Everglades City: Still Florida’s Last Frontier

You can’t travel any further south along the Florida’s Gulf of Mexico than EVERGLADES CITY and CHOKOLOSKEE, at the entrance to the Western Everglades.  In many ways this area is still Florida’s last frontier,  a place for fishermen and nature lovers and people who want to keep a low profile.

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These villages were isolated  frontier until 1923 when Barron Collier made Everglades City the seat of Collier County and supply depot for the construction of the Tamiami Trail highway across the Everglades. . Prior to the boom, this isolated region was Florida’s last outpost for fur trappers, plumage hunters, Cuban fishermen, and people with a disdain for modern civilization.

Everglades City can only be reached by BOAT or DRIVING SOUTH ON FL29, past the 1926 Everglades High School, pride of a town that has lost population since 1930. A. You’ll notice houses on stilts and air boat rides along the river.

TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY, past the Spanish-style railroad depot with its barrel tile roof and past the frame Community Church. You won’t miss the OLD COLLIER COUNTY COURTHOUSE, a 1926 four-columned Greek temple that seems totally atypical for a small village. But this town once had a trolley and other touches of civilization during the Florida Land Boom.

At Shorter Avenue is the (1) COMPANY LAUNDRY BUILDING (1928) (now the Chamber) and the (2) BANK OF EVERGLADES (1926) which is probably the strangest setting for a fine bed and breakfast and spa you’ll ever see.

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At 200 Riverside Drive by Broadway is the wonderful ROD AND GUN LODGE (1890), built by Collier to entertain friends, but expanded to serve tourists. Go inside and imagine Ernest Hemingway and Ted Williams having a drink at the bar after a serious day of bone-fishing in the Ten Thousand Islands. This is a unique place to stay or eat or rent a boat.

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floridatravelerROD&GUNbar

CONTINUE SOUTH ON FL29 to reach CHOKOLOSKEE ISLAND, but stop at the 80-foot E. J. HAMILTON OBSERVATION TOWER for a view of the 10,000 Islands or visit the EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK HEADQUARTERS, which has boat tours into the Everglades’ Western limits.

This area looks like a wonderful outdoor wilderness,  but please remember that between May and October, this tropical areas are the domain of mosquitoes and bugs. A small causeway takes you to CHOKOLOSKEE ISLAND,  150-acre mound of land in a shallow inland sea.  A large campround and RV park dominate the northern tip of the island, but as you drive southward you’ll see rustic old cottages.

Follow the signs to the amazing (3) SMALLWOOD STORE (1917), a one-story board and batten trading post on pilings. Ted Smallwood once owned the entire island in 1896 and his structure was grocery, post office, and symbol of the end of the Florida West Coast.

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 Here Seminole Indians came by boat to trade furs for food items.  It was in front of the store that the locals gunned down the notorious outlaw Edgar Watson, who kidnapped workers for his gruesome sugar cane plantation hidden in the swamps.

Look south into the swamps and imagine the Seminoles arriving by canoes.

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About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as college professor, he moderates the FHIC at www.floridahistory.org
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