The Tamiami Trail linked Tampa to Miami (Ta for Tampa and well, you get it), traversing the Florida Everglades; it was considered an engineering marvel at its 1928 opening. Not long after the cars began using it the first roadside attractions began to spring up along the route. Alligator shows, wrestling shows, Indian Villages, gift shops, fishing camps, restaurants and rest stops for weary travelers. Today you can find airboat rides and swamp buggy rides too.
We’d intended to take an airboat ride but decided not to. A swamp buggy was even more intriguing but four hours was too long for a body jarring jaunt through lord knows where and what if we broke down? Wimps.
The Museum of the Everglades and lunch at the #2 dining spot Camellia Street Grill was more appealing. The “donations only” museum was divine and beautifully restored; located in the laundry building for the 1920s company town it contained enough but not too many well-designed displays and a seating area to view four short videos.
Here we learned how and who built the Tamiami Trail in 5 long, grueling years and the history of the city that began as the village of Everglade. Settled in the 1870s by a Connecticut Yankee living in Key West, his farmlands and house were bought by George Storter, Jr. who had migrated here from Alabama with his family in search of a warmer climate. I can see if you live north of Virginia, but Alabama isn’t warm enough?
Along comes self-made millionaire, the flamboyant advertising mogul, Barron Gift Collier. He took over the Storters’ holdings for his agricultural interests in 1921. He offered to finish the Tamiami Trail from Naples (where it had stalled) to the Dade County line (Miami area). In return he requested that Collier County be created out of the acres he owned and the legislature agreed.
First a town was needed as a base to provide and house workers so Collier built a company town. Grocery, laundry, Post Office, Bank, Inn, Community Center, jail, courthouse, housing and the necessary infrastructure for the engineering center and county seat. Residents had the benefit of telephone service, newspaper and hospital.
From this base 76 miles of road through uncharted swamp was completed between 1923 and 1928, with not a single loss of life. Even though we saw photographs of the machinery and methods, still hard to comprehend an undertaking of this magnitude; just feeding everyone was a monumental effort. Thanks Barron.
Next, lunch time and TripAdvisor came through again.
You place your order, find a table and your food, add’l beverages and check are brought out to you. New Zealanders waited in front of us; further proof that Florida’s 60 million annual visitors make it the Numero Uno travel destination in the world.
We also learned, no surprise, that the teeny Ochopee Post Office is the smallest in the U.S. The current tiny building replaced a larger one that was destroyed by one of those nasty hurricanes in 1953; an irrigation shed in its former life.
A stop at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City was a must and you can look out toward the 10,000 islands. Boat tours and a small info center with displays, booklets reminded us of Flamingo. The 11am ranger-led talk could not have been better and when Mark suggested we walk away with a NPS Bird Checklist booklet for the Everglades, I got two. One for “he who is a man ahead of his time.” I’d always (not recently though) kept a list of birds we saw in our backyards in Old Saybrook and Essex and Benj had a long list of ones he spotted in the Florida Keys during our first year cruising, but I never considered an official checklist. Oh watch out now as she takes those binoculars and camera everywhere!