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Before the period of European colonization, the indigenous Calusa lived in Florida (including the region of present-day Naples) for thousands of years, from Charlotte Harbor to Cape Sable. In 1513, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Lean explored the region and encountered the Calusa, who resisted attempts by de Lean to establish a Spanish colony in Florida. This initiated nearly two hundred years of conflict between the Spanish and the Calusa. In the early 18th century, following slave raids from Muscogee and Yamasee raiders allied with European settlers in Carolina, the majority of the remaining Calusa moved south and east to escape the raids.
The city of Naples was founded in 1886 by former Confederate general and Kentucky U.S. Senator John Stuart Williams and his partner, Louisville businessman Walter N. Haldeman, the publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, magazine and newspaper stories telling of the area’s mild climate and abundant fish likened it to the sunny Italian peninsula. The name Naples caught on when promoters described the bay as “surpassing the bay in Naples, Italy”. By the summer of 1888, Naples had a population of about 80 people, and the first hotel opened in 1889. Major development was anticipated after Collier County was established in 1923, the completion of the railroad reaching Naples in 1927, and the completion of the Tamiami Trail linking Naples to Miami in 1928, but did not begin until after the 1929 Stock market crash, the Great Depression, and World War II. During the war the U.S. Army Air Forces built a small airfield and used it for training purposes; it is now the Naples Municipal Airport.
Naples is served by the District School Board of Collier County and various private institutions, including the following:
St. Elizabeth Seton School (private)
Naples High School (City of Naples, public)
Barron G. Collier High School (public)
Gulf Coast High School (public)
St. John Neumann High School (private)
Golden Gate High School (public)
Lely High School (public)
Palmetto Ridge High School (public)
Community School of Naples (private)
Seacrest Country Day School (private)
First Baptist Academy (private)
Mason Classical Academy (charter)
Lorenzo Walker Technical High School (public)
Naples Christian Academy (private)
Saint Ann School (private)
Colleges and universities
While no colleges are based within the city limits, Ave Maria School of Law is located in Vineyards, and Florida SouthWestern State College has a satellite campus in Lely Resort. Also, Florida Gulf Coast University operates continuing education classes from their Downtown Naples campus, and Hodges University has a campus in North Naples. Higher education institutions close to Naples include:
Ave Maria University (35 miles northeast of Naples)
Florida South Western State College (30 miles northwest of Naples)
Hodges University (35 miles north of Naples)
Florida Gulf Coast University (8 miles northeast of Naples)
The region is served by the NCH Healthcare System, which currently has 716 beds between two hospitals, and Physician’s Regional Healthcare System, which has two hospitals that contain 201 beds and is owned by the Health Management Associates, headquartered in Pelican Bay. In addition to the two hospitals, the company operates six clinics in Naples.
Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida (HCN) was founded in 1977 to serve migrant farmworkers and their families in Immokalee. It now provides care to over 41,000 residents of Collier County through 20 practices, including internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, behavioral health and dental care.
Tourism is a major industry for the city. The Naples area is home to several major land reserves, including the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Picayune Strand State Forest. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is known not only for its 11,000 acres (45 km2) of landscape and wildlife, but for a two-and-a-half-mile-long boardwalk winding through the sanctuary. The Naples area is also home to the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, which dates back to 1919. Near the zoo is where the Coastland Center is located, an indoor mall with many different types of stores anchored by J. C. Penney and Macy’s.
Downtown Naples is home to The Naples Players, the 5th Avenue South, and 3rd Street South shopping districts, which feature a variety of antique luxury shops. Gallery Row is a concentration among the numerous art galleries spread throughout the downtown area. Located directly off of Tamiami Trail are the Waterside Shops, an upscale open-air shopping center with popular stores such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Near downtown on Naples Bay and the Gordon River is the shopping district of Tin City. This open-air shopping center specializes in antiques and handmade local novelties.
The Naples Half Marathon is a half marathon held every year in Naples since 1989, with record participation in 2013 of 2,038 runners. The race has been called one of the best half-marathons in the United States by Runner’s World magazine.
The last LPGA golf tournament played each year, the CME Group Tour Championship, has been held in Naples since 2012. Since 2013, it has been played at the Gold Course of the Tiburon Golf Club. It claims the largest purse and the largest winner’s share of any women’s golf tournament, presently $5,000,000 and $1,500,000 respectively. The purse and winner’s share increase in 2022, to $7,000,000 and $2,000,000 respectively.
Pickleball is an increasingly popular sport in Naples. Because of this, many parks have added pickleball courts. Naples is home to the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, which have been held annually since 2016.
In December 2009, Florida Governor Charlie Crist met with Chicago Cubs president Crane Kenney, chairman Tom Ricketts and other team officials about possibly moving the Cubs’ spring training and minor league facilities from Mesa, Arizona, to Naples. The Cubs eventually chose to stay in Mesa and build a new facility there.
Naples has a semi-pro soccer team, Naples United FC, which was founded in 2017. They currently play in the Sunshine Conference of the National Premier Soccer League. Naples is also the home of swamp buggy races, held three times each year at the Florida Sports Park. The swamp buggy was invented in Naples.
Since February 2001, Naples has been served by several bus routes operated by the Collier Area Transit. Service runs seven days a week and end times depend on the route. Highways that pass through Naples are I-75 and US-41.
The city is served by the Naples Municipal Airport, although it doesn’t have any scheduled commercial service. The nearest airports are Southwest Florida International Airport about 30 minutes away, Punta Gorda Airport about an hour away, and Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport about 90 minutes away.