Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Stories from Chokoloskee Island

Growing Up in Everglades City

Photos by Savannah Oglesby | My uncle and me.


Chokoloskee School photo from Kenny Brown.

There are a lot of people that I admire in my life, but one of the most treasured is my Uncle Arvid. I love visiting him because I always end up asking him questions and hearing stories about his life. Just the other day, I was sitting with him on his back porch in Chokoloskee where we watched the Pelicans swoop down over the bay. I began asking him questions about his life growing up on Chokoloskee Island, “My story is so zig-zag, I don’t know which way to go I’ve done so much,” he laughed, as his story began to unfold.  

Arvid Kenneth Brown was born on Chokoloskee Island on August 8th, 1931, to Rosa Thompson and William Brown III. His mother and father were born on the islands surrounding Chokoloskee and interestingly, his mother Rosa was born on Lostman’s beach during a hurricane in 1910. Although he was an infant during the time of the Great Depression, he was told stories of how tough times were, as there was no money to be made. “I was born right in the middle of it, that’s why Im so little,” he smiled with another laugh, “I didn’t get my first pair of shoes until I was ten years old.  

He grew up on the island alongside his three brothers and three sisters and they each attended Chokoloskee school. The school ranged from first to eighth grade and sat on the corner of the present-day main cemetery in the middle of the island. Two teachers separated the grades from first to fourth grade and fifth to eighth grade. He remembers one of the teachers was named Russie Weatherly. When I asked him if this was how her name was spelled, he jokingly said, “I’m not for sure, but I think that’s the way it would go.”  

As a child, he witnessed Seminole Natives gliding through the brackish waters by his house in their dugout canoes. He stated they would be on their way to the Smallwood Store to get supplies. “Dad would go out and say, “You got any e-tcho?” This term means deer in the Seminole language. “Dad would go down and get a ham or shoulder for about thirty-five cents.” The Seminoles spent the night at the Smallwood Store, putting up their mosquito nets to sleep in before leaving the next day up Turner River where they lived. When Arvid was young, he worked for his uncle, little Ted Smallwood, the son of Ted Smallwood who established and operated the Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee. There he would rake the yard of the store for forty cents and he helped unload the groceries for the store that came in from Everglades City by the mail boat. His other job consisted of dry-docking boats to paint them with his uncle little Ted. 



The Chokoloskee bridge was built in 1955. The builders dredged the bay and used the fill ultimately forming the causeway that links Everglades City to Chokoloskee. A gap was left underneath the bridge so boats and anyone coming from Everglades City could travel under the causeway. With the causeway ending right where their property sat, Arvid, his father and Stanley decided to open a business. In 1957, the brothers opened Anglers Motel and Marina and began renting boats to fishermen traveling to fish in the Ten Thousand Islands. “We started out with one little skiff to rent and ended up with about twelve or fifteen boats to rent.” He stated that people used to even bring their own motors with them for the boats and take them off to bring home after their trip. The marina was established only a few years prior to Hurricane Donna that devastated Southwest Florida, and numerous hurricanes since have damaged the marina, including the latest Hurricane Irma.  

I asked my uncle what his favorite fish to catch was, in which he replied, “Snook. That was one of the best ones to catch, it seemed like he fought the best.” Though Snook is his favorite, he confessed he has caught Redfish more than anything else. We then got on the topic of the Chokoloskee Church of God that sits behind Havana Café on the island. My uncle informed me that this church was one of the oldest Churches of God in the state of Florida. It was founded in 1915 as a Church of God, however, the church was there prior to the founding. Before 1915, it was just a church everyone attended and did not have a certain denomination. This fascinated me as I attended the church throughout my childhood and never knew its history.  

My uncle told me he met my aunt Georgia Oglesby when he was 19 through his cousin who was close friends with her. My aunt Georgia Oglesby was born on December 27th, 1934, to my grandmother Piccola and grandfather Cecil Oglesby Sr. In 1950, my grandfather brought the family down to Lee Cypress where he worked for the Lee Tidewater Cypress Company. After my grandparents enrolled Georgia into school here, she met Arvid and the rest is history. They got married on April 15th, 1951, and have four childrenKenneth “Kenny,” Karen, Gwendolyn “Gweny,” and Houston Brown. The marina is still in the same place it was when it was established in 1957 and is now operated by their son Kenny Brown. It has since then been renamed Outdoor Resorts of Chokoloskee. Fishermen and women from far and wide still travel to Chokoloskee and visit the marina and knowing the history behind it makes the business even more special to me. I am very thankful for my Uncle Arvid, his stories, and to live in a place filled with such rich history.



 

One response to “Stories from Chokoloskee Island”

  1. Brenda says:

    Savanna’s story was very interesting and kept my interest thru the whole store even tho I new the ending.
    Very good writing and story.

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