Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Naples Hidden Treasure: The Shangri-La Springs

A watercolor painting of shangri-la springs

“naplesLiving in Naples, Florida we are surrounded by gorgeous manicured lawns and medians, newly constructed homes, modern office buildings and unique cultural institutions offering the most significant art collections, most current theater, the best music and gorgeous beachfront hotels with all the most modern amenities.

What we are not surrounded with is physical history. However it’s not because we are lacking in this area. According to the Collier County Museum “Collier County was one of a dozen new counties created during the dizzying Florida land boom of the 1920s. It is the state’s 62nd county and the third largest in total land area.

Vacationers and residents alike are often surprised to discover that this area’s rich and colorful past actually stretches back thousands of years. Humans have lived here for centuries, beginning with the first hunters and gatherers who drifted down the Florida peninsula at the close of the last Ice Age in search of bigger game and warmer winters.”

In the 1700’s, Southwest Florida was found to be a respite stop for pirates escaping the Caribbean heat and other pirates. According to Tom Williams, In 1720, Calico Jack and his female crew of pirates hid what is considered to be roughly 300,000 gold mexican pesos in the 10,000 islands in the hull of a partially sunken Spanish ship, with the intention of returning for it later.  In the meantime, Jack was arrested and hanged in Jamaica for piracy on the high seas. His treasure remains undiscovered.

Collier museum goes on note that while “Remote and inaccessible, the first permanent settlements did not take root until the 1880s with tiny pioneer communities dotted along the coast at Everglade, Naples, Marco Island and Chokoloskee. Further inland at Immokalee and Corkscrew, farming and ranching became the principal means of livelihood.

Modern development began in the 1920s and by the end of the decade, railroads and the Tamiami Trail had pierced the rugged wilderness to begin unlocking the area’s enormous agricultural and resort potential.”

A watercolor painting of shangri-la springsMeanwhile, in the heart of current day Bonita Springs, at the start of the land boon in the 1920’s, the Heitman family constructed the Heitman Hotel on eight acres of land in what is now Old Bonita Springs. The family was developing property to the west and the 25-room hotel provided potential buyers a place to stay while their new homes were constructed. The natural spring, for which the town is named, is located on the grounds and flows into Oak Creek. It was said, at the time, to be the first healing spring in North America. The natural spring, which bubbles up out of the ground and flows into the Oak Creek, is said to have been used by humans for healing and restoration since the time of the Calusa Indians.

The Depression brought hard times and the hotel was sold to the Haverfields and later to Walter Mack of the Cadillac family, who did elaborate remodeling and expanded the hotel to 50 rooms with the name, Villa Bonita.

The next owner was Dr. Charles Gnau, an osteopath interested in the health benefits of the mineral water from the springs. He added a spring-fed pool complete with a statue, “the Indian Maiden of the Springs.”

According to the history of Shangri-La Springs, the property was purchased in 1964 by R.J. Cheatham who was also interested in health practices, particularly natural hygiene. He obtained diplomas in Naturopathy, Homeopathic Medicine, Osteopathy Life Science and Metaphysics. He improved the eight acres of ground to provide places for recreation and points of interest conducive to peace of mind and called the health spa, Shangri La.

In 1993, Leo Dahlman bought the property with the goal of developing Shangri La into a first class health resort. With a background in historic restoration and hotel management, he restored much of the property to its original grandeur.

In 1998, when the property became available for purchase, Addison Fischer and Heather Burch, both long-time conservationists, acquired the property through the Lama Hana Land Trust, to protect the integrity of this important landmark in Bonita Springs.

Today, the historic Shangri-La Springs is a stunning crown jewel of Southwest Florida. A botanically rich property that is open to the public with two rare and exquisite Mysore Fig trees, a certified organic farm that supplies its intimate, art-filled restaurant and architecture that has been restored to its 1920’s grandeur. It is truly a center for vitality through arts and nature.

Shangri-La Springs offers a full-service luxury organic spa, an organic restaurant and lovely gift shop filled with local wonders. They provide programs including yoga, meditation, dance and retreats, as well as hosting local artists and artisans who are featured in the galleries, store and at their Community Art and Nature monthly events. The property, which is available for weddings and retreats, or to simply wander around until you find the perfect spot to curl up with a book for the afternoon, is a gem. The Shangri-La Springs is a hidden treasure that is just waiting for you to discover.

Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Let me know!

Julie Koester is CEO of Life with Moxie, a Lifestyle Revolution Company and Host of Life with Moxie Radio, Saturday’s at 1pm on 98.9 WGUF in Southwest Florida. You can reach her at

Passionate Living by Design, That’s Life with Moxie

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