THE OLDE NAPLES PIER
By Nancy Webster, Naples Historical Society Docent
First came the hotel, and then the pier.
In January, 1888, there was no pier. The Naples Company found and purchased the fastest steamship on the coast: Captain Merritt's "Fearless". This ship, which ran from Punta Gorda to Naples, entered through Gordon's Pass, up into the Bay of Naples, according to the Company's promotional brochure. However, in low tide, passengers had to be shuttled ashore by "lighters" out in the Gulf, which featured troublesome sandbars (and some rock'n'roll).
Thus, a construction contract was let to Captain James Canty in Ft. Myers in June, 1888, for a 600-foot T-shaped wharf in 18 feet deep water on the Gulf side, facing the hotel. Pilings and timbers were off-loaded in the surf and towed ashore.
When the hotel opened in January, 1889, the wooden pier had just been completed. It was the place for passengers, freight, and fishing. The post office was located at the foot of the pier (where it stayed until 1922, when an accidental cigarette fire destroyed the building and part of the pier). A combination boardwalk and tramway fitted with rails extended from the foot of the pier, along Pier Street (now called Twelfth Avenue South), to the hotel. A cart could easily roll materials and luggage, but children loved getting on for a push. By 1909, a bathhouse and changing rooms were available; freight lifts had also been added. Then, the unwelcome guests arrived!
- The hurricane of 1910...it almost destroyed the pier, and kept the hotel from opening in 1911. It was rebuilt 100 feet longer, with two wings forming a "V".
- The 1926 hurricane severely damaged the pier and pushed saltwater into all the cisterns and wells, according to Mr. Haldeman's daughter. It also delayed the building of the Tamiami Trail.
- In 1935, there was a Labor Day hurricane;
- But, it was the hurricane of 1944 which caused the pier to be completely rebuilt to studier standards (100 feet longer in 22 feet of water). It was a recreation pier now, with dancing, fishing, and sunset-viewing paramount.
- Hurricane Donna rolled over Naples in 1960, and the pier collapsed in Level 5 winds and water. It was the death of the hotel. Philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Lester Norris paid some $130,000 to rebuild the pier rather than add the cost to the tax rolls. Ten months later, the pier was back...still the heart of Naples.
Call the Naples Historical Society for more information: 239-261-8164.
The Founding of Naples, Jamro and Lanterman; Florida's Last Frontier, C.Tebeau;
Naples, Frazer; When Peacocks Were Roaster, Reynolds; Naples Company Promotional Brochure, 1888; Historic Naples, Behrens; Naples Historical Society, "The Timepiece", Vol.XI,#3;