St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States. Nonetheless, portions of Florida were still wilderness into the twentieth century.
In 1912, C. G. McKinney, a Chokoloskee island store owner, wrote complaining that two letters sent to him went to Everglade [now Everglades City] despite the fact that Chocoloskee was bigger. Chokoloskee had ten families and two businesses. Ted Smallwood ran the other.
Chocoloskee was an island; Everglade wasn’t. So in 1923 when Collier County was carved from Lee County to the north, Everglade was made its county seat.
Hunters, fishermen and wanderers came though the area in the early 1800s. Seminoles were said to have planted potatoes along what is now the Allen River. Conflicts between the groups led to the Seminole Wars throughout Florida. In one of the last battles, an Army surveying crew destroyed a Seminole plantation west of Everglade in 1855. Eventually, almost all Seminoles were forced to move to Oklahoma with just a few fleeing into the Everglades Swamp where their descendants live to this day.
Barron Collier, who made a fortune in advertising, began buying millions of acres of Southwest Florida land in 1922. In return for the creation of a county in his name, he agreed to finance the completion of the Tamiami Trail begun in 1915 from Tampa to Miami. Naturally, the road would run through his land.
Everglade [as it was known then] was a company town and the headquarters for the construction of the new highway through the swamp. Canals were dynamited and dredged along the road, and the fill was used for the roadbed.
Barron Collier gave the money for construction of many of the buildings in town and promoted a highway and railroad to Immokalee to the north.
The railroad depot was used in the 1957 film Wind across the Everglades starring Burl Ives and The Sound of Music’s Christopher Plummer.
Everglade became Everglades City in 1953. The county seat was moved to Naples in 1962. Today, the population has fallen to about 400 people. But it still retains an “old Florida” flavor. People hunt, fish and boat. But today’s boats are more likely to be kayaks than “gator boats,” and most of the fishermen are tourists. Everglades City proclaims itself the “Stone Crab Capital of the World.”
Nearby is the Gulf Coast Visitor Center for Everglades National Park. It is the entrance to the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Reserve, an environment very different from the rest of the park.
Click on photos to enlarge.