Marco Island Florida History

"Gateway to the awesome land of Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island is about 4 miles wide, 6 miles long, and a mere 90 miles west of Miami and 157 miles south of Tampa.

History informs us that probably around 4000 BC the Calusa Indians, who may have been the descendants of the Mayans, inhabited the island. These Native People had built large mounds using millions of shells that offered them protection from hurricanes. The mounds were also used for religious temples and burial sites. The Calusa were crafty and intelligent woodworkers, who constructed canoes, beams and planks for their houses, docks and piers. Due to disease brought to the island by the Spanish explorers, the Calusa were wiped out by the mid 1700s, later replaced by the Seminole. Until after the Civil War, there was little population occupying southwest Florida.

In 1870, W.T. Collier brought his wife and nine children to Marco Island. His son, William D. “Captain Bill” Collier, opened a 20-room hotel in 1896 that is today known as Olde Marco Inn. In 1922 Barron G. Collier (no relation to the other Colliers) purchased most of the island.

Unfortunately, the depression took its toll and development of the island was postponed until 1962.

It was at this time, when brothers Elliott, Robert and Frank Jr. Mackell developed a master plan for the island, after purchasing it from the Collier estate for the paltry sum of seven million dollars.

Not surprising, prior to its development in the mid-1960s, the population was a mere 550, as the only way to reach the island was by crossing a narrow, wooden, hand-operated swinging bridge. A trifle frightening!

Marco Island today has a permanent population of 15, 000 swelling to 35, 000 during the winter months." read more>>Marco Island Historical Photo Album
Black and White Photos from the early 1900's tell the early story of Marco Island.

A Brief History by Kathleen McNamara
Brief summation of the Island's history from the early Calusa Indians to its modern day development by the Deltona Development Company.

Island Reflections written by Herb Savage, formerly vice president of Deltona Corporation and a member of the Vensel Savage and Associates, Architects, Engineers and Planners.

The Historical Move of Homes and Families from Caxambas to Goodland by Betty Bruno
Stories of some of the original settlers of Goodland, a small village on the corner of Marco Island.

The Marco Island Historical Society
Information on the Frank Cushing archeological dig that unearthed the now famous Marco Cat and numerous other artifacts, as well as membership and exhibit information.

Marco Island History - Book from The Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce

Marco Island Information and History.

In 1977, the Marco Island Bicentennial Task Force had installed historic markers showing significant places marking the island's history.

1. At the entrance to the island at the south end of the bridge, marker number one designates Marco as the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands.

2. The Cushing archaeological site in Old Marco opposite the Riverside Condominium. In 1896 Frank Hamilton Cushing unearthed hundreds of artifacts, including the Marco Cat. made by the Calusa Indians.

3. The ferry landing in Old Marco connected Marco to the Isles of Capri. The ferry operated from 1920 to 1938. The spot is also the site of the oldest school on the island, dating back to 1889.

4. The home of William D. "Captain Bill" Collier, son of William T. Collier who founded the Marco village in 1870. The home is on the west side of 953 and is now restored and operates as a restaurant.

5. The cemetery off Bald Eagle Drive just south of the traffic lights, where many of the early settlers were buried and where their descendants are still buried today. Collier's wife, daughter and three sons are buried there.

6. The pineapple plantation on Caxambas Ridge at the site of Fire House No. 1 on South Barfield Drive. Was later given up as soil was quickly depleted.

7. The Burnham Clam Factory on Inlet Drive in the Caxambas area. The factory operated from 1904 to 1929. There are still foundation parts in the weeds.

8. The Caxambas school built around 1898 at the intersection of Indian Hill Drive and Scott Drive. It is also the site of one home of James Madison and Tommie Barfield and the Heights Hotel ­ on the highest point in Southwest Florida (51 feet).

9. The Calusa Indian burial ground at the intersection of Inlet Drive and Olds Court. Watch out for indian spirits.

10. Caxambas Cemetery, on the west side of Inlet Drive.

11. Goodland Road and the village of Goodland, at the intersection of State Road 92 and Goodland Road.


Marco Island Pre-Construction in the early 1960's. 

Marco Island today in it's glory!


Start of construction on the beach, mid 1960s.


The Marco Beach Hotel, 1971, Now the Marriott


Emerald Beach, First beach front condo, 1966

The Calusa Indians, believed to be descendants of the Mayans may have inhabited Marco Island as far back as 4000 BC or even possibly 6000 BC. Evidence indicates the ancient culture at least of the time of Christ.

Marco Island is the Northern most and the largest of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands with over 9,000 acres and is about 4 miles wide and 6 miles long. It's located on the Gulf of Mexico, situated 90 miles west of Miami, 157 miles south of Tampa, 50 miles south of Fort Myers, and 15 miles from Naples. It has been described as magical, mystical and alluring. The elevation of the island varies from as low as 5 ft to as high as 54 ft above sea level.

Within the immediate area are the Isles of Capri, a residential community and Goodland, a tiny fishing community that maintains some of its qualities that it had a Century ago. In 1964 the Mackle Corporation began a massive engineering and development program that would transform the mangrove and swamp areas and would eventually be the Marco of today.

Development of the island may have buried earlier traces of ancient culture. However, archaeologists did fine bone, wood shell and ceramic remains of early settlement. The Frank Cushing dig in 1895 on Marco uncovered more than 1000 artifacts from the Calusa culture. Various digs uncovered items such as the famous Key Marco Cat shown above.

The Calusas created large mounds using uncountable or millions of shells, which in turn offered them protection from hurricanes and provided shelter and eventually burial sites for their dead. Some these mounds still remain to this date. One mound known as Indian Hill (54 feet above sea level) was located on Caxambus at the northern part of the Island (named for the drinking water available). The Calusa power extended throughout Southwest and even to East Florida until 1513, when the Spaniards arrived.

The Indians and Spaniards clashed and continued fighting for many years later. The strength of the Indians began to disappear due to disease brought to Florida by the Europeans and warring with the Spaniards and new settlers.

During the Civil war Marco Island and the other 10,000 islands provided hiding places for deserters and blockade runners who traded with Cuba and the other nearby islands.

In 1870, W. T. Collier of Tennessee and his family landed on Marco. They came down the Atlantic Coast on the Schooner, the 'Robert L. Lee'. Their second oldest son William D. Collier (Capt. Bill) became the pivotal figure in the early growth of the island.

The dream of the Mackle Brothers... On Jan. 31, 1965, more than 25,000 persons made the long trip from up north to Marco Island. It was an instant sell , say the the old "crackers". With temperature in the upper 70s, and cold winds blowing up North, Marco Island was an easy sell if you could get the people to get their toes into the sand.

For $75, visitors to the largest barrier island of the Ten Thousand Island chain were treated to three days and two nights at the motel Deltona had built - the site of the present day Marriott. Return air fare to the frozen north was also included.

The rest is recent history with more people getting their toes into the sand.


Current Marco Island Skyline


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