People of Chokoloskee won an initial battle Thursday in their effort to save Smallwood Store. An order handed down from Judge Hugh D. Hayes required land developers Florida-Georgia Grove LLP to rebuild the portion of Mamie Street its crew destroyed and to do so within the next 30 days. The road has been used continually from 1904 to reach the store that later became a museum in the National Register of Historic Places.
The day began with a rally on the Collier County Courthouse steps. A banjo, ‘cello and guitar supplied the musical backdrop for songs about the environment and Southwest Florida history.
JRobert, a Marco Island musician and organizer of the rally, described Ted Smallwood Store and Museum in nostalgic terms.
“ Ted Smallwood’s was part of Florida’s last frontier. It was a gathering place for the Seminoles and Florida’s early pioneers,” he said.
“This is a rally of song and spirit, not a protest,” JRobert continually told those gathered on the courthouse steps. “We are here to support the county commissioners and the judge. We’re going to pray that our government does the right thing.”
On Wednesday, JRobert spoke about his fears that the store would be lost and his purpose for leading the rally.
“If it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Just like an endangered species, this area is an endangered culture. Saving it will matter to our children and grandchildren.”
JRobert said he was deeply moved when he heard that Mamie Street was destroyed and a fence placed where visitors could no longer reach the store.
“I’ve done a lot of shows for Seminole gatherings down there. It’s a multi-generational, multi-cultural place,” he said.
“I was raised in the Smallwood Store,” said Malory McMillin, a 6th-generation Smallwood, on Thursday. “I was there every day with my mom, Lynn. I would love my kids and my kid’s kids to know everything about the history there.”
Elaine Middelstaedt, a member of Everglades City’s council who was reached by phone, said she continually took tourists to Ted Smallwood’s store until access was blocked.
“There’s a large sign on I-75 directing tourists to the store, and there are other signs all over,” she said. “My understanding is there has been a significant impact in the community. People are upset that they lost access.”
At the heart of the matter, the land developers failed to follow proper procedures for identifying the road’s use and determining whether it met standards for removal. The road traversed an area the developers wished to dredge.
Although the developers offered Smallwood storeowners a new access route, development of that route was fraught with problems. It would have to be cut through mangroves and wetlands requiring a number of environmental permits.
“It took the developers 6 years to get permitting for what they want to do,” said a visitor to the courtroom on Thursday. “There’s no telling how long it could take to get permission to cut through mangroves and wetlands.”
With the judge’s order, years were turned into days. Access to Ted Smallwood’s Store and Museum should be open by mid-October.