Barron Gift Collier (23 March 1873—13 March 1939) was an American advertising entrepreneur who became the largest landowner and developer in Florida, as well as the owner of a chain of hotels, bus lines, several banks, and newspapers. He also owned a telephone company and a steamship line.
Collier was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He quit school at age sixteen to work for the Illinois CentralRailroad. Within four years, he started his own business, the Consolidated Street Railway Advertising Company of New York City. By age twenty-six, he was already worth a million dollars.
Collier married in 1907 to Juliet Gordon Carnes, also a native of Memphis. In 1911, the Colliers visited Fort Myers, Florida, on vacation, and fell in love with the area. They bought nearby Useppa Island for the sum of $100,000. (The island was reputed to be the place where the Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar had held one of his favorite female captives named Useppa a century earlier, hence the name.)
Collier was an avid fisherman and established the Izaak Walton Club at their Useppa Island resort. Named for the seventeenth century author of The Compleat Angler, it became one of the most exclusive sporting clubs in the world. Collier next developed golf courses and improved a hunting club, the Rod and Gun Club, in Everglades City, Florida, that also attracted wealthy tourists. Over the next decade, the Colliers went on to acquire more than a million acres of land in Southwest Florida, making them the largest private land owners in the state. He invested millions of dollars to transform and develop the wilderness, including drainage of the Everglades and construction of the Tamiami Trail. For his influence and investment in the state’s future, the Florida legislature named the newly-created Collier County in his honor on May 8, 1923.
Barron Collier’s tremendous energy was manifest in other areas. He was involved in the national Boy Scout movement. In New York he served as special deputy commissioner for public safety, and introduced the use of white and yellow traffic divider lines on highways. Following the Lindberghkidnapping in March 1932, he was an influential figure persuading the U.S. government to join INTERPOL in 1938. Interpol originally had been formed in 1923. He was decorated by nine foreign governments.
His wife, Juliet Carnes Collier, appeared on the cover of the U.S. edition of the Tatler, the Tatler and American Sketch, in the early 1930s.
Collier died March 13, 1939, in Manhattan, survived by his wife and three sons, Barron Jr., Miles, and Samuel, and was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York. Although the Great Depression had strained his finances and slowed development of their Florida lands, the next generations of his family would continue his development work in subsequent decades.
The family members participated in many sports, including motorsports, and especially road racing, which led to the sons Miles and Sam founding the Automobile Racing Club of America in 1933, which became the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) in 1944. Miles, Cameron Argetsinger, and Briggs Cunningham were instrumental in founding Watkins Glen near one of their summer retreats. Juliet worried about the risks of racing and tried to influence her sons against it. However, Sam died in a racing accident. The renowned automobile collection of Briggs Cunningham was purchased by a member of the Collier family and ceased to be publicly available.
The Collier County Public School System named Barron Collier High School in honor of Barron Gift Collier, Sr. Credit Wikipedia
Credit this photo: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/138864