Continued uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, including the timeline for phased openings and easing of stay-at-home orders, prevented local arts organizations and venues from committing to public events in mid-May as we compiled this issue of Naples Illustrated.
Nonetheless, beauty and history surround us along the Paradise Coast. Join NI on a mini-tour of area landmarks you can enjoy while keeping appropriate social distancing. They are as still in time as society has been the past several months—beacons for exploring the past and the present.
Located at the intersection of U.S. 41 North and Fleischmann Boulevard, the Naples Preserve presents a unique slice of roadside history. Nature enthusiasts can traverse the 9.5-acre green space, comprising pine flatwoods and oak scrub, via a free, half-mile-long boardwalk. While on your stroll, keep an eye out for gopher tortoises, a state-designated threatened species, and the National Champion myrtle oak, which stands at 41 feet tall, making it the largest documented in the United States.
The city acquired the site in 2000, following a vote by Collier County residents. Hundreds of volunteer hours went into clearing decades’ worth of trash and growth that had accumulated as the forlorn property sat unused. The on-site building, a modern gem designed by architect Donald E. Nick, was also refurbished. It’s said to have been one of the first buildings raised after Hurricane Donna ripped through the area in 1960. At first, Julius Fleischmann used it as a promotional ticket booth for the Caribbean Gardens, but it later served as the Naples Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center through the late 1980s. Today it is called the Hedges Family Eco-Center and provides information about Collier County’s natural areas, history museums, talks, and programs. The center has been closed while the pollinator garden undergoes renovation; a reopening date has not yet been announced.
Cape Romano Dome House
This crumbling complex of stilted concrete “igloos” has seen better days—but it still has a stunning visual impact. Bob Lee, a retired oil producer, built this bizarre vacation pad in 1981, at the tip of Cape Romano in the Ten Thousand Islands, south of Marco Island. In its heyday, the Dome House was an awesome example of modern eco-innovation that included a rooftop rainwater-collection system.
Through the forces of erosion, this cluster of structures became detached from the shoreline upon which they were built. They’re now surrounded by water and accessible only by boat. A private buyer purchased the property in 2001, but, according to published reports, construction costs and taxes are too prohibitive for rehabilitation. However, the shade and protection of the abandoned domes draw sea life, making them a favorite destination for not only photographers, but enthusiastic fishermen as well.
Ochopee Post Office
Did you know that the nation’s smallest post office is in our backyard? The Ochopee Post Office is only 8 feet, 4 inches by 7 feet, 3 inches. Why so tiny? It was originally built as an irrigation pipe shed but became an official post office after a fire destroyed Ochopee’s post office and general store in 1953. Located about 3 miles east of the intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 29, the post office is still operational, open on weekdays from 8 to 10 a.m. and noon to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Beneath Old Naples’ urban landscape rests the deepest man-made Native American canoe canal in Florida. Based on radiocarbon research, this mile-long, prehistoric engineering marvel is estimated to have been dug between 1200 and 1400 AD, when the area was likely under the dominion of the Calusa tribe. The canal stretched from the Gulf of Mexico, at present-day Ninth Avenue South, to the Naples Bay, ending south of Thirteenth Avenue South. The canal appreciably shortened travel time between these two bodies of water, creating a more efficient and safer route.
Although development destroyed the canal, a portion was uncovered in 2011. Its vestiges are marked at the northwest corner of Third Street South and Broad Avenue South; Naples Backyard History created the markers and trail maps that designate the area. A marker at the Third Street beach crossover at Ninth Avenue South features artist Paul Arsenault’s painting of Native Americans using the canal.
The city’s most iconic landmark is a haven for longtime locals and first-time visitors. It remained closed under phase one of the state’s reopening, although its surrounding beach reopened in May. The Naples Pier Panorama webcam has long streamed spectacular pier footage, from the sun dipping below the horizon to storms rolling ashore. A favorite subject among photographers, the pier shifts moods depending on the weather, from tranquil amid clear skies to turbulent against thundering backdrops.
Construction on the pier, which is nestled on the western end of Twelfth Avenue South, began in 1888 to service those patrons of the Naples Hotel arriving by boat. Due to the ravages of Mother Nature, it has been rebuilt several times. In 2015, it underwent a large-scale reconstruction that included replacing the weather-worn wood with durable Brazilian Ipe. When fully operational, the destination remains a public fishing pier, and visitors do not need to have their own licenses to fish from it.
Otter Mound Preserve
Otter Mound may be one of the best-kept secrets on Marco Island. Conservation Collier purchased the first part of the site in 2004, followed by a second acquisition in 2007, totaling 2.45 acres that includes only three parking spaces and no facilities. This former Calusa mound (which dates back to between 700 and 1200 AD) is named for Ernest Otter, who moved there in the 1940s. For 50-odd years, Otter gathered the large whelk shells on and around the mound to build decorative walls and terrace liners.
While Marco Island’s terrain is quite flat, steep-ish elevations exist in older neighborhoods built near Calusa shell mounds—such as this area on the southernmost tip of the island, known historically as Caxambas. Social distancing is easy to adhere to at Otter Mound Preserve, where visitors can bike or walk through trails dotted with informational signs outlining the archeological, historical, and ecological aspects of the property.