History of Marco Island, Florida
With a permanent population of around 15,000 that swells to more than 35,000 during the winter, it’s incredible to consider that until fairly recently, Marco Island, Florida, was sparsely populated and largely undeveloped. Today, of course, this southwestern Florida gem is a wildly popular tourist destination and boasts some of the most exclusive real estate in the state.
Throughout most of its history, it remained disconnected from the mainland. Today, getting there is as simple as hopping in a car and driving over a bridge. So, how did this once swampy, mosquito-ridden island make such a dramatic transformation?
According to extensive research by anthropologists, archeologists and other scientists, Marco Island and the rest of southwestern Florida was populated by Calusa Indians in 500 A.D. It is believed that they arrived to the area several centuries prior to this and that they may have been descendants of the Mayans. These native peoples constructed huge mounds of shells that today comprise the northernmost section of the island, which was once known as Key Marco and is now known as Olde Marco.
Upon the arrival of Spanish explorers in the mid-1500s, the native population plummeted. By the mid-1700s, they were entirely wiped out. Seminole Indians took their place, but they didn’t fare much better.
In the late 19th century, William Thomas Collier and his family arrived. The village of Marco was founded in 1870, and Collier’s son, Captain Bill Collier, opened a hotel in 1896 that stands to this day and is known as the Olde Marco Inn. Today, three of the original buildings still stand and serve as restaurants.
The clam digging industry exploded in the region in the early 20th century, bringing more residents to the island. Two major canneries operated here between 1903 and 1947. As a result of the influx of new residents, ferry service to the island began in 1912. A decade later, huge amounts of land were purchased by Barron Collier, a wealthy northerner who dreamed of turning the island into a major tourist destination. Collier City was incorporated in 1927 but abolished in 1957. Due to the Great Depression, Barron Collier was unable to achieve his dream.
The first bridge linking Marco Island to the mainland
In 1938, the first bridge to the island was erected. The original Goodland Bridge was a wooden swing bridge, and it was located next to the current Goodland Bridge, which was erected in 1975. During the 1960s, the Mackell brothers of the Deltona Corporation bought most of the land that was owned by Barron Collier. This marked the beginning of the island’s development rush, which continued for many decades. The opening of the S.S. Jolley Bridge in 1969 cemented the island’s position as a top tourist destination.