There are questions of passage ways and trails "lost" historically that members wish to rediscover.
There are predecessors who explored what fires our imaginations...before GPS, Google and Sat images.
Perhaps this can be a forum to post that information?
Loving The Wild Life Eccentric Wayne Davidson Survived A Spat With Authorities -- And Helps The Public.
November 20, 1989 | Story by MARTY KLINKENBERG
Somebody shot Spot.
The pigs, each of them 250 pounds or better, probably never knew what hit them.
``They would have walked right up to poachers,`` Wayne Davidson said as he stood on the porch of his hunting camp in the heart of the Everglades. ``They probably thought they were going to get fed. All the guys had to do is shoot them with a .22. They wouldn`t have even run.``
Wayne Davidson -- W.D. to his friends -- had raised Spot and Herman since they were babies. Spot liked beer. Used to really suck them down.
The thought of someone making bacon, or roasting him over a fire, made Davidson sick.
He talked about organizing a party to search for clues. He plotted revenge. But deep in his heart, and it is a big one, he knew tracking the poachers would prove fruitless.
Undoubtedly, they had fled his 50,000-acre oasis 28 miles out on Alligator Alley long before Davidson arrived this Wednesday morning, as is his custom.
He comes early, usually, to tend to his beasts. He has goats and pigs and bunnies and birds.
The peacocks chase his car until he rolls to a stop beside the camp. Goats jump on the fence and pigs squeal at the sight of him. Ducks quack at his feet.
He is the Sultan of Sawgrass and this is his domain.
But on this morning he is less cheery than most.
He has two fewer mouths to feed.
And it hurts.
When Wayne Davidson is home, two flags fly over the front gate of the Red Neck Country Club. There is a Confederate flag because of the rebel streak that lives in him and the people with whom he shares his swampy kingdom. And there is a Southern Comfort banner because that is what he likes to drink often, without moderation and without apology.
At 72, Wayne Davidson is Ernest Hemingway re-incarnated. He is a big-game fisherman, a big-game hunter and a big-time thrill-seeker. His lifestyle is one Papa obviously would approve.
He even looks like the author. The resemblance is so close people have asked to take snapshots with him in airports around the world.
Where Hemingway hid in honky tonks in Key West and Bimini, W.D. seeks refuge in South Florida`s answer to the Outback, a place whose subtle beauty eludes all but the most discriminating eyes.
Davidson has come to the Everglades for recreation and relaxation since he moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1947 after a divorce. He got involved in the yacht interior design business in Michigan and later ran Wayne Davidson Interiors at Bahia Mar Yachting Center for 20 years.
Since 1967, he has had a hunting camp on the current ranch site, which encompasses about 60 square miles, including 12 fronting the south side of Alligator Alley from the Broward-Collier line to Mile Marker 38. The Big Cypress National Preserve is his neighbor and Florida panthers, one of the most endangered species on Earth, stalk his turf. This is rugged country, a place where bullet-riddled highway signs warn it is unlawful to discharge firearms and alligators outnumber people 1,000 to 1.
Davidson has leased the land from the Barron Collier Co. for 22 years. He has had no cattle on it since 1975, when a cow got loose and was struck by a truck on the Alley, prompting a lawsuit.
Over the years, he has shared the property with just about any well- intentioned non-profit, civic, educational or church group that has asked. For 15 years, he taught hunting safety courses.
More than 70 organizations, including various law enforcement agencies and the armed services, use his facilities.
``More people come through that gate in a year than all of the people in all of the Conservation Areas in South Florida combined,`` Davidson said.
A feisty fighter by nature, Davidson has had no second thoughts about battling authorities over the years.
Recently, he worked out a compromise with the federal government, which eventually plans to overtake the land and turn it over to the National Parks Service, that will allow his facilities to remain in place at least a few more years.
The latter is good news for the hunters who come in search of deer, wild hogs, rabbit, hens and quail and the fishermen who regularly pull largemouth bass, bluegill and speckled perch from the L-28 interceptor canal. Its influence over children, many of whom grow up in the urban jungle and get their first taste of nature thanks to his benevolence, can not be overstated.
