My hometown holds a very special place in my heart. I always catch myself smiling just thinking about everything it possesses. The history, its people, and the culture there is so unlike anywhere else, and the town’s uniqueness is very important to the story of how Collier County first came about.
Many tourists who travel to the Everglades each year find it fascinating that tucked away as a gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands, sits Everglades City. To the surprise of many, Everglades City and Chokoloskee were both established before Marco Island and Naples were even thought of. The first inhabitants of the Everglades were the Calusa Natives, whose incredible civilization created the shell mounds, shell tools, and clay pottery that still sit on many of the islands to this day. Seminoles occupied the area as well. During the Seminole Wars they planted potatoes along what is now known as the Barron River, and called the Barron River Potato Creek. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that white settlers began slowly accumulating in the Everglades. One of the first known of the white settlers was William Smith Allen. Originally from Connecticut, Allen moved to the Everglades from Key West in 1873, arriving on the bank of Potato Creek (Barron River). Upon Allen’s move back to Key West in 1889, George W. Storter Jr., an Alabama native traveling from Georgia alongside his brother and father, purchased the land and Allen’s house for only 800 dollars. They traveled to Southwest Florida searching for climate that would be frost-free for their agriculture interests. He eventually became well known for his sugar cane crops.
In 1892 Storter opened a trading post, and in 1895 the area gained a post office. The wild frontier became known to the settlers as “Everglade.” Shortly thereafter, Storter’s house situated along the river became the place to visit and lodge for northern tourists visiting the Everglades to hunt and fish. His house turned into the famous Rod and Gun Club, which still sits along the Barron River entertaining fishermen to this day.
The town slowly grew into a small fishing village by 1920. During this time, a New York millionaire, Barron Gift Collier, began purchasing land in Southwest Florida. Collier gained his fortune from streetcar advertising and later became the largest private landowner within the state of Florida. Part of his purchase was the land formerly owned by the Storter’s, including the Rod and Gun Club. Around the same time, construction of the one and only Tamiami Trail began. This road excited many, as the Tamiami Trail would connect the city of Tampa to the city of Miami, making it easier for smooth travel. Collier stepped into the project when the construction of the road ran out of funding. He offered to finish and fund the Tamiami Trail’s construction through the Everglades and in return requested the newly formed county be named after him.
Collier began fashioning a new vision for the area as the Tamiami Trail construction continued. The land east to the Barron River began getting filled in while Collier mapped out the streets and boulevards for his new town. Homes were built in the area specifically for his staff, along with infrastructure that was essential for the new county seat to thrive. This included but was not limited to, a post office, a bank, grocery store, laundry building, courthouse, and jail. Many of the original buildings from the period still stand to this day, few of them hollow on the inside but the majority are still full of life just as they were back then. The Bank of Everglades is now in the process of being restored to its original glory, the Rod and Gun Club is still thriving, and the laundry building is now the Museum of the Everglades. The original Collier County courthouse is now the town’s City Hall that sits in the heart of Everglades City, and there are many original homes still standing (even after numerous devastating hurricanes) that were built in the 1920s. After the opening of the Tamiami Trail in 1928 Collier began seeing potential in the rest of Southwest Florida’s land that surrounded the county seat (Everglades City). In 1962 the county seat moved from Everglade to Naples after Hurricane Donna completely destroyed the town two years prior. The town of Everglade was later renamed Everglades City in 1965.
Throughout its history, my hometown advanced from the land being worth $800 to the Stone Crab Capital of the World. Us locals work just as hard as the Everglades settlers did back then; it just looks a bit different now considering technology. Although our history brought with it progress and development, our town still retains the ability to preserve the natural wonders of the Everglades while still holding a piece of its history. Now that is not something you can find just anywhere, but you definitely can find it here in our unique Everglades City.