14 March 2006

The Everglades

So I went down to the Everglades. What awesome sunsets.
I wrote this nice little essay about the trip, which is about 15 pages long or so, but has pictures. Please let me know what you think of it.

I have long had a fascination with the remoter outposts of human civilization. Here in the United States, there aren’t too many of these remote outposts—we’ve brought most of our territory firmly within our grasp. There’s Point Barrow, Alaska, of course. Hawai’i is rather remote. A number of towns out west are far removed, but here in the Southeast there aren’t too many places that are terribly far off the beaten path—and in overpopulated Florida you wouldn’t expect to find any. But there is one.

Everglades City is just a few miles from a very well-beaten path, the Tamiami Trail, US 41, running between Naples and Miami in South Florida. The trail—named for Tampa and Miami, the two cities it connects—was constructed over a span of more than a decade, with work beginning in 1915. By 1920 it stretched from Tampa south to Fort Myers and thence out into the wilderness, but construction had ground to a halt in the Big Cypress Swamp, largely because the state ran out of money and the crossing was extremely difficult.

Enter Barron G. Collier, the developer of southwest Florida and the man for whom Collier County, home to Naples and Marco, is named. Collier had made a fortune in advertising in the northeast, having been the first man (it’s almost shocking, really) to sell, beginning in the 1890s, advertising placards on city streetcars and coaches. Following a 1911 trip to Fort Myers, Collier started buying up land in southwest Florida, betting on future development.

In 1923 through his development company, Barron Collier offered to take over construction of the Tamiami Trail. In return the state legislature created out of Collier’s vast landholdings an entirely new county, and named the county after the developer, proof that the “For Sale” sign on the capitol in Tallahassee has been there for quite some time.

Collier got to work on the trail quickly, though despite his millions and his determination, crossing the last 70 miles of the Everglades took five years. The Trail was opened with much fanfare in 1928. The little town of Everglades, Collier’s choice for his new county’s seat, was just a few miles off the main highway and seemed to have a bright future.

In those days the Glades were a natural nuisance to be tamed, subjugated, and developed—an unholy swamp full of fierce creatures and irritable dark-skinned natives, not to mention the gun-toting white Crackers. Starting in 1905, after the election of Jacksonville sheriff and sometime gunrunner Napoleon Bonaparte Broward as governor, the process of draining and taming the Glades began. Broward also has a county named after him. The Everglades have a county, too, though the Everglades themselves are not and never have been in Glades County.

Broward’s 1904 gubernatorial campaign focused on Everglades drainage development, and prominently featured Broward himself holding a weathered map over his head at speeches, pointing to the map and shouting, “Water will run downhill!” This is considered something of a high point in political discourse in the state.

Click to read the rest of "The Everglades"

1 comment:

ECF Pres. said...

Great read Smitty, thanks!