In many ways the history of the Everglades is the story of Southwest Florida. Always a remote and demanding area, only a handful of white settlers lived along the banks of the Allen River (now the Barron River) and inside what are now the city limits, until Barron G. Collier made Everglades the headquarters for his Tamiami Trail road-building company in 1923.
The Calusa Indians had lived in the area even earlier, of course, and more than three centuries earlier had built a large shell mound on nearby Chokoloskee Island.
The families of John Weeks and William Smith Allen are believed to be the area's first permanent residents, settling along the Allen River just after the Civil War. They were farmers and had to eke out livings on the banks of the river, the only naturally high ground around. This was only 10% of the territory which is now Everglades City; the rest of the high ground today is the result of Collier's dredging operations in the 1920s.
The town's first transportation link to the outside world came when Collier built a railroad 14 miles from Deep Lake to the north, down to the Allen River, and eventually the town grew and became a shipping depot for produce.
Between 1921 and 1923, Collier acquired 90% of the land in southern Lee County, including what is now Collier County. Collier would then start to build the Tamiami Trail, linking Tampa with Miami, which crossed the state through the swamp. This road would become a lifeline for Everglades - but before Collier could build in the town, he had to create a high and dry base for it. From 1926 to 1929 a dredge pulled muck from the Allen River and piled it up to make a town; when the river's supply was diminished, the dredge moved to the east side of town and created Lake Placid. This dredging expanded usable land from less than 100 acres to 660 acres. It also made the town an island with the river on the west, a canal and lake on the east and noth and Chokoloskee Bay to the south.
With land to build on, the town grew - by 1929 there was a trolley, hospital and clinic, movie house, library, railroad depot, common garage for autos, two hotels and, of course, a jail.
Although many construction jobs were lost when the Tamiami Trail was completed in 1928, commercial fishing grew during the late 1920s and 1930s. By 1953, the town had grown large enough to take over its own municipal operations and bought the water, sewer, electric, street, fire and other public services from the Collier company. Soon after, the Collier companies moved thir headquarters to Naples, and the town became less of a construction-related community. Sponge fishing flourished in the 1940s, shrimping in the 1950s, and stone crabbing in the 1960s.
Today, the Everglades includes areas of Carnestown, Chokoloskee, Copeland, Everglades City, Lee Cypress, Monroe Station, Ochopee, Plantation Island, Port of the Islands and Seaboard Village.
Often considered a "walk back in time" life, the Everglades is more typical of earlier days of Florida's development than in the communities found on either coast. Many of those who live in the area have deliberately chosen to take a slower approach to life and live closer to nature, enjoying and preserving the resources of the area. Visitors will find much to do - from the annual Seafood Festival to daily backwater and deepwater boat tours and excursions. Restaurants for every taste can be found - but, of course, seafood is usually the natural choice. Accommodations are availble for every budget and preference. In short, Everglades represents much of the "olde Florida" without the capital "o" - small, friendly communities, good food, comfortable accommodations, and churches to welcome visitors to Sunday services. Everglades, The South Coast of Florida, where there's still time to be friendly.
*Historical information thanks to "Dining and Doing Guide"
NOTE: Special thanks to The Florida State Archives Photographic Collection for Historical Photos
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