Everglades City, Florida - Once the Last Frontier
In her book, Hidden History of Everglades City, Maureen Sullivan-Hartung titles one of her chapters, Welcome to Everglades City, Home of the Last Frontier. She was spot on describing the historical participation Everglades City had in finishing the final pathway across the Everglades, the Tamiami Trail. This frontier was a river of grass, swamps, tangled brush and mud. Most people, including government officials, thought this to be an impossible task. Except one man named Barron Collier.
Collier knew that a road in the 1920s that would connect Tampa with Miami would bring significant trade and development opportunities. The vast wilderness surrounding Everglade (the original name of the area) seemed impenetrable to all but Collier. He made a deal with the state of Florida. If they would create a new county out of the southern portion of Lee County, he would complete the Tamiami Trail to Miami with his own considerable finances.
Little Growth for 100 Years
Eventually, Collier County was created. Everglades City became the county seat and Barron Collier completed his road project in 1928. There are records that indicate as many as 700 people resided in Everglades City in its prime, some hundred years ago. The 2020 census says there are 469 people there now. The population decline may indicate the challenges this town faced in this sub-tropical wilderness bordering The Everglades National Park and Big Cypress Preserve.
In 1962 the county seat of Collier County was moved to Naples, Florida. Since that time, hurricanes, creation of Alligator Alley (Rt. I-75) a few miles north and lack of any industry except fishing have kept this a sleepy little village much the same as it was when Collier’s dream began.
Fishing is Fantastic!
Fishing opportunities should not be considered insignificant. Today this area is still the gateway into the 10,000 islands area of the Everglades. Some of the best inshore sport fishing in the world can be chartered from Everglades City. On occasional trips from the town’s many docks we have caught huge numbers of snook, redfish and tarpon in the back bays, rivers and mangroves near Everglades City.
At one time, many celebrities enjoyed the same adventures including Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Hoover and Nixon. Even John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway knew of the area’s reputation for sport fishing and hunting. All of these notable people and many more stayed at the Rod and Gun Club, once owned by Barron Collier. The then illustrious Rod and Gun Club is still operating in Everglades City, despite losing most of the grand reputation the hotel once had.
While sport fishing opportunities are almost year-round, Everglades City in one of the top producers of stone crab claws that come in season every October 15th. Tons of claws are shipped around the state and fine restaurants in the north. Stone crab claws are considered seasonal delicacies by many seafood connoisseurs.
If you are familiar with the Tamiami Trail (Rt. 41), all you need to do is turn south on Rt. 29 which is about 16 miles east of south Naples, Florida. If you are not familiar with Tamiami Trail, you are missing one of the great roadways in Florida. Few highways in Florida offer the opportunity to view many species of some 300 plus birds in the Everglades, plus the creatures in the waterways including alligators. If you are super adventurous, we have written about the “alligator super highway” just off the Tamiami Trail called Loop Road.
While time and mother nature has hammered Everglades City, the people have endured. Many structures are maintained in their original form for the preservation of the city’s past as the center point for crossing the last frontier. Your visit to Everglades City will be a glimpse of man’s ability to flourish despite formidable challenges.