Famous Names of Southwest Florida

By: Lynn Waddell

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Visit these historic sites on a 'famous folks' tour of Southwest Florida.

Places to Go: Sarasota, Fort Myers, Everglades City and Sanibel Island

Things to See: Some of America’s most creative men – inventors, entrepreneurs, showmen and artists – left their marks on Southwest Florida with homes and retreats that reflect their drive and ingenuity.

John Ringling’s art collection at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art will impress even the most discerning of art connoisseurs. It’s an encyclopedic collection of art; the museum also has pieces of the Vanderbilt mansion that Ringling rescued from New York City. Ringling’s adjacent Cà d’Zan mansion, with classical paintings on its ceilings and a marble terrace on Sarasota Bay, is a testament to all the other fineries the Big Top can buy.

Ringling’s next-door seasonal neighbor Powel Crosley Jr. invented everything from popular radios to the first compact economy car. At the Seagate, his 11,000-square-foot mansion, see plays produced by the Powel Crosley Theater or get married there for a few thousand more.

After a visit to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, you may be inspired to go home and tinker with any crumb of an idea. At Edison’s winter digs, you can see his chemical laboratory, the cot where he took “cat naps” and his botanical garden. The adjacent home of Edison’s good friend Henry Ford has a collection of early Fords that car collectors might beat you with a tire iron for.

In Naples, learn more about the community's rich history with a docent-guided tour of Naples' oldest house, The Palm Cottage house museum (built in 1895) or through a one-mile walking tour of the Naples Historic District. After any tour, visit the new 16-seat Cottage Theater and enjoy a oral history film.

Once owned by Florida’s largest landowner, Barron Collier, the Everglades Rod and Gun Club has long hosted presidents, rock stars (Mick Jagger, for one) and Hollywood celebrities as well as avid hunters, fishermen and nature lovers and yet somehow has remained small, rustic and relatively obscure.

Places to Stay: Join a guest list that includes cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling. It is also rumored that Teddy Roosevelt, Charels Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh graced the shores here. Stay at Captiva’s ‘Tween Waters Inn. Although it has been renovated and expanded over the years, you can still rent the original cottages.

Do Stop In: There may not be any historic edifices in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, but its natural state attracted the memorialized cartoonist (as well as thousands of visitors since) to Sanibel Island.


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