For Mitch House, his family’s past is very much a part of his present life. The 54-year-old Everglades native has a strong sense of the past and an even stronger sense of family. The House clan has occupied the swamplands of the Glades since the late 1800s. Mitch’s roots, like that of the mangrove trees that pervade the area, runs deep. For him, the Everglades is in his blood.
For the past 25 years Mitch House has owned and operated Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. The popular tourist destination is located about 30 minutes east of Marco Island. Recently, the Coastal Breeze News featured Mitch in a story about the Everglades and its recovery following Hurricane Irma. That story can be found online at www.CoastalBreezeNews.com.According to the National Park Service, the Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. Though the area is vast, it is scarcely populated by humans. Everglades City, for instance, has a population of only 411. But despite its small population, the Everglades is an area rich with wildlife, culture and history.
For over 150 years, the House family has called the Everglades home. They’ve created businesses, inventions, and through the years have helped shape the cultural landscape of the area. Their impact has notThe House ancestry can be traced all the way back to Glasgow, Scotland. In the late 1600s the family made the treacherous voyage across the North Atlantic Ocean. They arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eventually they made their way down south, stopping in Virginia and then into Georgia where they settled for some time. They were in the farming business. Samuel House, Mitch’s great, great, great grandfather, owned a plantation that grew peaches. The planation, which had slaves, was forcibly dissolved during the Civil War.
Around 1865 Samuel’s son, Daniel David House, made his way down to the Florida Everglades. He and his wife, Ida Blanche, lived out in the grasslands in an area known today as House Hammock Bay. There they farmed “anything they could,” including avocado, mango, guava, and sugarcane.In the Everglades, wilderness reigns supreme. The swamplands are home to alligators, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, panthers, bears, and mosquitos. It’s a beautiful place to live, but the conditions are harsh and unforgiving. In order to survive you had to be resourceful, cunning, and inventive.
Mitch’s great grandfather, James Loyd House, often referred to as Barrel Head House, was just that. He is credited with creating one of the first ever-commercial airboats. Airboat tours now constitute one of the most lucrative businesses out in the Glades. But James Loyd House didn’t create the primitive boat with tourism in mind. He created it out of necessity.“They were living in Flamingo Bay,” Mitch said. “And in Flamingo the water is very shallow compared to here. At low tide there’s only 3,4, or 5 inches out on the banks and that’s where all the fish were.”
In 1945 Mitch’s great grandfather created a boat that could traverse the shallow waters with ease. His original airboat was constructed out of sheets of plywood, a slant six tank motor, and a sawed off jet propeller, un-caged.The creation of the airboat opened up the Everglades in unimaginable ways. Boaters could now travel the vast swamplands hunting for frogs and fish. It also opened the floodgates for tourism. Most inhabitants of the Everglades, like Mitch, rely on tourism for their livelihood.
As for the nickname Barrel Head, it came from House’s tough attitude when it came to sales. According to Mitch, when you purchased fish from Barrel Head you only used cash.
“If you bought something from him it was cash,”
Mitch said. “There wasn’t no credit.Cash on the barrelhead of the shotgun. No cash, no go. That’s where cash on the barrelhead comes from.”
In terms of Mitch’s adolescent experience he says it was freeing. He grew up in a time when there were “no cops, no stoplights, no nothing.”
“By the time I was 15 I had already built a boat, put a motor on it and rode around fishing and playing.”
Like the Everglades, the House family is unique. Their history is deeply intertwined with the region. Mitch has spent his whole life in the Everglades and he doesn’t plan on leaving.
Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours is located at 31000 Tamiami Trail E., Naples. They’re open seven days a week from 8:30 AM-5 PM. For more information visit www.captainmitchs.com or call 239-695-3377.