As Marco Island morphed from isolated village to resort community over the last 50 years, Craig Woodward has been there as a sharp-eyed observer, participant and now, chronicler of the community’s rich history.
He and his twin brother Mark were 12 when their family left Illinois and moved to Marco in 1968. Their mother, Glenellen became a teacher at Everglades City School, and their father, Arthur, initially sold real estate. In 1971, Arthur Woodward became the island’s first full-time attorney by establishing the law firm known today as Woodward, Pires and Lombardo, where Craig Woodward is a partner and a board certified real estate attorney.
When the family arrived and settled in Old Marco, the Deltona Corp.’s development plans were just beginning to take shape. Residents were few and the old Goodland swing bridge was the sleepy island’s sole access by land. Acres and acres of building-free beach provided the island’s youths with an ideal, waterfront playground.
Woodward recalls an idyllic youth on the island and the surrounding area, where he and his brother could indulge passions for boating, camping and the outdoors.
“I was very, very fortunate because I got a glimpse of the pioneer era before Marco really developed, especially living in Old Marco,” he said. “I now have a weekend home in Everglades City and it reminds me of Marco when we first moved here.”
He recalls the island’s business district as being a profile in minimalism during those early years.
For groceries, there was a 7-Eleven, located off Bald Eagle Drive, where Kretch’s Restaurant is today. A hardware store occupied the structure’s other side. Between them were the utility company office and a small hair salon that served both women and men. The post office was a couple of doors down, on the left side of the current Su’s Garden Chinese Restaurant. Nearby was a Gulf gas station that is now a vacant lot.
Dining options were also few.
Woodward said that within a couple years of the family’s arrival, a restaurant called The Islander opened in what is now Marco Office Supply. But the venerable Snook Inn, the Old Marco Inn and the Old Marco Lodge in Goodland were already in operation, as was the Voyager, a beachfront hotel erected by the Mackles, used primarily by tourists and potential buyers that Deltona Corp. flew in to survey the island.
The airstrip was the ribbon of concrete now known as Landmark Street.
Woodward said Tigertail Beach didn’t exist at that time.
“You could stand on the north beach (the future Hideaway Beach) and look west and there was only water,” he added. “Sand Dollar Island wasn’t there. It was submerged and you could swim out and stand on a sandbar that later rose up to become that island.”
The Woodward brothers started middle school when they arrived, which meant traveling to Gulfview Middle School in Naples. Old Marco was the first stop for their school bus, requiring the boys to awake before sunrise to catch it at 5 AM, for a long, circuitous trip that included stops at the Ideal Fish Camp in Caxambas, Goodland, Collier-Seminole State Park, several small Indian villages, and farms and trailers parks along U.S. 41.
“In 1969 I was thrilled because they opened the (original span of) the Jolley bridge,” he said. “It meant I could sleep in later and it made the trip to Naples a lot shorter.”
After graduating from Naples High School in 1974 (the only other high schools at the time were in Immokolee and Everglades City), Woodward moved on to the University of Florida, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Finance, and then a law degree. His brother also attended “U of F,” but earned his law degree from Stetson University. In 1980, after completing their studies, they returned to Marco and joined their father’s law practice.
For real estate to become the brothers’ professional focus was natural, because it was the firm’s specialty.
“Real estate is sort of the bread and butter of the island,” said Woodward. “You couldn’t have picked a better hand to play than to be a professional on an island that had just started developing and everything was coming on-line. It was great timing.”
He said the firm handled most of the condominium projects on Marco and their late father was responsible for all of the legal work required in acquiring and creating the Hideaway Beach development. After opening a Naples office in 1986, the firm also provided legal services for the development of most of the condos in the Pelican Bay community, located near Naples, and is now providing those services for development underway in Fiddlers Creek.
“For me, real estate sure beats litigation,” said Woodward, who also does some estate planning, and zoning and land-use work for clients dealing with the City of Marco Island. “With real estate, there are no winners and losers. Everybody’s happy.”
Arthur and Glenellen Woodward’s decision to resettle on Marco has its roots in a youthful trip of exploration, a fortuitous sales call and the frigid downside of living in a northern climate.
The couple met as students at the University of Illinois and in 1952, they and another couple went on a camping trip tour of Florida, first journeying down the length of the state’s East Coast.
“They came across (U.S) Route 41 from Miami at Royal Palm Hammock saw a sign for Marco Island, turned and went over the old Goodland Bridge, which was then the only bridge, driving San Marco Road straight to what is now Resident’s Beach,” said Woodward. “They pitched a tent, spent the evening there and never saw a soul.”
Shells were gathered the next morning, and placed in a box they marked “Marco Island.”
“Years later, when we were growing up in Springfield, Illinois, that box of shells was still in the basement,” said Woodward.
In 1967, the couple met with a salesman for Deltona, Ed Husted, who was soliciting customers in the Springfield area. Husted wanted the Woodwards to “fly and buy;” be flown to Marco by the company to make a purchase, but his parents didn’t want pressure to make a commitment, said Woodward.
They decided a family camping trip would be an excellent way to visit the island again. So they attached a pop-up camper to their car and headed south with their sons, setting up camp at Collier-Seminole State Park.
Woodward said his parents met the salesman at the only condo on the beach at the time, the new Emerald Beach Condominium, and left having purchased a lot in the Big Key area, located between Marco and Goodland.
“We went back to Illinois and it was such a frigid winter that my parents said, ‘Why are we waiting to retire to Marco; why don’t we just move now,’” he added.
So in June of 1968, the Woodwards made the island their new home.
