Hurricane Irma inflicted tremendous damage on Everglades City, from which the tiny fishing village and former county seat is still struggling to recover, but if Marya Repko and the Everglades Society for Historical Preservation have their way, it could demonstrate the classic adage “it’s an ill wind that blows no good.”
The “good” the society is hoping for is the creation of an historic village, gathering together some of the original Everglades City buildings that were damaged in the storm and are now in danger of being condemned or demolished. Repko is president of the society, as well as membership secretary, and she's spearheading an effort to relocate several of the old structures which date back to the time of Barron Collier and the building of the Tamiami Trail.
These classic homes, many built using tough-as-nails planks of cypress and Dade County pine, are known as “shotguns,” Repko said, since one could fire a shotgun blast through the pint-sized houses, long and skinny, without hitting anything between the front and back doors. Built up on stem walls, the homes could be moved at will, and many of them have been taken from place to place depending on where the need was, Repko said.
“We think this house was at Deep Lake,” she said, standing outside one building slouching on a quiet street. “It may have been over at the railway depot, as housing for the workers there.”
No one knows for sure though since the records were lost during Hurricane Donna in 1960 and a fire in 1987.
The faded yellow home was moved a little more during Irma when it floated up off its foundation and then settled back down a couple feet lower. Now it sits with its stairs and porch tumbled, flooring buckled and shutters cocked at crazy angles.
With the eyes of a visionary, Repko looked beyond the bedgaggled condition of this and other period buildings and imagined how they could become a focal point and tourist attraction in Everglades City, which, along with fishing, depends heavily on visitors for continued economic viability.
“We want to put several homes together and create a showcase for how Everglades City used to be,” she said.
Repko said the society has set its sights on one possible location at the corner of Broadway and Storter Avenue, right next to the Museum of the Everglades. She also said the historic village could include a headquarters for the chamber of commerce, artists’ studios/galleries and perhaps a coffeehouse.
“You can’t rebuild those structures – they’re below flood level,” Craig Woodward, Marco Island attorney and part-time Everglades City resident, said.
Woodward is also on the society’s board, and is doing the legal work for the historic village pro bono.
“Doing this will allow people to donate their properties and preserve the history," he said. "It’s a way to keep the character of Everglades City.”
The group is circulating a petition on its website and plans to go before the Board of Collier County Commissioners, perhaps in January, to seek at least a preliminary approval of the concept. This preservation effort is only the latest for Repko, a prolific author of histories of communities around Everglades City, and the colorful historic personalities who helped shape them, as well as publisher of several other authors working on similar subjects.
The inspiration for the historic village project, Repko said, came from a similar village on Sanibel Island, where she used to have a vacation condo before retiring to Everglades City.
“You can see this in action on Sanibel," she said. "It’s a fabulous way to show what the community used to be like in the old days."
To learn more, support the society or download a petition form to support the historic village, visit evergladeshistorical.org.