General John S. Williams and Mr. Walter N. Haldeman sailed through Gordon Pass into a beautiful expanse of water which General Williams is credited with naming, along with the town to be, after the Bay of Naples in Italy. Heading a group of families from Kentucky and Ohio, the two men formed the Naples Town Improvement Company in 1886.
As access was only by water, the Naples Pier was constructed in 1889, as was the magnificent wood frame Naples Hotel with its long porch facing the sea. Some of the original cottages of Old Naples, including Palm Cottage, now the home of The Naples Historical Society, were built around it. A shell road was completed between Naples and Fort Meyers in 1918. By 1919, the Mercantile Building, which still anchors Swan Court and now houses Campiello’s Restaurant, had become The Seminole Market with the Western Union Office upstairs. By the 1920’s, the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) connecting Miami, Naples, and Tampa was completed and opened the West Coast. Over the years, The Naples Hotel became well known and visited by numerous celebrities including Gary Cooper, Daphne du Maurier (the author of Rebecca and other novels), Thomas Edison, and many more.
After World War II, the graceful growth of Third Street South began under the influence of businessman and philanthropist Junkie Fleischmann and his wife, Dorette. Charmed by an area where black tie was not the norm every night, their first purchase was The Mercantile Building, which they transformed into a shop called The Antique Addict and filled with porcelains and furniture collected on their worldwide travels, most of which were connected to assignments for the U.S. government. The next project was the now entirely renovated building where Sea Salt has opened, but for over 50 years it was the home of Mark, Fore, and Strike which the Fleischmanns knew from Chatham, Massachusetts where they had a summer house. They added the current Tommy Bahama building for a New York decorator, Greenwich House, whom they encouraged to come, as they did Gattles. In addition to a myriad of business and governmental pursuits, their interests included producing plays on Broadway, publishing, the Metropolitan Opera, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, collecting, music and other arts. As a result, Naples again saw well known faces among their houseguests. Among them were Hedy Lamar, Gertrude Lawrence and Richard Aldrich, George Montgomery and Lawrence Tibbet who, with his wife Jane, lived in a house nearby. There were many others, and the word of mouth about the attractively glamorous life in Naples spread.
Simultaneously, Junkie and Dorette Fleischmann created Caribbean Gardens. To the entirely overrun and depleted acres that had belonged to Henry Nehrling, they added much more land, created habitats, peaceful winding pathways, an inspiring Orchid Cathedral, and serene lakes. They imported hundreds of exotic plants, birds, and unlikely animals so that Caribbean Gardens became both a research center and an eco-tourist destination - before that phrase was invented. The Easter Sunrise services held in Caribbean Garden were ecumenical and became a community tradition. Artists were commissioned to paint the birds, flowers and fauna, and limited editions prints were made in The Netherlands from the original paintings, some of which are now in museums. On the lighter side, The Duck Vaudeville, an extraordinary show starring Daisy, the Piano-Playing Duck performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and travelled to Paris to perform with Leslie Caron. After Junkie Fleischmann’s untimely death in 1968, the location was leased to Jungle Larry’s Safari Land, owned by Larry and Jane Tetzlaff, and is now The Naples Zoo. The Tetzlaff family has been strong advocates of conservation and animal care since they arrived.
Ultimately, Junkie and Dorette Fleischmann built more buildings on Third Street, often helping to start galleries and other small businesses which helped create the community of Old Naples. His widow continued their vision after her husband’s death, and their daughter continues it today. Others built as well, contributing greatly to the area, and shop owners filled the stores with the attractive clothes, decorations, antiques, art and the other earthly delights that have always drawn people to shop and dine on Third Street South. Restaurants came, starting with Tony Ridgway whose Ridgway’s Bar and Grill is in the same location as his first restaurant on Third Street, Chef’s Garden, was over thirty years ago. Now, the many restaurants, cafes, bistros, and pubs are all recognized, including nationally, for excellent food and superb wines, and provide endless pleasure.
Today, Third Street South, the Birthplace of Old Naples, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and nearly uniquely among resorts in the United States, has retained many of the original structures. Most importantly, the grace and charm that brought the first settlers here continues to draw their descendants and all the others who have since found this unforgettable place. The glamour and good times continue.