Growing up my parents instilled in me a love for history, whether it be historical sites, museums, buildings or books. Every new town we’d visit, or places we’d already been, we would always go check out the historical museums. Which brings me to this question, when was the last time you visited your local museum? Looking from the outside you may think they are just filled with objects or pictures not entirely relevant anymore; but when you look closely you’ll find eye opening stories and daring adventures from decades and centuries ago. In Everglades City, we have two very unique museums, the Smallwood Store and the Museum of the Everglades.
The Smallwood Store is a museum of an old trading post dating back to the late 1800s. It sits deep in the Ten Thousand Islands on an island called Chokoloskee, meaning “Old House” in Seminole. Once you step inside, it’s like you’ve left the current year and entered the 19th century! Shelves filled with antique medicines and other bottled goods line the wall to your left, while on the right are a variety of things that were popular in those days. Standing high on stilts the Smallwood Store has survived six hurricanes, many of them bringing water up to the floor but thankfully never affecting the inside relics. Another interesting tale about the Smallwood Store that you can find more information on when visiting, is the murder of Edgar Watson. He was shot dead by the citizens of Chokoloskee and Everglades in 1910 right underneath the building. One of my close friends is the great-great granddaughter of Ted Smallwood (who was the original owner and operator); she works there to help share the story of the store and to keep the stories it entails alive for the upcoming generations.
The Museum of the Everglades is devoted to the history of the city of Everglades, Collier County, and the settlers who lived here. The structure itself dates back to 1927, and used to be the old laundry building of Everglades and was open up until World War II. Inside it still has a few machines and objects they used during that time. Some of the exhibits include Hurricane Donna, the story of how Barron Collier created the town of Everglades that began the county, and others such as the construction of the well-known Tamiami Trail. During the summer, the students of Everglades City School have an entire wall that displays their artwork created during the school year. I still remember when I was in school and had a few paintings of my own up on the wall which made me feel so joyful.
One last thing I want to share is about the Collier County Museum. Sitting in the Collier County Museum, there is a Lee Tidewater Cypress train, Locomotive #2, which ran through the Everglades during the 1900s, and it is my grandpa’s train. My grandpa Cecil Oglesby Sr., born in 1909, was a train engineer for Lee Tidewater, and he drove Locomotive #2 which would be filled with logged cypress trees through the Fakahatchee strand all the way to Lee Cypress. His hat, lamp and a few coins he earned working is encased inside the museum along with his photograph and his life story. When I was younger, I would go on field trips there with my class and when we would all climb on the train, I would tell them that it was my grandpas but they never believed me and always thought I was making it up. Now that we’re all older they know I was telling the truth, which always makes me laugh when I think about it.
Every museum is different wherever you go, and each has unique stories that will stick with you and last forever. So if you haven’t already, go out and visit your local museum or one in the place you’re visiting. You never know what will catch your eye and make you want to tell your friends and family.
University of Florida student Savannah Oglesby has lived in Everglades City her entire life. A lover of nature; some of her favorite things are sunsets, night lightning and mountains. She enjoys adventures and spending time with family, friends and two orange tabby cats. She also enjoys travelling, taking photos of nature, learning about extreme weather and seeing the world in different perspectives. Savannah’s love for Everglades City, and its history, is endless.