In the mid 1500s, when Spain was exploring most of Florida, the Spaniards stumbled upon a large island which contained two cool artisan springs located near what is now known as Caxambas Pass. The island became a favorite place to fill casks with fresh water for their return trip to Spain.
It eventually became known to all future sailors as La Isla de San Marco (the island of Saint Mark), named for Saint Mark, the Christian evangelist and traditional author of the second gospel in the bible. As the years went by, the site became known as San Marco Island (Saint Mark's island) and finally, just Marco Island.
It is believed that at least 2,000 years before Christ, the ancestors of the fierce, warlike Calusa Indians inhabited this remote island. Calusas were thought to be seven feet tall sporting three-foot high ceremonial headgear thus contributing to their fierce appearance. Evidence of their existence was first discovered in 1895 when Captain Bill Collier, son of Marco's founder. W.T. Collier was digging on his property known then as Key Marco.
Today, this area is called Old Marco and was the site of one of the most successful archeological digs in North America.
In 1870, W.T. Collier brought his wife and nine children to Marco Island. In 1896, his son, William D. "Captain Bill" Collier opened a 20 room hotel that is known today as the Olde Marco Inn and registered as an historical landmark.
Barron G. Collier (no relation to W.T. Collier) purchased most of Marco Island in 1922. With the onset of rail service (the Atlantic Coast Line) to Marco Island in 1927 plans to develop Marco Island were in process. However, the depression put a damper on development. The isolated, mosquito-infested and largely undeveloped little island remained so up until the early 1960's when Barron Collier's last holdings were sold to Deltona Development Corporation with brothers Elliott, Robert and Frank Mackle at the helm.
The rich and famous as well as the blue collar were drawn to the "Hawaii of the East" by an incredibly successful marketing campaign. A beach-front hotel lured guests onto the sandy, clean and pristine beaches of Marco. Affordable subdivision-like housing was bought by those wishing to own a piece of paradise on the island's eastern shore, which was soon connected to land by a bridge. Many of these original homes are still occupied today by Islanders.
The Army Corps of Engineers, who had briefly held a post on the southern tip of the island during the 1950's at a missile tracking station, became embroiled in a lawsuit with the Mackle brothers when Deltona mapped out its development plans to include lands the government had deemed "environmentally sensitive."
After years of expensive court battles, the Mackle’s admitted defeat, but Marco Island would forever be indelibly etched in the minds of many as the ultimate vacation and living atmosphere.
Today it is a well established fact that Marco Island is a first-class resort island with a unique atmosphere that simply can't be found elsewhere. Where else would one find millionaires sitting among fishermen at “chickee” bars drinking and talking about the incredible fishing that can be had any time of the year?
Widespread development has brought multimillion dollar homes and condominiums, four-star resort hotel complexes, stores catering to all tastes and styles and a truly delightful assortment of restaurants. It has also brought a yearly influx of seasonal visitors who long to "run to the sun" when northern winters bring the chills. Islanders are watchdogs, becoming politically active in an attempt to preserve the little Florida island history has shaped into a true paradise.
Photos courtesy of the Marco Island Historical Society.