Reading List: Hidden History of Everglades City & Points Nearby

 

Today, Everglades City, some 36 miles from downtown Naples, serves as a launching point for outdoor adventurers headed to Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands. And as a tourist destination, the city and its surround, known as “Florida’s Last Frontier,” offer numerous historic sites related to the area’s fascinating development.

Get to know any long-time Neapolitan, and you are sure to hear about the legendary Rod & Gun Club in Everglades City, but it is just one of myriad interesting elements in the history of eastern Collier County. Readers of this book will be enthralled with the past lives of former boomtowns Copeland, Lee-Cypress, Jerome and Ochopee, rife with tales of the arduous job of building the Tamiami Trail, illegal plume hunting, Indian trading, and marijuana smuggling.

It stands to reason that an area as wild and unique as the Everglades would be tamed and settled by tough, and often quirky, pioneers. Tales of the folks who settled in the Everglades grab the imagination—which is what happened to author Maureen Sullivan-Hartung. As a reporter for a weekly newspaper, she was swept up in the history of the region, and the topics she covered in the 1990s inspired her to pen this interesting little tome.

The book of course talks about Barron Gift Collier, the business mogul who fell in love with the wild beauty of Southwest Florida and became the driving force behind its development, but also tells of less-well-known people, like the county’s first sheriff, William Riley Maynard. He appointed his wife, Blanche, chief deputy in 1923—this, as the book reports, at a time when women were prohibited from serving jury duty. She was known for courage and resolve; Mrs. Maynard and a guide famously tracked for more than 30 hours and then captured three escaped prisoners in the Everglades while her husband was off patrolling elsewhere.

Other personalities detailed in the book include Deaconess Harriet Bedell, who lived and worked with the Seminoles for 30 years. Then there’s Edgar Watson, outlaw and suspected murderer of more than 50 people. Watson, whose story of being gunned down by townsmen on the banks of Chokoloskee Bay in the early 1900s was fictionalized in the 1990 novel Killing Mister Watson—also appears in this book, along with “Big Six” Hannah Smith, a six-foot-four woman he hired to work in his business ventures.

The book includes stories about numerous historic sites, such as the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot, the Everglades Inn, Collier’s Town Laundry Building (today housing the Museum of the Everglades), the Collier County Courthouse (Everglades City Hall), and Chokoloskee’s Smallwood Trading Post, established by another riveting figure, Charles Sherod “Ted” Smallwood, whose colorful life is also documented. Noteworthy events—among them hurricanes, visits by Hollywood filmmakers and movie stars, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Operation Everglades—also figure in the book’s chapters.

The volume includes numerous historical black and white photos, as absorbing as the stories themselves.

Hidden History of the Everglades (published by The History Press) is a must-read for anyone who spends time in Collier County, as well as history buffs and anyone who loves true stories about people with grit, character and determination.