By Barry Gwinn
As earlier reported, the Drop Anchor Trailer Park today is a gathering of brightly painted and colorful trailers and mobile homes. Mostly empty in the summer, the park fairly explodes with activity in the winter. There is a constant to and fro of residents socializing and visiting with each other, catching up on the past year and enjoying the present one. They genuinely seem to like each other here. They will jump at any excuse to socialize, gathering for monthly potluck suppers (and occasional happy hours) in their sunny recreation center. This year there was a festive Christmas potluck supper; there was a soup supper (Italian wedding soup) scheduled in January; and the men take the women out for breakfast every February. Incorporated now as the Drop Anchor Mobile Home Owners’ Association, the park is governed by nine directors serving staggered three-year terms. For the past 20 years they have had little trouble getting people to serve on the board. The park is a tightly run ship, with various committees seeing that park rules are adhered to. The result is an attractive, orderly, and well-maintained park.
Dennis Grill is just finishing up his second five-year term as president of the board and of the association. Grill, who still sports a natty crew cut, is retired from the information technology department of a Des Moines, Iowa insurance company. “Mike Higuera and I have been kind of alternating as president,” said Grill, “Neither one of us could have done it without Lyle Chamberlain (the park’s long serving secretary).” In 1985, Dennis Grill and Agatha (pronounced aGAYtha) Norton arrived in Goodland and have been coming ever since. Tooyoung to qualify for a unit at Drop Anchor, they rented a cabin (seasonally) in Margood Park. “We didn’t make the cut,” said Dennis, “But we moved in as soon as we could.” For much of the last 19 years, Grill says he has held every office in the park except treasurer. The board meets monthly at 9 AM. Each member gets three minutes to speak to an agenda item and the agenda is strictly adhered to. “This is a self-owned, self-managed park. Everything is done by volunteers,” Grill says, “So it’s cheap to live here.” Rents ranged from $3K to $4K annually before incorporation in 1990. Today they are only $825 per year, per unit. With obvious pride, Grill points out that the rates had not been raised for 10 years before the most recent one. The annual fee includes water, sewer, garbage collection, a boat slip, and road, grounds, and dock maintenance. “The park is an extended family,” says Grill, “We all know everyone.” Despite the small size of the units, “We are happy and satisfied because we can be outdoors and with friends.” Grill’s unit is typical, about 900 square feet. “Just right for the two of us and easy to maintain,” says Grill.
J.W. “Dub” Abbott is a sprightly centenarian from Louisville. He served a hitch in the Marines in 1932 and retired from General Electric in 1979. He has been coming to Goodland since 1984. He and his wife rented a place on Henderson Creek in 1979 for five years until, at the urging of a friend, he looked over on Marco Island. His wife had wearied of the isolation of Henderson Creekand wouldn’t stay for the whole winter. He discovered the Drop Anchor Trailer Court and liked what he found. “I heard the fishing was great and saw the large size of the catches the trailer park residents were bringing in,” said Dub, “I felt that this was a place my wife would stay in all winter.” He was right. The proximity of a fine beach and the development of a first class city up the road probably didn’t hurt either. In 1984, Dub bought a trailer for $5K. In 1987, he sold it for $7K and bought Unit F for $20K, also paying $300 for a dock space. It was a water front singlewide mobile home, located on the site of what had been the park’s fish cleaning station, which was usually heaped with piles of fish. “Nearly everyone in the park was a fisherman. There were few golfers,” recalled Dub, “I liked fishing the best.” JoAnn Methner is Dub’s daughter. She and her husband, Don, have wintered in Unit F since 2006. She says that Dub was the first president of the park when it was organized in 1989. “He was the only guy who had a computer at the time,” said Methner, “His job was to go around the park and see how many people he could recruit for the park homeowners association. He managed to sign up seven members. There were about 60 people here then, 47 of which joined the Association.” In 1996, Methner recalls the whole island being abuzz about a movie being made in Goodland. It was “Gone Fishin’” starring Joe Pesci and Danny Glover. The producers hired 18 Goodland boats to go out and play in some scenes. Each owner was paid $100 a day for his boat. The players got $60 a day. The film crew set up a tent in Margood Park to feed the crew and bit players. A stunt lady was killed during the filming, attempting to make a jump over a boat ramp. “I think dad thought he would be a big movie star,” Methner said, “He put on a flashy shirt, anchored his boat in the river and awaited instructions from the director.”
