There is a place in Florida that is called one of the last frontiers of the world.
When you think of the frontier, even in Florida, you might think of cows, of cowboys on horseback, of six shooters, maybe a wilderness. But this place in Florida has more fish than fishermen, more boats than cows, more fishing poles than six shooters.
This area of Florida, Chokoloskee, for thousands of years has been isolated – but it’s certainly not a desert.
Nor is it a developing metropolis. No place is perfect, for one thing. And it doesn’t have a salesroom to showcase its resources, which are few and far between.
Chokoloskee is a quiet community of about 400 people that sits atop a 15-acre 20-foot-high shell hill in the middle of shallow Chokoloskee Bay, about five miles to the south of Everglades City, southeast of Naples. Its inhabitants are mostly commercial fishermen, fishing guides and snowbirds who enjoy quiet, out-of-the-way places near the water and winter sun but don’t worry about mosquitoes.
It wasn’t until 1956 that the expressway from Everglades City was built, ending Chokoloskee’s isolation.
The Calusa Indians were the quiet places in florida, giving way to white settlers more than 100 years ago. One of the first settlers was Charles (Ted) Smallwood, who settled in Chokoloskee in 1897 – six years after the first town office opened.
Smallwood and his wife, Mamie, established the Smallwood Store and Indian store in 1906, which they operated in conjunction with the post office.
The hurricane of 1910 destroyed the store, but they rebuilt it.
Smallwood was postmaster until 1941, when he retired. He died 10 years later, and the store closed in 1982. Seven years later, Smallwood’s daughter reopened the store as a museum.
Visiting an exotic place in Florida is a rush because the museum is a trip back in time. There’s Ted Smallwood sitting in a rocker like he did in 1950. You have to look twice to convince yourself that Ol’ Ted is a mannequin. All around him are artifacts from the early 1900s. The store was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Chokoloskee was not always quiet. In 1910, Ed Watson, a pioneer farmer, was killed by Chokoloskee villagers, who suspected him of multiple murders. Visit the Smallwood Museum, look out the back window and you can see where Ed Watson was killed.
Fishing in the Chokoloskee area is as it has been for 2,000 years. The city’s fishing guides call this area Florida’s ‘Snook Capital of the World’, but many other Florida destinations would disagree. If you visit and hire one of the guides, you may have to settle for tarpon, red fish or sea trout. Most fishermen would say that’s not too bad.