Dozens of times, I’ve driven back and forth across Alligator Alley, not stopping anywhere between Naples and the east coast.
Though I would frequently look to the side to catch a glimpse of the gators on the other side of the fence, I never thought to take one of the few exits off of the 80-mile long roads to see what else was there. Luckily, one day I did.
Exit 80, off of Alligator Alley/I-75 is for 29 South, Everglades City, and the town is about a half hour south of there. I’m not sure what I envisioned a town in the middle of the Everglades might look like, but this is probably not it.
It’s incredibly charming, with plenty of historic buildings, one of which houses the Museum of the Everglades, which honors the town’s founding and influence on the whole area’s development. The Museum is a part of the Collier County Museums system, which means that there is no charge to enter. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a lovely and informative place.
The museum is situated in a building that was constructed in 1927 as the state’s first commercial laundry, and people from all over would ship their dirty clothes here to be cleaned. Some of that original commercial equipment still stands in the back room of the Museum.
When I first entered, I was greeted by the Museum manager, Thomas Lockyear II, and it wasn’t just because he knew I was writing an article about the place—he greets everyone who comes in.
It’s here that you will learn all about the area, which was first settled in the late 1800s, but was bought out by Barron Gift Collier in 1922 to create a company town, which would be the seat of his new County. Everglades City was also to be the engineering headquarters for the construction of the new Tamiami Trail, which was, incredibly, planned to cut right through the rough and wild Everglades.
Collier built the Everglades Inn, to house visiting dignitaries, and the Rod & Gun Club for him and his friends to have some fun. Inside the Museum, you can see exhibits that include photos and artifacts from during that time and it will make you appreciate the feat of building that road even more.
The people who worked on the road’s construction included not only white men and women, but also African American and Seminole men and women. And when the Tamiami Trail (the first Alligator Alley) officially opened to traffic in April of 1928, everyone came back together to bask in their amazing feat.
All in all, a visit the Museum of the Everglades is well worth the half hour trip off of Alligator Alley, and depicts a scene of what good can result when unlikely allies work together.