Marco Island History

History of Marco Island

It has been described an island paradise, and as a sparking jewel on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. And with tropical sun, world famous white beaches, and superb weather that only the Caribbean can promise, is it any wonder Marco Island is known as such? Settling here truly is a dream come true.

Of course, the city so familiar to us today has not always been here. In fact, with the original plans developed only 50 years ago, the city is amongst the youngest in the US. The full history of Marco Island is much older than that.

From The Spanish To The Colliers

It was the Spanish that discovered the island, when Juan Ponce de Léon (the man who named Florida) landed at Caxambas in 1513 in search of fresh water, apparently as part of his legendary search for the Fountain of Youth.

At the time, the Calusa Indians were living on the island, a powerful tribe that controlled much of the west coast of Florida, though archeologists have uncovered evidence of permanent settlements dating to 4,000 years ago. It was in a battle with the Calusa in 1521, reportedly close to where Fort Myers is today, that Ponce de Léon was mortally wounded, eventually dying in Havana, Cuba.

The island was originally named La Isla de San Marco, but when Florida was taken over by the US in 1821, it adopted the English version, San Marco Island, before eventually being referred to as simply Marco Island.

The island was little more than a sandy gem in an area of the US that was still largely unpopulated, but when William T. Collier arrived with his family in 1870, the history of Marco Island would be changed forever. In 1883, as a burgeoning tourism industry was taking root, his son, William “Captain Bill” Collier, opened the first hotel – now called the Olde Marco Inn – on the northern tip of the island.

The Birth of Modern Marco Island

The Marco Island we see today is a world away from that of old. But plans to develop the island had been brewing for quite some time before Elliott, Robert and Frank Jr. Mackle announced their plans in 1962. Entrepreneur Barron G. Collier bought up much of the island in 1922, but the Wall Street Crash of 1929 put a stop to his ambitions.

In 1962, Marco Island still had a population of only 550, but the Mackles bought out Collier for a reported sum of $7 million, and quickly set about turning the sleepy island paradise into a dream island home and tourist destination.

Their vision was ambitious. Under the Deltona Corporation, they planned the construction of 125 miles of paved roads, 90 miles of navigable waterways, 12,000 homes and condos, and more than 400 acres for hotels and beach resorts.

On New Year’s Day 1965, the new Marco Island was open for business, and within 3 years the island’s permanent population had doubled. By January 1970, 9,500 lots had been sold, 500 apartments constructed, 5 major condo complexes completed, and the modern Marco Island Town Center officially opened.

But progress slowed in the mid-1970s, when environmentalists objected to developments at Barfield Bay and Big Key. Despite lengthy litigation, Deltona lost their appeal in the Supreme Court in 1982, marking the end of the Mackles, but other developers carried on.

Now, Marco Island is home to some 16,000 permanent residents and 35,000 in winter, while world-class hotels welcome visitors from all over the world. The history of Marco Island has long been influenced by the imagination of dreamers, and now as one of the most desirable places to live in Florida, Marco Island continues to be so.