ABOUT THE DEPOT AND THE BAGGAGE CAR
Long hidden on the fringe of Florida’s Gulf Coast and overlooked by developers until well into the 1880s, Naples’s catalyst for settlement finally arrived 40 years later when two rival railroads rolled into town within 10 days of each other. Florida's economy began to stagger after the land bust of the 1920s and the Great Depression, yet many cities began aggressively petitioning the railroads to bring more trains to Florida. Following WWII, there was a boom in travel to Florida, and railroad companies capitalized on it. The Naples Depot was built in 1926 by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, making it the first passenger station in Naples. A local group, Southwest Heritage, Inc. was formed to preserve the depot in 1975.
The Seaboard Air Line Railway section crew lays railroad tracks near the Gordon River Grove in Naples, FL in December 1926. They are nearing the soon-to-be open Naples Depot, which welcomed its inaugural train on January 7th, 1927. Collier County Museums 78.4.28
The Naples Depot baggage car was built in the 1920s and carried mail, passenger suitcases, and trunks. Always associated with southern train routes, the car was purchased from the Atlantic Coast Line by Southern Railway who donated it to Southwest Heritage, Inc. Thanks to Southwest Heritage, the Depot was refurbished and used for a variety of fundraising purposes, including as a home to antiques and collectibles vendors. The Depot remained a popular venue with the residents and visitors to Naples. In 2004, Southwest Heritage Inc. and Collier County Government came to an agreement that the Depot and attendant train cars would be valuable additions to the Collier County Museum System. The Naples Depot Museum opened on January 7, 2011. Set in Naples’ restored Seaboard Air Line Railway passenger station, the Naples Depot Museum welcomes visitors back to the railroading boom days of the Roaring Twenties and explains how generations of Southwest Floridians used technology and transportation to conquer a vast and seemingly impenetrable frontier. The venue attracts 16,000 visitors annually.
The Naples Depot Museum is an appropriate place for Collier County’s first space dedicated to its Black history because the Tenth Street/Goodlette Road corridor has traditionally been home to Naples’s Black community, and also because the railroads were a significant employer and source of social mobility for African Americans both in Collier County and nationally.
Group shot of railroad employees on the steps of the Naples Depot’s loading dock. Collier County Museums 06.17.60
In 1952 the Macedonia Baptist Church broke ground at the corner of 3rd Ave N. and 10th St. N. Reverend J. M. Mobley dedicated the church on April 4, 1954 and members still congregate every Sunday. Collier County Museums 13.4.1
The Depot is located in the Design District, Naples’s most up-and-coming area which also includes its traditionally Black neighborhoods. Bordered on the south and west by US 41, 7th Street North to the north, and Goodlette Road to the east, the District was recently the subject of a design charette that saw significant public participation and attention. Fronting on US 41/5th Avenue, the Naples Depot can be considered the gateway to the Design District. Now a site for pricey condominiums and tony interior decorators, the area was once an industrial hub, with sawmills and lumber yards taking advantage of the location near the railroad.
Since Naples’s founding, the Black population has been relocated several times to make way for development and change. In the early 20th century, Black families lived in the Saw Mill Quarters around Central Avenue. In 1948, when developers wanted to capitalize on waterfront property, Black families were relocated from Ditch Bank near Crayton Cove to the infamous McDonald’s Quarters, north along the railroad tracks. The deplorable conditions in McDonald’s Quarters were long a source of consternation and embarrassment to the City. In 1981, families were relocated yet again, to the newly built George Washington Carver Apartments, located further north, and the Quarters were demolished. Today, the African American community continues to struggle to hold on to housing and community amenities in the River Park area.
The Black History Baggage Car at the Naples Depot will tell the stories of these and other African Americans whose contributions were essential to the development of Collier County in the very same neighborhood that many of Naples’s Black residents have called home for over a century.
The Green Top Social Club and Mr. Benning’s house located in the McDonald’s Quarters section of Naples in the early 1950s. Collier County Museums 87.9.6