Museums have always been one of my favorite places to visit. Whether I’m traveling around Florida or to a different state, I often will visit the local museums to expand my general knowledge of the world and gaze upon the unique history of the area. My love for museums stemmed from my parents and their appreciation of them, and from my school trips to the Museum of the Everglades. Around the end of the school year, our art class at Everglades City School would get a chance to display our pieces at the Museum of the Everglades. It was the best feeling walking in and the first thing you see is your artwork next to your friends. Each grade took field trips to the museum to see the collection of art we worked throughout the year creating. I remember being in elementary school and walking with my classmates in a single–file line down the road from the school to the museum. After the visit, we stopped for lunch at the park before heading back to school.
I haven’t visited the Museum of the Everglades post-Hurricane Irma, so the other day I decided to go over and see the current displays they had. Walking up to the front steps brought a sense of nostalgia. My mind stirred with different memories of the times I’ve visited the museum. Visions of the old cars show, celebrations for Majority Stoneman Douglas, and the numerous times I’ve glanced over at the building between the booths at Seafood Festival danced swiftly through my thoughts. The light pink color and white trim have caught my eye for as long as I can remember.
Before it became a museum in 1998, the building was constructed in 1927 and functioned as the Everglades Laundry. Its creation was during the time of the Tamiami Trail construction when Barron Gift Collier’s company became involved with the construction of the road. His construction company devised the development of the town of “Everglade” by the state by providing the residents with conveniences and services. The laundry services offered at the time included alternations, custom tailoring, dry cleaning, and dying. Barron Collier and his workers would send their laundry and uniforms here to be cleaned. The famous Rod & Gun Club used the facility as well to wash their linens for the private establishment. World War II brought a shortage of workers for the laundry service to continue to operate, and in 1942 it was forced to close. Although the laundry service did not last, the building began to serve other roles for the community. The Everglades Women’s Club gained ownership of the building in 1965, then in 1988, they gave ownership to Collier Country in the hopes of turning the historic treasure into a museum. Just a few years later, the Friends of the Museum of the Everglades was established and worked with the Collier County Museum to restore the building to its original form through grants and private donations. The Museum of the Everglades opened on April 26, 1998, for the Tamiami Trail’s 70th anniversary. In 2001 it was registered in the National Register of Historic Places.
As I opened the door to step foot inside, my eyes widened with excitement and shock as the new exhibits were more incredible than I imagined they would be. The first room’s exhibition was titled “Snakes of the Everglades: Predators in Paradise” and had a Coral snake painted across the wall above displays with photos of snakes and information about their life in the swamp. If you have a fear of snakes as my mom does, I would suggest staring at the ground and walk straight into the large room ahead, so you feel more comfortable. I love learning about the creatures of the Everglades, so I walked around the room to learn more about the snakes I share the environment with. A picture of one of my favorite Pythons, Goldie from Skunk Ape Headquarters, was exhibited on the wall to my left with Jack and David Shealy, who care for her.
The museum opens up after the snake exhibit into a large room filled with Calusa Native American artifacts, Seminole Native American garments, the history of the first schools in the Everglades, and numerous other exhibits about the pioneers, Hurricane Irma, the Rod & Gun Club and more. In the back room is a large exhibit reflecting on the building history as Everglades Laundry. The equipment used is on display and with mannequins imitating the work done when it operated pre-WWII.
I soaked in every bit of information I could from the museum and was surprised to discover more things about my hometown that I never knew before. I highly recommend that if you have a free day to immerse yourself in learning more about the history of the Everglades and its recent themes that you visit the Museum of the Everglades. It is genuinely one of Everglades City’s greatest treasures.