2008-11-20 / Undercover Historian

More abundant than mosquitoes: tales about the Trail

BY LOIS BOLIN Special to Florida Weekly

Dorothy knew that even on the Kansas plains, you don't need to look any further than your own backyard if you want to connect with something special that links you to your past.

Florida historian Charlton Tebeau would certainly have concurred. He believed that history is where you find it, and that it begins close to home.

So what is the most historic "connecting" thing in our Naples back yard? (Hint: It has white line running down its middle and along each side, and its initials are T.T.)

Sawgrass visions

One of the most magnificent manmade feats in Southwest Florida is the trans-peninsula highway, the Tamiami Trail, which was on the drawing board long before construction actually began in 1915.

In 1919, when Lee County officials realized they could not afford to complete their portion of road, Capt. James Jaudon, a Trail visionary and owner of the Chevelier Corp., offered to build this link on one condition: Dade and Lee counties must agree to reroute the Trail through Monroe County — and through much of his 207,360 acres. The proposal was accepted, and in 1921 construction of the next leg of the Tamiami Trail began. It is now called Loop Road.

Tamiami Trail construction photos courtesy of Naples Backyard History Tamiami Trail construction photos courtesy of Naples Backyard History When the state of Florida ran out of funds for the Trail in 1922, the eastwest portion, also known as the Miami- Marco Road, found a new champion in an advertising mogul named Barron Gift Collier. Mr. Collier pledged that he would finance completion of the Miami- Marco Trail if the Florida legislature would establish a new county and name it after him.

So in 1923, Collier County was created from the southern part of Lee County.

As no surprise to many, a conflict immediately arose over the route the Trail would take.

The State Road Department and new county's sponsors advocated for the original route, which ran inside the boundaries of the newly established Collier County. But the Board of County Commissioners of Dade County wanted to honor their word to Capt. Jaudon, as only a few miles of road remained to be completed.

As was noted earlier, Loop Road runs through Monroe County and the Tamiami Trail runs through Collier County.

The Tamiami Trail — which opened on April 25, 1928, took 13 years to build, cost $8 million and used more than 2.6 million sticks of dynamite — has more stories about how it was built than the state has mosquitoes.

Stories of the Trail

While on a team building the Trail, engineer John King took several men, including his son, on a prospecting trip that should have lasted no more than four days. He left instructions that if they were not back in four days, plus a four-day grace period, a search party should commence. It did.

Newspapers across the country immediately commenced to run sensational headlines over stories detailing every effort to find the men who had braved the last frontier in America. One month later, the men were picked up on Shark River by a private yacht and taken to Key West.

Mr. King, who was a botanist as well as a civil engineer, made good use of his time while lost: He was the first to discover traces of oil in the Everglades.

Judy Sproul, granddaughter of Barron Gift Collier, resides in Naples today and remembers many things about her grandfather. The tale she loves most to tell is that her grandfather, the man for whom this county is named, invented

the white lines that go down the middle and sides of the Trail. The next time you drive along the Tamiami Trail and see those white lines, think of the genius of Barron Gift Collier. Think of all the history he made possible by connecting millions of people to the magic in this place we have the pleasure of calling home. Dorothy was right: We don't need to look any further than our own back yard for a connection to something special in Collier County.

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