The Everglades, once considered a swamp, is actually a wide, shallow river running from Lake Okeechobee to the west Florida coast (The Everglades: A River of Grass, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, 1947). Many islands, known as the 10,000 Islands, have been formed along the coast. Few inhabited places are located in the Everglades. Two small communities remain on the west coast, Everglades City and Chokoloskee, highlighted on the chart above.
There is much water among the 10,000 islands, though little with enough depth for a cruising boat. The channel through the mangrove islands toward Everglades City is tricky with many quite shallow spots.
Everglades City was once a prosperous and important city in southwest Florida. The impressive city hall stands in tribute to this once thriving town.
The Caloosa inhabited this area for centuries. The first white settlers arrived during the civil war. In 1889, George Storter, Jr., purchased the land in this area for $800 and built a home along the river.
The area remained a small fishing village until 1922, when Barron Collier, an advertising millionaire from New York, began buying property, eventually owning most of southwest Florida. He converted the Storter home into the private Rod & Gun Club.
It has been a popular place hosting many celebrity guests, including Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon. Films made in the area have brought famous guests - Winds Across the Everglades (Burl Ives, Gypsy Rose Lee), Cannonball Run (Bert Reynolds, Sally Field), Just Cause (Sean Connery), Gone Fishing (Danny Glover and Joe Pesci). A wide diversity of the famous have visited, from Mick Jagger to Jack Nicklaus to Earnest Hemmingway.
The Rod and Gun Club is now operated as a hotel and restaurant. It also serves as a marina, tying boats to the bulkhead along the Barron River. A popular stop for cruisers since it is the only place to stop. The closest anchorage is 3 miles away.
Today, one of the biggest industries is air boat rides. (The boat at left has an additional passenger on the bow.) Tourism, restaurants, and fishing make up the majority of the commerce.
This boat for sale illustrates the philosophy that boats priced at "free" are often overpriced.
If a quaint fishing village is a place you might like to settle, an interesting house with a lighthouse is for sale. A unique property, on the Barron River, with a single wide for a guest cottage (don't want those guests staying too long). Next door, the airboat ride operation keeps the home humming with the sweet sound of propellers driven by Chevy V8's. The property comes with a long dock and a fishing boat, easily converted into a cruiser.
Uniqueness may describe much of Everglades City. Yard art incorporated into landscaping is another example.
In Chokoloskee, the community where Totch was born, the Smallwood General Store still stands. It is now a museum. The store has a large role in local history as it is the site where Ed Watson was killed. The area residents, tiring of Watson's ways, all shot him in front of the store as he stepped off his boat. The account is detailed in Peter Matthiessen's well-researched historical fiction, Killing Mr. Watson, 1990.
And, for a fun read, Carl Hiaasen's Nature Girl uses Everglades City and the 10,000 Islands as its setting.
Now, with a brief introduction to the Everglades and your reading assignment - Stoneman Douglas, Brown, Matthiessen, Hiaasen - we leave you with a sunset at Cape Sable, the southernmost point of the Florida peninsula.