But the person who will sense the most loss when Uncle Sam moves in will be Davidson, who has come to enjoy having pet turkeys wandering just outside his weekend master bedroom and peacocks standing not-so-silent sentinel at his wooden gate.
The clubhouse he constructed in 1968 -- arsons burned down a similar facility in 1967 -- is a tribute to his eccentricity, not to mention his love of life.
Stuffed squirrels, raccoons, river otters, barn owls, armadillos and bobcats stare at visitors through lifeless glass eyes from various points around a room. Numerous horned skulls surround a central bar known as the W.D. Horny Pub. Hundreds of hats hang from the ceiling, surrendered for a W.D. Ranch cap.
Two books -- A Dieters Guide To Weight Loss During Sex and A Dieters Guide To Weight Loss After Sex -- rest on a table. And signs, signs, everywhere there are signs. By the Time You Decide to Look for Greener Pastures... You`re Too Old To Climb the Fence and If You Can`t Hunt in Heaven I Don`t Want To Go are just two.
Framed towels, souvenirs brought back from a recent African wildlife photography safari, are propped against the wall. They are recipes, one for Rhino on the Spit, the other, Curried Crocodile.
The latter, with ingredients that include three large crocodiles, one smoked warthog, 3,000 green peppers and one-half ton of rice, will feed 1,250. But the towel suggests readers let one`s mother-in-law try it first.
His collection of knick-knacks also includes Indian headress, a gift from one of his Miccosukee neighbors.
There are also five albums full of photographs, some of hunting and fishing conquests, some of conquests of an entirely different kind. The newest book includes a picture of a roe buck he shot with a three-barrel gun this summer in West Germany -- hitting it in the heart from a tree stand 175 yards away -- and 280 greenback ducks and 20 Canadian geese shot by him and his companions in three hours in New Zealand. The pursuit of feather, fur and fin has taken the 1986 Broward County Ducks Unlimited Man of the Year to most states and South America and Australia as well. And he has impressive photographs from each.
His one-bedroom ranch house, which is adjacent to a 60-foot trailer hunt club members use to sleep, includes a 6-foot grill perfect for barbecuing when many guests are on the premises. Cooking is done by gas, lighting is accomplished by propane lamps.
A giant cooler is always stocked with soft drinks, beer and Growlin` Gator Lager.
The latter, according to the writing on the can, is the ``Favorite of Lounge Lizards Everywhere.`` The label also says it is brewed on Alligator Alley and asks drinkers to ``Be responsible, consume in moderation.``
Sometimes, it is 15 or 20 degrees cooler here than it is in downtown Fort Lauderdale, a little more than an hour away. A breeze blows in over the sawgrass and it is pleasant. Despite its location -- smack dab in the middle of Marjory Stoneman Douglas` River of Grass, bugs usually are not a problem. Mosquito coils keep most biting insects away.
He spends most of his time watching -- or talking about -- animals.
His goat herd includes two he raised at his Fort Lauderdale home after their mother`s milk went sour. Mallards paddling on a fenced-in pond were likewise raised by him because he says they wouldn`t have made it out here in the wild.
``You have to protect them until they can fly,`` Davidson said. ``The raccoons, oppossums, foxes, alligators... just about everything eats them.``
The fruits of that labor are what most please him.
``The best thing is to just sit here and watch mallards fly in here,`` he said.
It`s like they know it`s home.
Davidson and the ducks are birds of a feather.
A couple stories related to Willy Willy:
In case the embedded doc doesn't show, this is the link to the story about Willie Willie's camp and hatred for whites.
That's good stuff, I'm always looking for historical context, thanks Shawn!
Thank you Shawn for that informative article. I remember the WD Ranch like it was yesterday.
Back in the day when the alley was freshly constructed and both SR 29 and CR 951 were brutal coral rock two lane roads, it was a adventure to travel east to west. Autos from that era were far from reliable and on more than one occasion my family had to rely on the help of fellow motorists or locals living along the way. It was different then, you could approach strangers without the universal feeling of suspicion that is apparent today. The marvels of engineering were evident then as now. The wooden Goodland swing bridge and the .25 cent toll for the newly constructed Marco island bridge come to mind. Travel from west to east was easy courtesy of Marco Island Airways. (prior to this photo they flew classic DC-3's).
