How Collier County Got Its Name

Several Florida counties bear the names of great leaders in state or national politics, such as Jefferson, Washington, Pasco, and Duval counties. Others are named for fallen soldiers, such as Bradford and (Miami-)Dade counties. Barron Gift Collier, for whom Collier County in Southwest Florida is named, was neither a war hero nor a great statesman. He did, however, have an inspiring vision for Florida’s southern Gulf coast, which he worked to make into a reality.

Barron Gift Collier (1873-1939), for whom Collier County is named (photo circa 1920s).

Barron Gift Collier (1873-1939), for whom Collier County is named (photo circa 1920s).

Barron Gift Collier was born March 23, 1873 in Memphis, Tennessee. He quit school at the age of 16 to go to work, and in ten years’ time had made his first million. Advertising was Collier’s specialty. He started out convincing freight shippers to use the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and New Orleans. Before long, he had moved on to producing advertisements for the interior and exterior of streetcars. He made his money by obtaining franchises from the streetcar companies to do all of their advertising. At the zenith of his career, Barron Collier had 70 offices in cities across the United States managing these franchises.

It was one of these deals that helped introduce Collier to South Florida. After the advertising mogul signed a new contract with a streetcar company president in Chicago named John Roach, Roach invited Collier down to Florida to visit his vacation home on Useppa Island. Collier was instantly smitten with the island, and ended up buying it from John Roach for $100,000 in 1911. Roach had developed a tarpon fishing resort on the island called the Useppa Inn; Collier expanded the facilities and made the inn into the anchor point of a new chain of luxury resorts on Florida’s Gulf coast.

Useppa Inn on Useppa Island off the coast of present-day Collier County. The inn was developed originally by John M. Roach of Chicago, and later bought by Barron G. Collier (photo circa 1910).

Useppa Inn on Useppa Island off the coast of present-day Lee County. The inn was developed originally by John M. Roach of Chicago, and later bought by Barron G. Collier (photo circa 1910).

Collier envisioned much more than coastal luxury for Southwest Florida. He began buying up the holdings of several large land companies, and by 1924 he owned more than a million acres. He turned his attention to the Tamiami Trail, which had been under construction for several years by 1922 when the State of Florida ran out of funds to finish the section crossing the Everglades. Collier offered to finance the road’s completion, so long as the State Legislature would move forward with plans to divide the vast territory of Lee County and create a new county for the Naples area. The Legislature complied, and named the new county Collier in honor of Barron Collier’s contributions to the development of the region.

Workers busy constructing a section of the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami across the Everglades. Pictured in the background is a

Workers busy constructing a section of the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami across the Everglades. Pictured in the background is a “walking dredge” used to lift limestone fill onto the roadbed. This dredge is now on display at Collier-Seminole State Park (photo circa 1920s).

When the Great Depression arrived, Barron Collier’s fortunes took a dive like so many others, although he still believed in the growth potential of Southwest Florida. In the 1930s, Collier struck oil at Sunniland, 12 miles south of Immokalee. In a few years Sunniland and neighboring oil fields were producing millions of barrels of oil annually.

Experts inspect oil well #1 at Sunniland near Immokalee (1943).

Experts inspect oil well #1 at Sunniland near Immokalee (1943).

Barron Collier died in New York in 1939 following an illness. His legacy in Southwest Florida is captured in the stretch of Tamiami Trail (now U.S. 41) that still uses the same path to cross the Everglades, as well as in the many developments he initiated in Naples and other nearby communities.

This is just one of many local Florida stories extracted from the collections of the State Library & Archives of Florida. If you’re interested in local history, consider searching our catalogs for relevant information, and then plan a visit! Go to info.florida.gov to learn more.

Seine Fishing in Florida

Commercial fishing has long been a prominent maritime industry in Florida. The “beach seining” method for commercial fishing has declined in recent years owing to evolving net regulations, but for generations it was an honored tradition in fishing communities across the state. To catch fish using this method, a team of fishermen would let out a special seine net in a semicircle around a small section of coastline. Seine nets were fitted with weights and floats to create a wall of netting that reached from the surface of the water to the bottom, so as to capture as many fish as possible as the net was dragged along. Once in place, vehicles or in some cases teams of people would pull on the nets to bring them back toward shore, along with any fish caught inside. Depending on the size of the net and the number of times the fishermen set and dragged it, a day’s catch could yield hundreds of pounds of fish.

 

Seine netting drying on a rack to prevent damage (circa 1875).

Seine netting drying on a rack to prevent damage (circa 1875).

The fishing boat depicted here is releasing a seine net into shallow water near Shell Point in Wakulla County, Florida in preparation for a catch.  Notice the semicircular shape that allowed the fishermen to drag the nets in using human or mechanical power (1949).

The fishing boat depicted here is releasing a seine net into shallow water near Shell Point in Wakulla County, Florida in preparation for a catch. Notice the semicircular shape that allowed the fishermen to drag the nets in using human or mechanical power (1949).

In this photograph taken by renowned commercial photographer Joseph Janney Steinmetz, local fishermen in Naples haul in a seine net containing several species of fish (circa 1940).

Local fishermen in Naples haul in a seine net containing several species of fish (circa 1940).

Fishermen hauling in seine nets with a catch (circa 1960s).

Fishermen hauling in seine nets with a catch (circa 1960s).

Seine fishing at St. Teresa, Florida (circa 1900).

Seine fishing at St. Teresa, Florida (circa 1900).

Fishermen at Shell Point in Wakulla County, Florida prepare to haul in a seine net (1965).

Fishermen at Shell Point in Wakulla County, Florida prepare to haul in a seine net (1965).

More photos depicting seine fishing in Florida may be found in the Florida Photographic Collection. Teachers, you may also be interested in Florida Memory’s learning unit entitled Netmaking and Net Fishing in Florida. It includes photographs, audio, and transcripts taken from folklorist Peggy Bulger’s interview with net maker Billy Burbanks, III in 1980.

The Museum of Florida History is holding an exhibit through August 26, 2014 entitled “The Lure of Florida Fishing,” which explores the history of sport fishing in Florida from the 19th century to the present. For more information on this exhibit, check out the museum’s exhibit page.

Naples, Florida

Enjoy some of our favorite photographs of Naples.

Possibly the first building in Naples (ca. 1888)

Possibly the first building in Naples (ca. 1888)

Naples swamp buggy races (November 8, 1953)

Naples swamp buggy races (November 8, 1953)

Naples beach scene (September 1981)

Naples beach scene (September 1981)

Naples golf course scene (1958)

Naples golf course scene (1958)

The Orange Blossom Special arrives at Naples (January 7, 1927)

The Orange Blossom Special arrives at Naples (January 7, 1927)

Young woman holding a toucan at Caribbean Gardens (1962)

Young woman holding a toucan at Caribbean Gardens (1962)

Hitching a ride, Caribbean Gardens (ca. 1960)

Hitching a ride, Caribbean Gardens (ca. 1960)