History of Marco Island

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

When you cross over Jolley Bridge, then look out on the beautiful Marco Island in Florida, you might wonder what it was like before. What did Marco Island look like before the condos were built? What’s the history of the island?

Before bridges, marinas, expensive cars and condos, it this island was two very different masses of land. The first was the area that’s now Marco’s southernmost third and the other area that the Calusa Indians raised by hand, which is about 50 acres. The Calusa Indians came to Marco Island at some point and then they disappeared approximately when Spanish explorers arrived. This is the northern tip that was first called Key Marco and now is called Olde Marco.

What is now Marco Island’s center, didn’t exist. Back then it was simply one of the water outlets into the famous Gulf of Mexico. Later it was turned into one of the mangrove swamps.

The Calusa

Why were a Paleo-Indian tribe attracted to Marco? That is a question that no one knows the answer to, since there isn’t much known about these people who were skilled artisans and fisherman and who lived on the island for over one thousand years.

Just like today’s residents and tourists, maybe they came because of Marco’s sheltered and tropical atmosphere, which is almost mystical. Many people think they considered it sacred, since the storm clouds that roll towards it often appear to mysteriously stop and go south or northward.

The Calusa Indians were accomplished artisans and fisherman. They created clay masks that were brightly painted to resemble different animals, they wove fishing nets carefully, and they were also known to be fierce warriors. They also wore clothing and jewelry though they didn’t need a lot in Marco’s climate.

They also did early recycling. Giant mounds were built with fish bones, clam shells and other items they’d discarded. These mounds found in the estates’ Indian Hills section are Collier County’s highest area. This section is home to 20th century homes.

It’s believed that the plight the Calusa had was very similar to a lot of the other Indian groups. Explorers from Europe like Ponce de Leon, an explorer who may have met his fate near Marco after battling with the native people, had weapons and disease with them. Because of it, the Calusa Indians were likely decimated.

Captain Bill & The Cat

When Captain Bill Collier arrived on Marco back in 1870, it brought civilization to the island. Marco Island’s life centered around clamming and fishing and his relatives still live there today.

Three of the original buildings in his village are still in Olde Marco to this day and they are a hubbub of activity. They’re also very popular restaurants.

Captain Bill was able to find one of Florida’s biggest finds when he dug into up soil to use as garden fertilizer. Once word got out to Frank Hamilton Cushing from the historical Smithsonian Institute, there were hundreds of priceless artifacts. But a lot of them were sadly lost, days and even hours after exposure to the Florida air outside the burial site.

One of the items that survived was a six-inch cat statue. It is red-brown and it’s also known as the famous Key Marco cat, and the symbol of the Calusa Indians who have been lost.

Starting in November of 1995 – May 1996, this feline was in the memorable Collier County Museum. The Smithsonian loaned it to the museum and many people wondered at its presence.

The Dashed Dream of Barron Collier

Barron Collier was a wealthy man from the north, was an inventor and also well-respected. He had a huge vision when it came to Marco Island. But he never was able to quite realize the wish he had to develop and create a vacation area from Marco, since he couldn’t buy Captain Bill out to get total control of Marco Island. The depression back in the 1930s wasn’t a help either. This failure lead to other land squabbles and broken dreams.

Deltona Days

This mostly undeveloped, mosquito infested and isolated island stayed that way until the early part of the 1960’s. This was when the final holdings of Barron Collier were sold to the company known as Delta Development Corporation. Frank, Elliot and Robert Mackle, three brothers, oversaw that.

Everyone from famous and rich people along with those who were blue collar workers came to Marco Island thanks to a great marketing campaign. A hotel on the beach brought into guests to the pristine, clean and sandy beaches that Marco had to offer. If you wanted to own a home, there was affordable housing, and the eastern shore was connected soon by the bridge. A lot of the homes are still there and occupied by those who live on the Island.

The three brothers and the Army Corps of Engineers had a lawsuit when the development plans were mapped out. The ACE had briefly had a post on the island’s southern tip in the 1950’s at a tracking station for missiles and the government had said to be environmentally sensitive.

Today & Tomorrow

Today everyone knows that Marco Island’s a resort island and has a unique atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else. Here is where fisherman and millionaires sit together at bars talking and drinking about the great fishing that is available year-round.

A lot of development has brought multimillion dollar condominiums and homes, four-star resorts, stores that offer everything that you could want, and lots of great restaurants. There are also a lot of visitors who come each season.

If you are looking for a place that you can go and visit for a great vacation, Marco Island is a great choice. It has everything that you could want and the weather can’t be beat. You’re going to want to come back to visit again and again and it’s an experience that you are never going to forget. It has something for everyone.

Visiting Marco Island?

We offer a huge selection of the Island’s finest vacation rentals in every price range. Whether you want to stay a week, several weeks, or even months, we can match you with a home or condo ideally suited to your needs. Contact our Marco office today.