In 1890, you could have bought the entire town of Naples for $50,000. But the stripped down model included only a scattering of homes around the pier and a 16-room hotel. What would eventually become the City of Naples got its start in 1886 when 10 land speculators gathered in Tallahassee to form the Naples Town Improvement Company. The investors hoped to capitalize on Florida’s reputation at the time as the “Italy of America.”
The company sold 1,500 lots in its first year, mostly to distant customers, according to the book “The Founding of Naples,” by Ron Jamro and Gerald L. Lanterman. Among the group that got inolved in the deals were several Kentuckians, including the publisher of the Louisville Courier Journal.
The company bought a steamership in 1888 to ferry tourists and retain contact with the outside world and opened a post office to serve the dozen winter residences. Two years later, nearly all of Naples had come under the control of Walter Haldeman, who led development of the town until his death in 1912.
In 1914, the Naples Improvement Company, headed by Edward W. Crayton, bought the property and continued development, but most of it didn’t occur until after World War II.
Naples residents would have to wait until 1925 for the town to be incorporated – two years after Collier County became Florida’s 62nd county. Local legend says that first mayor Speed Menefee served less than an hour, resigning before the end of the first Town Council meeting in the offices of the Naples Improvement Company.
In early 1926, the council approved its first tax roll of $170,000 and a budget of $8,500, according to a 1961 history of Naples by Charlton W. Tebeau. Council member E.W. Crayton lent the city $375 to pay the salary of the town marshal for a few months. That year, a railroad line reached Naples for the first time.
Sixty years later, city budgets have extended several more digits. City Council now works with a $60 million budget, which includes $20 million in financing for expansion and improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Tax rolls top $4 billion.
Construction of the current City Hall building at 735 Eighth St. S. began in 1978 and was completed about two years later. It replaced a building on the same site built in 1940. The $1.5 million structure and a new police station were financed with a $2.1 million federal public works grant. City Hall got a new roof in 1989 and new carpeting on the first floor in 1992.
The city provides police and fire protection through a single department, the result of a merger last year designed to save administrative costs and improve coordination of public safety service. Naples also provides water and sewer service, parks and recreation and trash collection.