Our First Manager Of The City Of Naples

Author, Lila Zuck

Fred Lowdermilk was appointed manager just four months before the City of Naples was chartered in 1949.

City Manager Lowdermilk, on the left, and City Engineer William Cambier at the City Nursery in 1951.

He was an engineer, who had overseen the construction of the railroad from Deep Lake to Everglades in 1927.

Served as the City of Fort Myers Supervisor of Public Works from 1929-1947 and simultaneously worked as an engineer for the Florida Road Department from 1933 to 1936.

In addition to developing Naples’ street building program and sewer distribution system, City Manager Lowdermilk planned and designed the city’s landscaping. He established a City Nursery on the southwest corner of Cambier Park and within three years, over 430 trees and shrubs he germinated from seeds were ready for planting.

He donated an ornamental African Tulip tree to each of two hundred homeowners. The trees’ reddish- orange blossoms were breathtaking and attracted humming birds. In 1952, each of Naples’ six churches was given a rare Golden Shower to plant on its parish grounds.

Along the northern side of the City Nursery he planted Funtumia elastica, African rubber trees, and gooseberry plants to break the north wind. Eighty-three trees, including Ficus, were planted along Central Avenue and First Avenue South, 137 African Tulips were planted along Lake View Terrace, 36 Royal Poinciana along 4th Avenue South, and 100 purplish-white flowering Black Calahash on 4th and 5th Streets. Palms were planted along all streets that were 60 feet wide.

Lowdermilk had seven coconut palms planted at the beach end of all the streets from 4th Avenue South to Broad Avenue South, in a semi-circle to designate they were vehicle turn-around points at the dead end streets.

The Tabebuia trees he planted on 13th Avenue South, whose butter cup yellow flowers precede the trees’ green leaves in March, and the orchid trees in front of Gulf View Middle School were his inspiration, along with the seemingly endless rows of Jacarandas, in 1958, on West Lake Drive, whose blossoms burst forth in April, turning the sky from blue to lavender. Lowdermilk lined Gordon Drive with two miles of date palms.

In 1954, City Manager Lowdermilk had additional flowering trees planted along the city’s avenues, and palms planted along the narrower north-south streets. He also opened all the east-west avenues leading to the beach.

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City Manager Lowdermilk, on the left, and City Engineer William Cambier at the City Nursery in 1951.

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Fred Lowdermilk in 1929.

After City Manager Lowdermilk retired in 1960, he was asked to identify all the trees he had planted years earlier in Cambier Park. Each tree was labeled and a walking tour of Cambier Park was inaugurated.

In 1961, Lowdermilk Park was dedicated to our first city manager. The park’s Coquina Lake, was so massive in size that in jest, while on vacation in Venice, Italy, Naples residents General and Mrs. E.W. Timberlake wrote home to Michael Chance, editor of The Collier County News, that they were considering shipping a gondola to Naples for placement in the lake at Lowdermilk Park.

The entrance to Lowdermilk Park, at Banyan and Gulf Shore Boulevards and the park’s Coquina Lake, 1961.

Touched by the dedication of Naples’ second municipal park in his honor, Fred Lowdermilk announced to the community “You do not know how much I appreciate this honor. I have tried to follow the path Cambier blasted for me over the past 11 years. I deem this an honor, one of the finest that can be given any man.” Both men provided the city with a strong engineering foundation.

Fred Lowdermilk, passed away on November 17, 1974. He served the nation during World War I, Collier County soon after its creation in 1923, and the City of Naples from 1949-1960. As City Manager during a period when each person employed by the City wore many hats, his duties were tasking and varied.

After his passing, the coconut palms Fred Lowdermilk began planting as early as 1950 towered over Fifth Avenue South, their fronds rustling in the Gulf breezes that carried the aroma of sea salt with them as they swept across the avenue.

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A view of Fred Lowdermilk’s coconut palms along Fifth Avenue South in 1975.

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Lowdermilk admiring the blossoms of a rare orchid in his personal greenhouse in 1965.

In 1974, the City’s first tree ordinance was created to protect trees within the City, to assist in the control of flooding, dust, heat, air pollution, noise, and to maintain the aesthetic and health values within the City. The ordinance also established a “tree bank”, whereby private property owners could donate unwanted trees, to be replanted on City property.

As tree planting accelerated, in 1987 the City of Naples was first awarded the designation of being a Tree City U.S.A. Community by the Florida Division of Forestry, a distinction it has maintained every year thereafter, originally established by Naples City Manager Fred Lowdermilk.