EVERGLADES CITY — Casual visitors to Everglades City might be forgiven for thinking they’ve been sucked into a 1950s time warp, none more so than on Saturday.
Languishing in the parking lots and swales surrounding the Everglades City Museum were rows of gleaming vintage and classic cars, complementing a day set aside to celebrate the 82nd anniversary of the building of Tamiami Trail — now called U.S. 41 — between Tampa and Miami.
It was a dual celebration in the town that was once the seat of Collier County governance, because the museum itself turned 12 on the day.
About 100 people turned out to enjoy the festivities, which included food, music by “Snooker Bob and Terry,” a tour of a couple of nearby historic buildings and some reminiscing from old time area crackers.
Museum manager Tim England said had the trail not been built, the area would today likely have been a wilderness.
But, he added, it’s ironic that the rest of the vast Everglades tract remains relatively intact because of the Great Depression, which halted the notion of draining of what was perceived as a worthless swamp ripe for filling in and developing.
“To put a perspective on this,” England said, “Miami Airport was built more or less on the edge of the Everglades. Today, it is basically in downtown Miami, so if that could happen there, imagine what could have happened on this coast.”
In between serving up grilled dogs with all the fixings, Martha Hutcheson had a third little celebration of her own in the mix.
She’d been stranded in Ireland until this week because of the Iceland volcanic ash that grounded flights, but made it back in time for the celebration.
The assistant manager of the museum, Hutcheson — who grew up in the area — said locals are passionate about preserving their history.
She jokingly drew particular attention to a moonshine still exhibit, which upon scrutiny informs one that: “Pioneer Florida was far removed from the eyes of most law enforcement officers, and was a haven for all types of illegal trade,” and that enforcement attempts “failed utterly in the wilds of the Everglades, even though county law enforcement officers did their level best to seize and demolish the illegal liquor that flowed through the region by the truckload and boatload.”
Hutcheson said living in Everglades City is like living in a history bubble.
“It’s old Florida, and it’s still like what it was when I was growing up,” she said. “You don’t lock your doors or worry about being robbed.”
Marco resident, historian and occasional Everglades City resident Craig Woodward made a point of punctuating a getaway weekend to check out the gathering.
“It’s great that they’re celebrating the anniversary of the trail,” he said. “The significance of that road for this area is beyond belief.”
He said the presence of the antique and classic cars also made for a nice touch at the celebrations, given that the trail was obviously so vital to transportation.
Everglades City was established in the mid-1800s, and the trail — affectionately dubbed Florida’s Appian Way — opened April 25, 1928.