No story of Collier County could possibly be considered complete without mention being made of one of the county's best known citizens - Mrs. J. M. Barfield of Collier County.
The newcomer in Collier County will hear many times before the first week has passed, tales of the endeavor of this charming woman and the power for good she has welded in the upbuilding of her county. Tales of battles with the county commisioners of Lee County before the division which made Collier a seperate unit; tales of battles with nature and of the victory; tales of lobbying in Tallahassee to help bring about the founding of the new county and tales of her widely appreciated hospitality, her hospitality and charm.
Mrs. Barfield was born in Cordele, Georgia in 1888 and came to Caxambas in 1902 with her parents, Mr.and Mrs.A.T. Stephens. Her father had been suffering from Malaria and had learned of the island's immunity from that disease and was well repaid in health for the breaking up of the old Georgia home.
In 1906 Mrs. Barfield, then Miss. Tommie C. Stephens, married Mr. J.M. Barfield who then operated a general store along with his vegtable business on the lower end of the island and here was built the famous Barfield Hotel on top of the highest point in South Florida, those hills known as the "Heights" from which such a magnificient view of miles and miles of Collier County can be enjoyed. Aggressive in spirit, determined in her efforts to accomplish any undertaking attempted, empowered with untiring energy and backed by a powerful will, Mrs. Barfield looked out over the rugged contours of her chosen surroundings from her home on the hill and visualized the latent possibilities of development. Not content to remain within the close confines of her immediate household and permit her children to grow upon an isolated island, but at the same time happy in her home life and satisfied with the possibilities of future growth of the section, she did not wait for things to happen, but began making definate plans to bring about improvements
Unselfish and untiring energy has marked the dusty path of Mrs. Barfield's progress in building and accomplishing the plan for her children and for the community of which she has lived. but Mrs. Barfield was no dreamer of idle dreams. She visualized the possibilities that lay before her and made her plans to accomplish her purpose. Addition after addition was made to the little home on the hill, and friends coming and going and telling others, soon brought visitors to the island and to the Barfield Hotel, which soon became a popular resort where choice sea foods and home grown vegtables soon created a reputation for the hotel's cuisine. Jellies, pastes and preserved fruits of the numerous verieties prolific in the sub-tropical clime caused the hotel guests to place orders for delicacies to be carried back north with them. To meet this demand, still another addition was made to the hotel and a small manufacturing plant was added to the back of the kitchen, where Mrs. Barfield would often be found working into the small hours of the night.
Mrs. Barfield's first entry into the public affairs of the island was in the building of the highway connecting Marco and Caxambas, a distance of five miles over sand hills on the southern end and across mangrove swamps and bogs towards the north. At this time, the tri-weekly mail from Fort Myers via Naples was landed at Marco and transported by wagon and later by Ford car over the poor excuse for a road to Caxambas. In the wet weather the mangrove swamp was a bog, and in the dry season the sand hills made travel very difficult. The first car to attempt this run with the mail soon cut deep ruts into the road, and as the county seat and the county commisioners were then many hours of weary travel away at Fort Myers, the road soon became impassable, and a boat was employed to take the mail around the island.
Works For The Road
The county commisioners were beseeched by the islanders to give them relief from this situation but with only disultory results. Feeling the importance of a road to the success of her plan, Mrs. Barfield finally went into action in such a forceful manner as to soon establish her in the minds of the county commisioners of Lee County. Taking a handful of her constituants with her, she took a boat from Marco to Fort Myers, an all day journey, and presented the situation to the board. After much delay and several days away from her numerous home duties, the board instructed her to purchase a Ford truck and to proceed with the work of making a fill across the swamps that would permit liason between the two island towns. Acting on the verbal instructions of the commisioners, she placed an order for a second hand truck and returned to Caxambas, well pleased with the results of her labors.
However, no sooner than Mrs. Barfield left the city than private interests presented a proposition to the commisioners, purporting to save the county money and accomplish the same results by the use of privatly owned equipment, and the order for the truck was countermanded.
When word reached Caxambas of this dirty dealing, Mrs. Barfield became justly incensed and again set out for Fort Myers, for verification of the reports, which was finally confirmed with numerous explainations. but feeling assured, and knowing from past experiences with the same situation that this only meant another outlay of county funds with no results to the community, Mrs. Barfield was not to be thus easily put off. Taking the offensive, she set out for Tampa and with her own private funds from tireless labor in the hotel and manufacturing of fruit products, bought a truck and had it delivered at Caxambas. Again facing the commisioners, she asked permission to build the road, and it is of record in the county offices today that the road bed constructed was of the most lasting material at the lowest cost to the county of any similar road built before or after.
Creates Ferry Service
But still, there was no outlet from the island to the mainland except by boat and a small privatly owned barg that, if not in use at some other point on the island, would sometimes transport one across the channel if one would personally assume the risk. Mrs.Barfield therefore began another campaign for a ferry across the channel, and backed by her faithful constituents presented her petition before the board, which was promptly laid on the shelf with the excuse that a ferry across an open channel was illegal and was contrary to the regulations of the war department.
The commisioners, nevertheless, had not yet learned to know and appreciate mrs. Barfield. Their refusal of her petition only augmented her determination to see it through. Other channels were spanned by ferries and even bridges. She knew it. Why not Marco pass?
For nine months, at every meeting of the board, Mrs. Barfield continued to present her petition, not passively, but with new reasons and more urgent demands at each meeting, until finally, feeling the force of her arguements and the power of her personality, she was instructed to secure a barge and begin operation of the ferry.
Talks Turkey To Board
Again however, private interests interferred, and at the following meeting of the board, Mrs. Barfield was not present and the ferry was awarded to another party who falsely claimed that Mrs. Barfield had been unable to secure a suitable barge.
But though absent at the meeting, Mrs. Barfield read of the boards actions and again set out for Fort Myers by way of the slow moving boat and without delay called the several members of the board from their homes, had a special meeting called, the late contract with the private interests rescinded - and the ferry was at last definitely established.
Is Interested in Community
Standing firmly for what she considers the rights and privilages of her people, Mrs. Barfield has always unhesitatingly and unflinchingly stood immovable against all attacks to the contrary coming from whatever source they might.
Besides her innumerable official duties with the Collier Organization, Mrs. Barfield always finds time to represent her people's interests. In the county fairs, her supervision of Collier County exhibits invariably attract attention. At the same time as a sports woman, she holds the world's record. according to a clipping taken some time ago from Rube Allen's "Florida Fisherman" for the largest mangrove snapper, the fish weighing an even fifteen pounds.
Collier County is mighty proud of Mrs. Tommie C. Barfield.
An added note:
Mrs. Barfield was the inspiration for the book
" A Girl Called Tommie,"
Queen of Marco Island, Florida.
Authors: Katherine S. Kirk and Elizabeth M. Perdichizzi
From the University of Florida Digital Collections ,
Historical Newspapers of Florida.