Everglades City was designated as a Florida State Trail Town in 2019 by the DEP Office of Gateways and Trails. Located 26 miles east of Naples and 60 miles west of Miami, Everglades city is the gateway to seven national and state parks, including the Big Cypress National Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve.
Recently, my husband and I spent a weekend camping at Collier Seminole State Park located just north of Everglades City. We took a half day trip down the trail and discovered some very interesting sites that are often overlooked on the way to Miami.
The World’s Smallest Post Office
About three miles from the turn off for Everglades City, we stopped at the world’s smallest post office located in the town of Ochopee. These seven feet by eight foot building was, at one time, an irrigation pipe shed for a tomato farm. However, when the Ochopee general store was burned down in 1953, the town also lost their post office. Shelves and cubby holes were added to the shed and it became the “World’s Smallest Post Office.”
Joanie’s Blue Crab Café
Just down the road from the post office, you will pass Joanie’s Blue Crab Café. If you are in the mood for an old-fashioned Everglades restaurant, this is the place for you. Housed in one of the oldest standing buildings in the Everglades, the menu includes blue crabs, grouper, frog’s legs, and the famous “Swampy Dog” frankfurter.
When the Tamiami Trail finally opened to the public, Barron Collier built six waystations along the route from Naples to Miami to service the motorists traveling the 107 miles across the state. One of these stations, built in 1928, was Monroe Station which offered fuel, food, and other necessities to the traveling motorists. Each station had a restaurant with a restroom on the ground floor and living quarters above for the husband and wife teams who manned the stations.
In the 1930s the Great Depression caused the closure and change of ownership of many of these waystations. Monroe Station continued to operate until it closed in 1987. Big Cypress National Preserve later took ownership of the station which was boarded up and ignored for years. Although it sat empty for many years, the Station was used in the movie Gone Fishin with Joe Pesci and Danny Glover.
In 2000 Monroe Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places but the building was damaged by Wilma in 2005 putting its future in doubt. In 2016, the building was destroyed by fire, before any decisions were made about its future. The only remaining waystation is located right before Collier Seminole State Park where it is operated as a convenience store and bait shop.
Oasis Visitor Center
Continuing down the trail, you will come to the Oasis Visitor Center. The original building was constructed in the 1960s and was once a private airport with a hanger and restaurant. With a large airplane attached to the roof, the building was hard to miss. In the 1980s the building was purchased by the National Park Service to be used as a visitor center. Today, the building hosts exhibits, educational materials and a boardwalk where visitors can get up close and personal with gators and other swamp critters.
Skunk Ape Research Center
No trip across the Trail is complete without visiting the Skunk Ape Research center located in Ochopee (more on the Skunk Ape in another post). The gift shop has all kinds of interesting items related to the Skunk Ape and the research that has been done by Dave Shealy who has spent his life studying this elusive creature.
Clyde Butcher’s Cypress Gallery
About a half mile from the Oasis Visitor Center is Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery which was our last stop on the Tamiami Tour. Although Butcher’s works are displayed all over the world, the gallery affords the opportunity for visitors to experience the images up close. The Gallery features a large selection of limited-edition photos as well as offering guided swamp walks and cottage rentals allowing visitors to really experience the beauty of the Everglades.