Travels with Susan Spano

People, Places, Stuff


October 18, 2012

Tags: Historic Districts, Florida, History of Travel

Visitors to Florida generally don’t have history on their minds. It’s all high-rise condos, malls and theme parks. Right?

Wrong. Just ask the Naples Historical Society which offers tours of the oldest part of town, founded in 1889 when Kentucky newspaper publisher Walter N. Haldeman, who shrewdly bought up most of what is now the historic district, opened a hotel on the narrow spit of land between Naples Bay and the Gulf of Mexcio. At the time, the only way to get there was by boat so the pier just west of the hotel served as the reception desk, welcoming sportsmen who came to fish for giant tarpon and hunt for game in the nearby Everglades. But word got out--especially among wealthy Midwesterners--and pretty soon families arrived with heavy steamer trunks, eager to frolic on 7 miles of silvery sand lining the warm gentle waters of the Gulf.

Along the way from the pier to the hotel, folks passed a cottage built by Haldeman for Henry Watterson, the editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal who spent 11 winters there, telegraphing editorials that won him a Pulitzer Prize during World War II back to the paper. Overflow guests from the hotelwent on to win a Pulitzer Prize. After Haldeman's death the cottage went through other hands until 1996 when it was restored as a museum by the Naples Historical Society.

Historical Society tours like the one I took last winter meet at Palm Cottage, as it’s called, where visitors get acquainted with an historic architectural style once common in the area (the subject of “Dream Houses: Historic Beach Houses and Cottages of Naples,” by Joie Wilson and Penny Taylor), characterized chiefly by Tabbie foundations made of sand and sea shells. One of the last remaining Tabbie homes, Palm Cottage is entered through a screened-in front porch where people slept on hot night, decorated with green wicker furniture (thought to have come from the old Naples Hotel) and a Gulf shell collection. Inside are two floors of rooms with whirring ceiling fans, Dade County pine plank floors, leather-backed Stickley chairs, vintage photos (including one of the Orange Blossom Express train which reached Naples in 1927), a graceful cantilevered staircase, fully-equipped circa 1930 kitchen and other period accoutrements like a Naples mink, a kind of loosely-knitted stole with pompoms, much cooler than the furs ladies could leave at home when the came to Naples in the winter.

I’d spend my winters there, too, if I had a place like Palm Cottage. Of course, development has eaten up many historic district classics. The beachfront around the pier is now lined by walled estates, though high-rise buildings aren’t permitted.

Thankfully, some of the old places remain on the streets and narrow back alleyways around Palm Cottage where the tour continued. We passed secretive little Mandalay House (1908) just off the beach, the former home of Dr. Earl Baum (1921), a community notable with a passion for taxidermy, at 107 Broad Avenue, and Martha‘s Cottage (1922), 205 11th Avenue, made of board and batten. Another residence built in 1935, but now clearly a fixer-upper, had flyers from a real estate company that said the asking price was $1.6 million, including the guest cottage behind.

I could spend my golden years there, no problem. For the moment, though, it was golden enough to walk through the banyan and orchid tree-lined streets of old Naples with a historical society docent.
From the first annual SPEAK UP! contest, June 23, 2018, Muhanga, Rwanda

Syracuse Archaeological Museum, Sicily

Proshyan School bathroom with water tank

Takar and Kataro are my favorite Armenia reds

School time in Armenia.

Garni Temple, Armenia

Big Sur from Soberanes Point


Artichoke Pickers by Henriette Shore

On the way to the beach

Jalama Beach, CA

Hello, little sea urchin!

Famous Jalama Beach Burger

Three by Peter Hessler

Spring time on the Big Sur Coast


Jalama Beach, CA

Motya Charioteer. Image from

Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA

Homesick for Rome

Therme Vals in Switzerland

At Vogelsgang

National Socialist Party poster from Vogelsgang

Palm Springs

Image courtesy of Tylas at English Wikipedia

Vintage Naples Historic District

From Palm Cottage

Borobudur frieze; Buddha's life

Borobudur at sunrise

Shikellamy State Park in Pennsylvania

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Image courtesy of Politics and Prose

Image courtesy of John Wehrheim.

Lotusland in Montecito, CA

Ganna Walska of Lotusland

Image courtesy of Flickr user ViaMoi.

Conques Church. Image courtesy of Flickr user Seligr.

Weiming Lake, Peking University. Image courtesy of Flickr user ImGump.

The Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel near Santa Barbara

Agrodome, Rotorua, New Zealand. Image courtesy of Flickr user _gem_.

Vandalized images at Painted Rock

Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons user BenFrantzDale.

A map of Chicago, Illinois, imprinted in 1913 from the United States Geographical Survey’s historical topographic map collection. Image courtesy of the USGS.

Image courtesy of Flickr user hattiesburgmemory.

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of Flickr user alobos flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr user joiseyshowaa.

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Selected Works

Nonfiction, Travel, Human Interest
A new collection of travel essays by Susan Spano
Tracking Colette in Paris and Burgundy
A draught sinks Lake Powell, revealing lost wonders of Glen Canyon
Rome's Most Roman Neighborhood
Studying Mandarin in Beijing
Around the world and back to New York
Nonfiction Book
Divorce. Why do we do it? And what does it do to us? fourteen prominent writers have pondered these questions and have set down heir thoughts and personal stories, in this gathering of sometimes irreverent and always intelligent essays. "A disarmingly candid, invaluable collection." --Publishers Weekly
"Anyone who doubts that men, too, suffer in divorce should be required to read this." --Glamour Magazine "A rare, unusually focused anthology of original essays that both entertains and instructs." --Publishers Weekly

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