It’s likely no-one could have predicted then the relocation would result in Woodward’s developing such a deep interest in Marco’s history back to antiquity that he’s become the area’s unofficial historian.
For the last 15 years, he has conducted a one-day program on the island’s history for the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Marco program. Woodward has written a column on the subject that appears occasionally in the Coastal Breeze. He is also working on a book focused on local history.
Woodward got involved early on with the Marco Island Historical Museum’s formation. He and his family have donated artifacts to the facility’s collection, such as his mother’s Marco Sari dresses, pottery discovered in Old Marco and historical documents, and he is the museum’s former exhibit chairman.
He also assisted the historical society with its partnership agreement with Collier County. He and his wife, Bonnie, raised about $1.2 million to construct the facility, which he helped to design, and they also donated the funds for the vault where the Key Marco Cat will be housed.
“It’s a great legacy for Marco,” he said of the museum. “So many people move to Marco and while they know the history of their hometowns, they don’t really know the history here.”
Woodward credits his mother’s interest in local history with helping spark his own passion for the subject. During her time teaching in Everglades City, she became friends with many people there, as well as in Old Marco; many from families that had lived in these communities for generations.
She would interview people in Old Marco and take copious notes, he said, and she also conducted in-depth research on the community.
“Old Marco was platted (divided into lots) back in the 1920s,” said Woodward. “Because we are in the real estate title business, she was able to figure out where everybody had lived and where all the houses used to be.”
The Woodwards lived on Edington Place, just one street over from location of the 1896 excavation led by archaeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, who discovered the Key Marco Cat and many other Indian artifacts.
“I can remember knowing about it and researching it,” he said of the six-inch-tall, part feline, part human, wooden sculpture. He also pointed out that the island’s Horr’s Island section, which some people incorrectly think was the Marco Cat’s home, was renamed Key Marco to give it a more marketable name when the island (originally named after Capt. Horr, a U.S. Federal Marshall and prominent Florida citizen) was being developed in the 1980s.
His curiosity was further piqued by an archaeological dig he participated in during the late 1960s, led by Marco’s then postmaster, Max Scott, who was an avid amateur archaeologist.
“They were putting in seawalls in Old Marco and I stood in the water looking at a wall of pottery,” said Woodward. “I was amazed me and that got my interest in archaeology going.”
Over the years, he’s increased his knowledge by getting to know archaeologists, taking part in archaeological digs, attending lectures, voluminous reading and simply chatting with people.
The Smithsonian Museum has been the Marco Cat’s home since its discovery and it’s only been displayed in this area twice since then, once at a bank on Marco and once at the Collier County Government Center. Both visits were short-term and generated large crowds.
However, the Cat and other rare examples of rare, pre-Colombian art will return to the island in mid-November, to be displayed at the History Museum until 2021 in a joint effort by the Marco Island Historical Society and Collier County.
“It will be very exciting to have it back where it was found,” said Woodward. “It’s kind of like the movie Field of Dreams: ‘Build it and they will come.’ We built the museum and all of a sudden we have enough clout to bring it back here.”
He has also made his presence felt in the community in other ways.
Woodward is a former, long-time member of Collier County’s Historical and Archaeological Preservation Board and he’s also involved with the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation.
He was recently elected to be the Marco-Goodland Trustee for the Lee County Electrical Cooperative, only the fourth Trustee to serve since the island got power in 1954, and he’s a founding member of Marco’s Sunrise Rotary Club, where he was scholarship chairman for 24 years. Woodward is also past president of the Greater Marco Family YMCA and the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, and he was the keynote speaker at Marco Island’s 50th Anniversary Gala in 2015.
“I get a lot of fulfillment and enjoyment out of that,” he said of his community involvement. “The history part is just a fun thing to do and I think it’s important to give back. My kids grew up here and I have one daughter and grandkids here. I enjoy that people want to know more about Marco.”
Woodward and his wife have three daughters: Karie Petit who is a Marco police officer, Heather, who lives in Tokyo and teaches English as a foreign language, and Amanda, a graphic artist living in Austin, Texas.
Examining the Legends
Craig Woodward’s wealth of knowledge about the history of Marco Island, Goodland and the Ten Thousand Islands has made him a “go-to” authority for two Travel Channel programs that were shot in late 2017 and earlier this year.
He has filmed an episode of the show, “Caribbean Pirate Treasure,” starring Philippe and Ashlan Cousteau, focusing on the legendary Spanish pirate José Gaspar, nicknamed Gasparilla, who was based in Southwest Florida and reportedly hid undiscovered buried treasure in the Marco area.
Woodward provided historical maps and references for the episode.
“Caribbean Pirate Treasure’s” second season debuts on June 13. The program stars the grandson of renowned oceanographic explorer Jacques Cousteau, and his wife.
Woodward also shot an episode in December for a proposed series on the Travel Channel. The episode examines the legend of Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth, which some believe was located in this area.
He has not received notification if the series will actually be produced.
Share Your Marco History
The Marco Island Historical Museum invites people to contribute their personal Marco Island tales to a new, interactive exhibit.
Entitled “What’s your Marco Island Story,” the exhibit invites visitors to share stories, thoughts, and memories about the community and its history through custom social media, photo opportunities, interactive question stations, and memory inspiring artifacts and images.
The exhibit, which runs from June 5 to Oct. 4, is the first designed exhibit developed, designed, and built entirely by the museum’s curatorial staff, led by curator of collections Austin Bell.
The Marco Island Historical Museum is located at 180 S. Heathwood Drive. For more information call 642-1440, or visit themihs.info/ or colliermuseums.com/about/museum-locations/marco-island-historical-museum.