Jack and Bobbie Swisher arrived in at Drop Anchor Trailer Park in 1974, from Clorinda, Iowa. Jack had various businesses, involving cars, real estate and granite memorials. Jack was a B17 and B29 instructor pilot in WWII. In 1964, the Swishers paid $5,000 for a house in Naples, but after 10 years, sold it for $6,500 and bought a singlewide mobile home in the park for $5,000. (According to Grill, units have recently sold for from $80K to $160K.) The Swishers still spend winters there, but have added a porch almost as big as the mobile home. “I came for the fishing,” said Swisher, “I was hoping Bobbie would like it better than Naples.” When he got there, Swisher found the trailer park to be poorly run and maintained. There were still a lot of transients there with their travel trailers. Wild parties were not uncommon. Allen Greer, who was a successful park developer and, according to Swisher, a past Florida Lt. Governor, bought the park in 1974, the same year the Swishers moved in. Greer resided in Sarasota and had retained the local manager of the prior owners.Things changed for the better when Allen Greer moved to the park in 1975. “Greer was the new sheriff in town,” said Swisher, “It was his way or the highway. There was no board of directors.” At the same time Swisher found Greer to be likable. “Each week, three or four of us would get together with Greer, mix some highballs and listen to the Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street Club on the radio.”
Over the years Greer made the park more attractive and improved the standard of living for the residents. Swisher recalled that Greer was instrumental in getting Marco water into Goodland. In 1975 each lot had two water lines coming into it. One line ran in from an artesian well serving the whole park. The well had become polluted with salt when the lining started to rot. The other line ran from a cistern, also servicing the whole park. It was big enough to store and disburse all the rainwater for the year, Swisher told me. “The cistern water was for drinking,” said Swisher, “The well water was only for flushing.” Drinking water that had been sitting around in a cistern was not an attractive option for the park residents. “Many of us had stills, which we used to purify the cistern water,” recalls Swisher, “I brought down a small still from Iowa which could distill one gallon at a time. I sold a number of them to the residents.” Swisher still keeps the still on hand, just in case. Mindful of residents’ complaints, Greer prevailed on Collier County to run a waterline into Goodland. Swisher recalls that at that time, late 1970s, the water workson Marco had run a line down San Marco Road to a water tank, servicing Moran’s Marina at the south end of the Goodland Bridge. Extending this line into Goodland solved the park’s water problems.
When Greer bought the park it was overrun with varmints and vermin. The varmints stayed under the trailers, making a stench. The cats in the park did their best to control this crowd, but the competition was keen. “We had some of the damndest catfights you ever heard,” recalls Swisher, “It kept us awake at night.” Greer, who lived in the park, also heard the ruckus. He decreed that all residences must be skirted and those who didn’t comply must leave the park. “I don’t recall any who had to leave,” said Swisher, “It took a while, but everyone complied.” There was no appeal from a Greer decision.
Swisher remembers that the park was a bit of an eyesore. There was a dense gaggle of TV antennas dominating the space over the residences. It was thought that reception was best when the antennas approached the stratosphere. “They were all over the place,” said Swisher, “It was ugly eyesore. A bird couldn’t fly through there. We used to call them the goose stranglers.” When cable came in, Greer had it run into the park and made the residents get rid of their antennas. Once again there were no holdouts.
The park residents were mostly happy about the way Greer was running the place – except for the fact that Greer was raising the rental rates by 10% every year. By about 1986, Swisher and four or five others began negotiating with Greer movement to buy thepark. “It took a lot of selling to get everyone to subscribe,” recalls Swisher, “Some were able to pay cash. Others were allowed to pay in installments.” Swisher says there were 72 units then. There are only 63 units today; some have since been cleared for visitor parking and green space. Park records show that Greer wanted $1.6M for the park. After two years of negotiations, he agreed to sell it for $1M. Greer had been making a lot of money from rents, and in addition had gotten a $500K mortgage on the park. Some of the trailers encroached on county property. Greer had been charging different rents for different properties. “The park was a gold mine [for Greer]” noted Sara-Jane Higuera, an early association historian. It was generally agreed that although the share prices would be unequal, the total subscription would equal $1M. Fifteen residents were able to pay their full share price (Abbott and Swisher among them); others paid $5K down, and three special cases only had to put $1K down. At least a dozen proposals were rejected by one group or another. The early subscription payments enabled the group to pay $250K down to Greer and obtain a bank loan of $750K. The balance was paid when subscription installments were paid in full. Today the park is free and clear. It is a credit to our community and a monument to what a determined and united group of people can do for themselves.
Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.