Ten years of work results in the most thorough Naples history ever

Harriet Howard Heithaus/Staff
Lila Zuck began researching Naples because she couldn’t find a definitive history of it when she moved here.$RETURN$$RETURN$

Harriet Howard Heithaus/Staff Lila Zuck began researching Naples because she couldn’t find a definitive history of it when she moved here.$RETURN$$RETURN$

The book is epic-length: 1,007 pages and 1,600 illustrations, a portly volume in an accounting-ledger, dimpled green cover with a simple photo and a title this city’s founder would have bestowed:

“Naples, the Second Paradise.”

Walter Haldeman’s world view would insist that the first paradise was in heaven, and more than a century after his death, Lila Zuck, author of the book, respects that wish.

“It’s not that I’m particularly a person who wants to inject religion into it, but Haldeman’s values were what shaped this city,” she explained. “When this land was for sale, there were other groups developing Florida, and this city could have turned out totally differently.

“The Ringlings were buying land, too. If they had bought what is now Naples, it would look a lot more like Sarasota.”

Such is Zuck’s dedication to history. The book, presented by the Naples Historical Society, gets its unveiling Friday at a society “Chickee chat,” where the public can learn more about her 10 years of work on it.

If you go

GARDEN SIDE CHICKEE CHATS

What: Featuring “Naples, the Second Paradise” and its author, Lila Zuck. Sponsored by the Naples Historical Society

When: 11 a.m. Friday

Where: Chickee Pavilion in the Norris Gardens at Palm Cottage. 137 12th Ave. S., Naples

Cost: Free for members, $5 for nonmembers. Reservations required at 239-261-8164

Something else: There will be limited seating, so make reservations early.

“The Second Paradise” is being called the first definitive history of this city.

“Her methodology wasn’t just asking for stories. Lila chose to go to the minutes of the organizations, getting everything on the record,” said Elaine Reed, executive director of the Naples Historical Society.

“There have been too many misrepresentations of history floating around. This book lays them to rest.”

She called Zuck “the right arm of the historical society.”

Zuck slaved over accuracy, reading through every minute recorded of every city meeting. She spent four years coming in every weekday with the city clerk’s staff, planting herself in a corner with an electric pencil sharpener and her notebooks. All day she would write down every germane — and sometimes arcane — decision of the city fathers and mothers of yore.

“I would get there at 8 o’clock. When the staff got ready to clock out at 5, I’d say, ‘I guess I’d better clock out, too. Oh, wait — I don’t get paid,’ ” Zuck said she used to tease the staff.

“It was four years, seven days a week.”

Zuck spent Mondays to Fridays at City Hall and Saturdays and Sundays in the Collier County Public Library, poring through old copies of the Collier County News.

When she had questions that could be answered accurately by officials, she called them.

Zuck’s passion for the whole story makes her a variant of a pack rat that could be called a “fact rat.”

“My head is just stuffed with pieces of information,” she said.

Her book is buttressed by facts to a depth five other books about the city aren’t.

'Naples, a Second Paradise,' by Lila Zuck (2013) sponsored by the Naples Historical Society$RETURN$$RETURN$

"Naples, a Second Paradise," by Lila Zuck (2013) sponsored by the Naples Historical Society$RETURN$$RETURN$

Most, she said generously, weren’t meant to be.

“They were glimpses of the city,” Zuck said, leafing through much briefer histories of limited time periods, or pictorials of the city.

In some of them, however, and throughout the city are some myths floating around as facts:

That the city dock was deeded to the city on the 1939 date inscribed on its plaque. It was officially presented to Naples a year later.

That Speed Menefee should be touted as Naples’ “15-minute mayor” because he resigned his seat immediately after his election. He actually had been serving in the capacity for two years before the vote.

That the Gordon River bridge is unnamed. The City Council actually voted to name the span — and not for the Gordon River — Zuck learned from council meeting minutes. But World War II turned the city’s attention to other needs, and it never backed the decision with an identifying sign.

Zuck claims no historical credentials.

“Before I came here, I was busy raising my kids,” she said.

But after she arrived in Naples more than 20 years ago, she began researching because she couldn’t find any substantial history of it, she said.

She has written another book, “Naples’ Oldest Tradition: Swamp Buggy Days.”

For that, she sleuthed out names for unidentified people in archived photos and worked with tapes she had helped the late Collier County historian Maria Stone compile.

When Everglades City historian Marya Repko suggested the project of a book about Naples, it was lighting the fuse for Zuck.

“The history of Naples had never been recorded. And it needed to be recorded. And I have the time and discipline to do it,” she said.

She didn’t find those years of reading boring: “Never. Never,” she said.

“Some of it brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “The people who created this city as it is were so excited and so optimistic. ”

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