by Lois Bolin, Ph.D., Old Naples Historian
Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation’s founders, said, “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” Ronald Reagan said, some 210 years later, that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.
While Reagan is credited with this saying, I suspect this feeling has been etched in the memory banks of humans throughout history. After the Civil War, a.k.a. War Between the States, folks migrated as far south as they could to Florida’s Last Frontier, a.k.a. Collier County, to escape the helping hand of the government. When Collier was carved from Lee County in 1923, Everglades City (EC) and Chokoloskee was about as far away from the government as they could get.
Everglades City and Chokoloskee
EC and Chokoloskee are nestled between Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, the 10,000 Islands and the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. That’s a lot to see so plan on staying for a while in Everglades City (EC) at the famous Rod & Gun
Club, started by Rob Storter in the early 1870s and refined by our county’s namesake, Barron Gift Collier, in 1923. EC has its own charm with its own unique character and cast of characters – just like Chokoloskee.
Chokoloskee Island is just a tad southeast from EC. As far as its locals are concerned, their history starts with Smallwood Store and Ted Smallwood – a must see and if you are lucky, the store’s newest asset will be there.
Southern Cracker Docent
Woody Hanson is a rare kind of Southwest Florida, Florida Historian. His family founded Ft. Myers, and he has thousands of documents to prove it. His maternal great-great grandfather was Manuel A. Gonzalez, Fort Myers’ first permanent settler and his paternal great-grandfather, Dr. William Hanson, was Thomas Edison’s doctor. Woody’s grandfather, W. Stanley Hanson, “The White Medicine Man” was an adviser to the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes until his death in 1945.
This Southern gentleman is a cross between Ashley Wilkes with a touch of Rhett Butler, to make him interesting. Add a dash of Andy Griffith (love of fishing) and Steve Douglas (not 3 but 5 sons) and there you have it- Smallwood Store’s newest docent. You can visit him Monday – Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. this May – August at 360 Mamie Street, Chokoloskee.
Visit www.SmallwoodStore.com or call 239-695-2898
Before you get to EC, there is a turn off called Collier Blvd., which is home to the Marco Island Historical Museum and the beautiful new Veterans’ Community Park. From May 4 – August 5, the Museum, located on 180 S Heathwood Dr. will host the Exhibit: The Queen of Marco & the Creation of Collier County.
This queen, Tommie Barfield, was a determined woman who brought roads, ferries, and schools to this barrier island in the early 20th century. Her vital role as a lobbyist for Barron Gift Collier, convinced the Florida legislature to create Collier County in 1923. This must-see exhibit will share this remarkable story. Visit www.colliermusuems.com or call (239) 252-1440. Hopefully there will be a concert in Veterans Park -if not- there are lots of things to do at 901 Park Avenue. Visit www.Cityof MarcoIsland.com for more info.
Here to Help
As you will learn when you visit EC and Chokoloskee, these founding pioneers did not want government interference a.k.a. government help. They just wanted to be left alone.
All of Collier County will soon be dealing with a type of interference called, Home Rule, if our legislators did not pass it in the dark of the night. Now being tagged as “the preemption to end all preemption bills,” HB1515. If passed, it will mark a sea change in the way Florida has evolved from a state of fewer than 7 million residents in 1970 to the nation’s third most populous now, with more than 22 million.”
The purpose of home rule is to allow for local solutions to local issues. A municipality with home rule status can exercise any power and perform any function unless it is specifically prohibited by state law.
In contrast, a non-home rule municipality may only exercise powers for which express authority is provided by state law – key word authority. This means that non-home rule communities are
dependent on obtaining grants of authority from the General Assembly, meaning getting approval from the people we elected locally.
Was Jefferson, right? “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” Wonder what the pioneers of Florida’s Last Frontier would think of our current legislators?