Collier County Museum system, the Naples Depot contains exhibits with artifacts, displays and written information that not only tell the story of how the railroad system transformed Naples, but also of how Naples transformed into the luxurious, fun, urbanized tourist friendly destination it is today. This article will go over what you can see at the Naples Depot and why it just might help you to answer that question that has been rolling around in your head: “how did Naples come to be?”

Like the Collier County Museum, the Naples Depot’s exhibits are self-guided and free to the public. When visitors first enter, they get to see the old ticket booth and departure/arrival schedule posted as it would have looked when the Naples Depot was still a train station.

From there, visitors walk down a corridor towards the old colored waiting room, which now contains dioramas, written information and artifacts that help to tell the story of the origins of the Naples Depot, the influence of African American workers and passengers on the railroad system, and the origins of the railway system in Southwest Florida. If visitors continue exploring the exhibits on their right, they will find entrance into the former station master’s office. In this room, visitors can see artifacts and written information about the Naples Depot and its railroad during its prime. Here you will get to learn more about the Orange Blossom Special and the other lines that came into the Naples Depot through simple artifacts like silver ware, china and menus used for the Orange Blossom Special’s dining service, bits and pieces of old uniforms and other memorabilia.

Once visitors exit the former station master’s office and the old colored waiting room to continue through the corridor on the left side of the room, they will enter another gallery that contains artifacts, models and written information that briefly overviews Southwest Florida’s colorful past. You will learn about Southwest Florida’s pre-historic history, a brief background on the Calusa who once inhabited this region of Florida, the life and civilization of the Seminole Indians, and also about the experiences of the earliest settlers to this area in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This exhibit helps to put into perspective how the railroad and the Naples Depot dramatically changed life for those living in Southwest Florida, especially in Naples. Before the Naples Depot, most of the people who lived out in Southwest Florida lived off the land via hunting and fishing. They lived a simple, rural lifestyle, far away from the bustling, urbanized, technically advancing world that was erupting in more developed areas of the United States.

This began to change in the 1920s when land in Florida was opened up to investors, shareholders, and settlers to purchase land. This was part of the famed “land boom,” which brought investors like the founder of Naples Depot, Solomon Davis Wayfield, who was a businessman from Baltimore and many others who saw the potential for Naples to become a prime winter resort for tourists. In order to attract visitors, Wayfield and fellow investors who purchased land and started business combined their efforts. For example, Wayfield made an agreement with the owners of the Naples Beach Hotel to have those who took the train to stay at that hotel. A taxi service soon showed up, and many other businesses appeared which helped to attract tourists and bring economic prosperity, development and rapid urbanization to Naples.

The exhibits in the freight room go into more detail as to how the Naples Depot led to this rapid economic boom. Visitors will have a chance in this part of the exhibit to learn about the major players apart from Wayfield in this effort, and also see some of the artifacts that participated in this effort. This includes a Model T Ford that belonged to one of these local tycoons, the Naples taxi service, golfing gear and other items from the Naples Hotel, and a 1957 Chevy.

The last exhibit at the Naples Depot features an art exhibit by local artists. Right now, they are showcasing the art of Kevin O’Brian called “Through My Eyes.” Once you are done exploring the exhibits, be sure to explore the trains displayed outside.

The Naples Depot is opened Monday through Saturday 9 am to 4 pm, with the exception of national holidays. Please check the museum for upcoming events and changing exhibits. To learn more, please visit http://www.colliermuseums.com/locations/naples_depot.

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