Historic Preservation Underway at Smith Exhibition Hall

The Naples Historical Society will create 1,000-square-feet of new exhibit space and an exterior pathway featuring “history stations"

Mary Smith, left, longtime society board member and supporter, and Elaine Reed, president and CEO of the Naples Historical Society, stand on 12th Avenue South amid the greenery that will stay because the society has purchased the neighboring house to its Palm Cottage. Ndn 20211130 Mary Smith Palm Cottage 0050
Mary Smith and Elaine Reed. Photo © Caitlyn Jordan – USA Today Network

The future is bright for the Naples Historical Society’s Historic Palm Cottage since the next-door property was purchased to protect the street’s character and expand historical exhibits.

The society purchased the 1,530-square-foot, ranch-style home at 163 Twelfth Avenue South and its 1935 guest cottage after owner Bill Darragh offered the nonprofit a right of first refusal to purchase the spread for $4.2 million in March 2021. Since then, the society has raised more than $3.7 million toward the project. Supporters Stephen B. and Mary S. Smith—chair emeritus of the society’s board of directors—provided a $1 million matching grant. The society has raised more than $3.7 million during the past year and is selling inscribed brick pavers ($300) to extinguish the mortgage and fund $300,000 in redevelopment costs. The plan is to create 1,000-square-feet of new exhibits in the new house—Smith Exhibit Hall—and an exterior pathway (made with the bricks) featuring “history stations” chronicling Naples’ history and the decades-old fruit trees gracing the property.

Society Chief Executive Officer Elaine Reed is thrilled that residents have come together to prevent the development of a dominating mansion on the adjacent property. “It is rare for a homeowner to buy an expensive parcel of land and not want to have their dream house built on it. That’s the challenge of historic rehabilitation in Naples,” she says. “This project is a true community opportunity, a life-time legacy.” The project is expected to be completed by fall 2023. 

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