It may be hard to believe, but today’s sterling Naples was once little but a Seminole Indian trading post, and it's often considered Florida’s final frontier.
Collier County Museum, a little patch of oasis in downtown’s urban setting, does an excellent job of presenting the pageant of Naples and Collier County bygones through the eras with striking indoor vignettes and an outdoor historical park with original and recreated structures, exhibits and vintage modes of transportation.
Into the latter category falls a circa-1910 logging locomotive and a swamp buggy, both early means of getting around in Collier County’s cypress forests and wetlands. There’s also a World War II Sherman tank and Kokomis, a historic boat used to transport early guests to Naples’ unbridged Keewaydin or Key Island.
A recreated Seminole village is one highlight of the Collier County Museum — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
In one restored home, circa 1940, resides the George G. Huntoon Gallery of marine, bird and other local wildlife taxidermy. A recreated Seminole war fort recalls one era of local history, while the Seminole village demonstrates the way much of the tribe lives today at their fishing camps.
The pleasant walk around the pines, palmettos and native plant gardens is an easy and level one, with picnic areas and benches for rest stops.
Inside the museum, visitors take a short but informative walk through Collier County’s eras of prehistory, Spanish conquerors, the Seminoles and Seminole Wars, logging, cattle ranching, early development and the building of Tamiami Trail, World War II, movie filming and modern-day tourism.
Realistic wax figures, historic artifacts and clothing, interpretive signage and videos all tell the story of Collier County’s ups and downs, losses and conquests.
This is the first of Collier County’s free historical museums to open; today there are four others in Naples, Marco Island, Everglades City and Immokalee. All host changing exhibits and other events.
Collier County Museum’s big annual event – the Old Florida Festival – takes place in 2015 on the weekend of March 7 and 8. “An Event 10,000 Years in the Making,” this festival brings the past alive with reenactors playing the parts of a Calusa Indian, Seminole family, Civil War solder, Cracker cattleman and Spanish conquistador.
In addition, a blacksmith, soap maker, telegraph operator, flint knapper, basket weaver and other crafts people give continuous demonstrations throughout the two days.
The festival features 1800s-style music and entertainment, cannon and musket firing, a Seminole War skirmish reenactment, handmade gifts and old-fashioned treats from the past, including candy and Southern barbecue.