Saturday, June 10, 2023

The origin of local place names

1923 coastal map of SW Florida. Submitted photos

1923 coastal map of SW Florida. Submitted photos

By Craig Woodward

A few issues back I wrote an article about a former settlement known as “Grocery Place,” now located in Collier Seminole State Park, and pondered about how this name came to be given to such a remote location considering it was never a place to get groceries! As it turns out, persistence paid off, as a series of four articles written in January of 1927 for The Koreshan Unity’s newspaper “The American Eagle,” published in Estero, provided the answer: Grocery and Sugar Bays, at the entrance to Palm River, were “named by a mishap to the supplies of a hunting party under the influence of the juice that inebriates.” One could have guessed forever and not have figured out that mystery!

The article “The History of the Ten Thousand Islands” was written by C. Roy Watson who noted, that as research for it, he spent many hours discussing local history with old timers of the day (1927)  such as Captain John F. Horr (Horr’s Island, now Key Marco,) C.G. McKinney (from Chokoloskee,) James M. Barfield (husband of Tommie Barfield,) Judge George Storter (from Everglades City,)Captain William D. Collier (from Old Marco,) James Daniels (boat builder) and others.

In addition to providing the answer regarding Grocery Place, Roy Watson also provided the sources for many other place names that we usually take for granted without even wondering about their origins. For example, Gordon Pass in Naples was named for Roger Gordon who ran a fish camp nearby in 1874. Henderson Creek was named after John Henderson, the “Government Surveyor” who surveyed Marco Island in 1876. Roy Watson says that Johnson Bay (northwest of Isles of Capri) was named for Chris Johnson, who lived with his wife on Johnson Island and cultivated and sold mangoes.

Tom Roberts squatted in Caxambas, southeast of the present day Indian Hill, and was fortunate to have been living there when John Henderson was surveying the Island, so he ended up with a bay named after him – “Roberts Bay,” a prestigious name that survives to this day even though the squatter and his family moved away shortly afterwards! Meanwhile, Johnny Roberts (Tom’s brother) squatted at Goodland Point; “naming the place for its characteristics.”

Watson mentions that “Caximba” was pronounced “Kahamba” in 1830 and interpreted to be a “place of many wells” by the Spanish who obtained fresh water there, or he says the name could mean, in ancient Spanish, “the torch” a reference to possible “Indian fires showing from the hill tops.” Cape Romano was named “Punta Longa” by the Spanish and later renamed “Cape Roman” by the British. Although not mentioned by Watson, it should be noted that the British surveyor engaged to survey this area during the period the British owned Florida was none other than Bernard Romans who named the Cape after himself! Later, after Florida passed back to Spain, they changed the “s” to an “o” apparently to make it more “Spanish.”

Morgan’s Pass just north of Cape Romano was named from the wreck of the schooner “Morgan,”and Round Key just south of there from its shape.  Watson says that the naming of “Coon, Rabbit, Tiger, Panther, White Horse Keys came from being infested with the respective animals.” (However, today it seems highly unlikely that there were tigers or white horses infesting these tropical islands!) Chatham Bend and Chatham River were named by

Caxambas Area, Roberts Sec. 20 & 21.

Caxambas Area, Roberts Sec. 20 & 21.

an Englishman who saw a similarity to Chatham, England. The Barnes and Whitney Rivers were named for settlers by those names. Meanwhile, the Blackwater River (in current day Collier-Seminole State Park) was named for the “murky water and the dark colored bottom.” Finding an old Indian field with a large collection of pumpkins resulted in the name “Pumpkin Key” and the adjacent Pumpkin Bay.

A Key that is shown on most old maps, chiefly because of its prominent location off the coast of the Ten Thousand Islands, is Pavilion Key. Watson says its name was derived from “a soldiers’ camp of pavilion tents upon it at one time during the Seminole War.” Turner River (east of Chokoloskee) was named after Dick Turner, a scout who returned after the Seminole Wars to settle there. The Harney River was named after Colonel Harney who led an expedition up the river to capture and hang an Indian Chief who had previously massacred his troops on the Caloosahatchee River (near the present day Cape Coral) during the 2nd Seminole War.

Meanwhile, Mormon Key at the entrance to the Chatham River was named by a coastal surveyor named Hergesheimer who was “so impressed with the doings of a squatter reputed to have polygamous proclivities” living there that he gave it that name!

Lostman’s River and Lostman’s Key were named because a party of deserting English sailors who, escaping from Key West, chose poorly and paid a local fisherman to help them. He left them deserted on that Key, reportedly telling them “they would find a town on the other end of the island.” The sailors were found in starving condition by Mr. William S. Allen (the founder of Everglades City), who took them to Punta Gorda.  Lastly, Cape Sable at the south tip of the Florida peninsula is French for “Sandy Cape;” an old name on French maps that survives to this day.

With all his curiosity in how places got their names, it is satisfying to know that Roy Watson also got his name permanently affixed to S.W. Florida. “Watson Road” in the Caxambas area of Marco was named for him. Why this particular street? Because, in April of 1920, Watson purchased all of the property to the north of this road from the Barfields, an area still well known by its elevation and the location of a small fresh water pond. When Barron Collier acquired almost all of Marco Island in 1922, including much of Caxambas, from the Barfields, he did not purchase the property of Roy Watson who continued to reside there.

Many of our local names have been added since 1927, but it is interesting to explore those that are this old. Obviously, all history buffs owe a debt of gratitude to C. Roy Watson, who put in a lot of work in writing this early history, which includes more than just the history of local place names. I also want to thank Gabriela Cardenas, a college student at the University of Florida, who took her free time to assist me by going to their library to pull the old microfilm archives from 1927 of the “American Eagle” and sent copies of old forgotten newspapers to me!

Craig Woodward moved to Marco Island in 1968 and has practiced law in Collier County since 1980. Craig is the Chairman of the Collier County Historical and Archeological Preservation Board.


2 responses to “The origin of local place names”

  1. Uncle Bob Naples says:

    How did Brothers Key, Dismal Key, receive their acquired names…..

  2. Bobby Giangregorio says:

    Why is Marco island called the”Rock” ?

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