Straight down Collier Boulevard and over the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge lies Marco Island, the largest of the 10,000 Islands dotting the coast off Collier and Monroe counties.
Marco's history began with the Calusa Indians, which were the dominant tribe of South Florida hundreds of years ago. The Calusa were a fierce, war-like society -- in fact, a Calusa arrow dealt a fatal injury in 1521 to Juan Ponce de Léon, the Spaniard who discovered the Sunshine State.
Formal archaeological excavations on the island date back to the 1800s. Some 200 years later, Calusa artifacts are still being discovered. As recently as 2006, artifacts were found at the historic Otter Mound property during Hurricane Wilma repairs.
Development dates back to the late 1800s, when W.T. Collier brought his family to Marco Island and opened a hotel, now known as the Olde Marco Inn. About the same time, settlers made their homes in the communities of Caxambas and Goodland.
Marco Island was a center of commerce and tourism in Collier County in its early days. During its heyday, Marco was second only to Everglades City in terms of local prominence. Bill Perdichizzi, a member of the Marco Island Historical Society, said the U.S. Postal Service mail boat made stops on Marco long before it added Naples as a destination.
In the early 1900s, Barron Collier (no relation to W.T. Collier) purchased 90 percent of the island. Betsy Perdichizzi, a charter member of the Marco Island Historical Society, said Barron Collier's plan was to develop the island to resemble Miami. Perdichizzi said Collier had grand visions for Collier County, but the arrival of the Great Depression halted major development on the island until the 1960s. After Collier died, his sons sold their stake in the island to Frank and Elliot Mackle.
By 1973, the population of the island reached about 5,000 full- and part-time residents, according to the city’s Web site. The surge in new residents increased the need for access to the mainland, prompting construction of a second bridge at Goodland in the mid-1970s.
The Mackle brothers’ development plans appeared on target, with people from all over the country and the world investing in the island’s future. The Mackles envisioned a recreational community with easy access to waterways and leisure sports, and they planned for yacht clubs and golf courses.
Environmentalists had other plans.
The Mackle brothers' proposed developments were halted when conservation groups convinced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that removing mangroves to build canals harmed the environment. The Mackles fought the ruling -- which landed in the hands of the Supreme Court -- but were unsuccessful. Investors were compensated in cash or properties elsewhere.
"Originally, they did not plan to have hardly any high-rises along the beach. They wanted the beach to be open and visible," Bill Perdichizzi said. Perdichizzi invested with the Mackle brothers in the 1970s and moved to Marco full-time in the late 1980s with his wife.
Since that time, development on the island has continued at a wildfire pace. High-rises and family homes dot the landscape. The population on the island varies throughout the year, with families from the North making their homes on Marco during the winter.
The city has about 15,000 full-time residents, but that number swells to 35,000 during the winter months. Visitors spend their time golfing, boating or relaxing on the beach.
After spending decades as part of unincorporated Collier County, Marco Island officially became a city on Aug. 29, 1997, and continues to grow in size, population and real estate value.
Marco property in 2006 is valued at about $12 billion -- up 33 percent from last year’s $9.5 billion, according to the Collier County Property Appraiser's office.