Naples authors tell the tale of the area’s most coveted neighborhood through its homes and the people who built them.
The historic home at 40 Ninth Ave. S. is recognized beyond its seldom-seen Delta Region architecture. Presumably built in 1914, it served as the longtime dwelling of Edward Gorham Wilkinson, the first “full-time” mayor of Naples, and his wife, Florence. Its spacious south lawn is indicative of an ancient canal constructed by the indigenous Calusas some 1,200 years ago.
If you’ve admired the stunning array of homes lined along Gulf Shore Boulevard and Gordon Drive, you may have wondered what the lives of those who dwell in them might be like. You are not alone.
Similar thoughts often ran through the minds of Naples couple Robert and Carole Leher, who live nearby. So they pored over buried archives and vintage photographs and conducted interviews with community members eager to share stories of the Naples they once knew. Their findings went into a handsome book, Naples Beach Homes: Cottages, Castles and the Families That Built Them. Chronicling the Port Royal area from its earliest stages of development to now, the book features some of the city’s most notable movers and shakers from past to present.
The book includes original artwork by Naples resident Paul Arsenault along with photos capturing times and places. Here are some of its highlights that bring alive the history of a special corner of Southwest Florida.
Margaret and Arnold Haynes were owners of the Beach Store, a neighborhood soda fountain and movie theater they operated from 1948 to 1973.
Wooden fixtures are synonymous with modest fishing villages like old Naples. In the 1940s, the beach comprised a 6-foot-high seawall and staircase made entirely of wood (above right). A concrete wall subsequently replaced it to better withstand summertime showers and tropical winds (above left).
The beach serves as a backyard to 4.5 miles worth of homes in Naples. Spanning from The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club to Gordon Pass, single-family homes along the Gulf range from cozy beach cottages to lavish multistory mansions. The varied styles share one commonality—a view of the tropical oasis that has beckoned decades of families and visitors.
The most unadulterated estate in Naples sits at the corner of 12th Avenue South and Gulf Shore Boulevard (above left). Walter N. Haldeman, one of Naples’ founding residents, built the Historic Palm Cottage in 1895 with tabby mortar concrete. Visitors can sample Naples as it once was with a tour of the now public property. The home (above right) once belonging to Ed Crayton, a force behind many area development projects, now houses the Palm Cottage gardens.
The first house to reside north of the Naples Pier, nicknamed “the Welkin-on-the-Gulf” by its longest inhabitant Martha McDonald, is now neighbored by two other homes. In place for more than 90 years, the historic home was routinely featured in Naples Walking Tours.
In a city blended with modern developments and natural charm, homes like the Coquina Cottage exist to maintain the essence of Old Florida. Built in 1895, it is the longest-standing private residence in Naples. The cottage’s architectural roots have survived various structural changes, keeping its simple, quaint appeal alive.
The pink home with bold teal shutters at 4348 Gordon Drive replaced a guesthouse created for the grandchildren of J. Glen Sample and his wife, Helen. Regarded as a “guiding visionary” of Port Royal, Sample commissioned architect Henry Harding to develop a series of “Bermuda Colonial”-style homes nearby, setting a sophisticated tone for the beachside neighborhood.
The first printing series of Naples Beach Homes: Cottages, Castles, and the Families That Built Them has sold out. Copies will become available for purchase again in late September at select Naples locations. Net proceeds benefit the Naples Historical Society.
A charity event takes place on the west lawn of Stella and Peter Thomas’ home at 2658 Gordon Drive. Previous owners built the house in 1948, modeling it after the Barbados dwelling of Lord Cunard of the British shipping line. The Thomases hosted many events on its spacious grounds, including those for Hodges University, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Naples Historical Society.
Sample would show Port Royal off to interested buyers aboard his 70-foot yacht (above left). As the Privateer IV glided along local waterways, prospects experienced the paradisiacal living Sample aimed to provide with the new community. The Sillman children, who spent summers in Naples in the 1940s, rode through the sand to an informal grammar school in the “Putt-Putt”—a three-wheeled vehicle with a makeshift bench seat and wooden pen (above right).