Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Everglades City celebrates its history

Ed and Donna Chesney eat birthday cake beside their 1947 Lincoln Continental. PHOTOS BY JIM SOUSA/COASTAL BREEZE NEWS

Ed and Donna Chesney eat birthday cake beside their 1947 Lincoln Continental. PHOTOS BY JIM SOUSA/COASTAL BREEZE NEWS

April 26 is an important date in the calendar for residents and fans of that unique rural community, Everglades City.  It was on April 26, 1928 that the Tamiami Trail, or US 41, was opened and also, seventy years later, on April 26, 1998 the newly-opened Museum of the Everglades held its dedication ceremony. Every year, to commemorate both events, Friends of the Museum of the Everglades host a birthday party to celebrate. This year April 26 fell on a warm, sunny Saturday. Many attended the party, now a tradition, to visit the museum, listen to old-timers’ stories, be entertained with music from “Snooker Joe Stem” and Terri Rementeria, and to enjoy free hotdogs, lemonade and birthday cake.

Besides all this, members of the Naples-Marco Island Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America brought their vintage cars for all to admire, and guides offered a walking tour of the historic buildings of Everglades City.

Manager, Tim England, enthusiastically welcomed the visitors and thanked them for coming. All morning, he helped the volunteers who brought and served the food and drinks, and set up chairs under a marquee so the musicians could play to their audience in the shade. As busy as he was, all the while making copious amounts of lemonade for the guests, Tim described to me some of the history of this fascinating place, from the early days when Barron Gift Collier arrived in 1921 and dredged waterways and filled in the land, then allowed the state to create Collier County out of it on condition that they built the Tamiami Trail from Naples to Dade County; to the history of the museum itself, brought about in great part by Pauline Reeves, who restored the building that now houses the museum (at one time the City Laundry), and in whose memory the front lobby of the museum is now dedicated.

Everglades City was developed by Barron Collier in the 1920s as a model city to entice people to move here. Collier’s agricultural business

Tim England, Manager of the Museum of the Everglades for the past six years, is dedicated to educating the public on the rich history of the area.

Tim England, Manager of the Museum of the Everglades for the past six years, is dedicated to educating the public on the rich history of the area.

produced cash crops which he shipped up to New York; on the return trip goods were sent back down from New York for the people living in Collier’s new city. Everglades City became home to a number of banks, a hospital, a movie theater, and a three-story department store!

While Tim filled me in on the history of the region and the museum, “Old-Timers” Jimmy Brewer, Erik and Juanita Weldon, and Bob Wells regaled an audience inside the museum’s media center with “Hurricanes: Stories from the Past.” Weldon was Deputy Sheriff at the first and second Everglades City Jails. At that time, he and his wife lived right there on the first jail premises (now Susie’s Station.)

The newly redesigned media center is just one of the improvements of which Tim is proud. The museum can now invite groups to come for educational presentations, using DVD and PowerPoint technology; to attend photography workshops—including programs in collaborttion with Clyde Butcher—to view art in the Pauline Reeves gallery; and to go on conducted swamp walks.

Make the trip and visit the City and you will see why Tim England and all-volunteer Friends of the Museum of the Everglades, like retired GP Tony Trayling, who manned the reception desk, and  Margie Hutchison, who cooked the hotdogs and served the cake, are so keen to inform more people about the history of this region and its colorful past.

The Friends of the Museum of the Everglades began in 1992. The combined efforts of the Friends, the City of Everglades City, Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, and Collier County Government contributed to the restoration of the frame building.

The Museum of the Everglades is located at 105 W. Broadway. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 AM to 4 PM. Follow the sign to Everglades City located at US 41 and SR 29. The museum is about 3 miles down SR 29 to the circle. For more information, or for group tours, please contact Timothy England, Manager, during museum hours at 239-695-0008.

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