EVERGLADES CITY — Hundreds of people took a trip down memory lane Saturday to Everglades City’s 85th anniversary celebration of the completion of Tamiami Trail.
The event mirrored the grand opening of the road in 1928, which was attended by thousands of people, as finally there was a dry route across the Everglades connecting two major Florida cities, Miami and Tampa.
Tamiami Trail made way for increased commerce, tourism and industry.
James Billie, chairman of the Seminole Tribe, said the Seminole Indians were affected by the road as much as anyone else in Florida.
“We finally had a dry place to put our tiki huts, which you’ll see along the Trail to this day,” Billie said.
Annette Peikert, 48, of Miami, was astounded to learn what a feat it was to construct the approximately 76 miles of road.
“It’s nice to hear the history and how important it was. It’s still a really nice drive when you have the time to stop along the way. Shark Valley is one of my favorites. I counted 117 alligators one time,” Peikert said.
The Everglades City fairy, dressed in an all-white winged gown riding a red ATV in the parade, was Martha Hutcheson, assistant manager at the Museum of the Everglades, which hosted the event.
“It’s a historic day for sure,” said Hutcheson, popping Smarties candies, dressed like the original Everglades Fairy who took part in the first day opening parade for the road with Barron Collier 85 years earlier.
“The project was stalled for years until Barron Collier sunk much of his personal fortune into it,” said Ron Jamro, director of Collier County Museums.
It was paralleled with the construction of the Panama Canal because of the seemingly insurmountable challenges that had to be overcome to complete it.
Also celebrated Saturday was Collier County’s 90th anniversary on May 8, and the 60th anniversary of Everglades City, the original county seat.
“The Museum of the Everglades is housed in the old laundry, which was run by the Echols (family),” Hutcheson said.
There were two generations of Echolses at the event connecting to family roots.
Among them was Mary Echols, 72, and her brother-in law of Naples, Ron Echols, 75. Ron is the son of Ralph Echols, the operator of the Everglades City laundry business during the Great Depression. Laundry was brought in by boat from Collier’s hotels on Cabbage Key, Useppa Island and other areas.
“We have lots of pictures from the day and we gave them to the museum,” said Mary Echols, now of Bonita Springs.
James Echols, 47, of Miami, said it was his first time visiting the museum where his family’s business operated for years. It wasn’t his first time to Everglades City, though.
“I love to come here to hang with my folks, eat at the Seafood Depot and I always come for the Seafood Festival,” James Echols said.
He remembered many trips to visit his grandfather, Ralph Echols, in Everglades City as a child.
The Echolses weren’t the only ones connecting to their personal history while getting refreshers on local and Florida history.
South Carolina resident Joseph Parrott said his grandfather and mother, with a last name of Hamilton, lived in the area for generations. He pondered if there was any relation to Everglades City Mayor Sammy Hamilton.
“I came down to see my friend (Dennis Marlin) who still has a place in the ‘Glades,” said Parrott, sitting in the shade outside Everglades City Hall, where dozens of local dignitaries took turns sharing bits of history and reminiscing about local milestones.
The parade in the small fishing village had traditional participants, such as a fire truck from Ochopee and Everglades, antique cars and a Clydesdale horse-drawn buggy. It also had uniquely Everglades City-goers — such as a swamp buggy with a boar’s head mounted on the front bumper wearing a straw hat.
The day’s events began with a pancake breakfast fly-in at the Airpark.
“We just flew in for the party,” said pilot Paul Berg, 52, of Fort Pierce.
It was his father, Leonard Berg, 79, who asked for the private flight.
“I have some good friends here in Everglades City I come in to fish with. I’ve been catching snook out on the Tamiami Trail canals since 1947,” Leonard Berg said.
A children’s circus performed, just as it had at the road’s original opening day on April 26, 1928. There was pulled-pork barbecue, corn on the cob, a fish fry, funnel cake and Loco’s Produce farmer’s market.
While many people drove or flew to the event, others just walked from their nearby homes.
“We came to see it all — the cars, the horses and the candy, that’s probably his favorite part,” said Everglades City resident Lyle Demere, 35, motioning to his son Waylan, 5.