The Willie Willie article is awesome! Please keep them coming!
Seminoles, Spaniards versus British/Anglo Power
It would be interesting to see Miami's immigrant Hispanic, Caribbean, African, and Native American youth/communities study the deep history of resistance against British then colonial oppression of minorities via a course of Florida History.
A course devoted to the ACTUAL history of Florida at both high school and college would be ideal.
It could be taught with many interesting books and resources.
I've known of the origin of the history of the word "Seminole." Last night I read more into the "Maroons," escaped black slaves who the Creeks, Miccosukee and Seminole accepted and incorporated as their own slaves (in many cases), but in all cases with freedom to live and work and arm themselves for themselves.
What I didn't know is the open and overt history of the Spaniards promoting slave escapes and the granting of freedom if they formed militias in Florida. I didn't know the Florida Spanish Missions were part of the network and strategy of resisting British/Colonial expansion.
Funny how history's many fabrics are often joined with common threads.
The bottom line is that the immigrant Peruvians, Colombians, Caribbeans, Cubans share a distant common thread with the Miccosukkee and the African-Americans here in Florida, among whom have often been tension.
Here's a wikipedia article that might be of interest:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Seminoles
There are many black Seminoles in the tribe today.... Miccosuki too.
They say the Spaniards moved the remaining surviving Calusa to Cuba where some of their decendants may survive to this day. I think Chekika was the last of the Calusa/Spanish mixed, commonly called Spanish Indians.. Little is known about the "Spanish Indians" of Florida but they were gone when the Seminoles arrived.
Aerial Maps preceding 1940 (see below) and official NOAA and USGS maps (see http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00094258/00001/1x?vo=33&vp=7724,7140 - scroll down to image) refer to the collection of bays south of Sunday Bay collectively as "Cannon Bay."
Sometime after 1940 (perhaps when the park took over?), these bays were individually named (Oyster, Houston, Last Houston and Chevelier, from West to East) and the name "Cannon Bay" was reserved for the bay just west of Alligator Bay (which literature described as Alligator Bay at least to 1917).
Why was this change made? Did it have to do with the park? Did it have to do with Jaudon's Chevelier Corporation and his attempt to develop this area (the Town of Poinciana?). Did it have to do with memorializing the French gladesman Chevelier?
Was the designation "Cannon Bay" related to the military connection (Fort Harrell's location up Sunday Bay/New River or perhaps up Gannet Creek?)?
Anyone interested in digging in to the history? Click the following to open this 1940 Collier County Government Aerial labeled montage. Click again to enlarge.
A pretty good description of Monroe Station as one of 6 “Patrol stations [that had] been built,” so reported the Collier County News on November 22, 1928, “...where gas, oil, soft drinks, accessories and other requirements may be had.”..."
The establishment of the Southwest Florida Mounted Police was an integral part of the creation of the six stations along the Tamiami Trail in Collier County. Husband-and-wife teams were hired to manage the stations, selling food, drinks, and gasoline to motorists, with the husband also “deputed by the county sheriff” ostensibly “not so much [to] arrest lawbreakers as to aid motorists in difficulty,” but the remoteness of the station locations still resulted in tense
It was expected that once an hour during daylight hours, each officer would mount his Harley Davidson motorcycle and patrol the fives miles of roadway to either side of each station.18
William Irwin was the first officer to occupy Monroe Station. Beginning in November 1928, he worked out of the station and was presumably accompanied by his wife, Nettie, and two children.19
Officer Irwin‟s tenure was short. He was killed on January 19, 1929, in a head-on collision while patrolling on his
the 6 stations were "built at ten-mile intervals, Dade County line to Belle Meade. (Paola, Monroe Station, Carnestown, Weavers Station, Royal Palm Hammock, and Belle Meade.) " http://seminolewar.livejournal.com/188463.html
I think, when you measure the distance between those places, its more like 15-20 mile intervals, which makes more sense.
The Gator Hook bar was as wild as the Everglades outside
Jeff KlinkenbergJeff Klinkenberg, Times Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 3:58pm
PINECREST — It's gone now, what was Florida's roughest tavern on what still is a rugged I-hope-my-car-doesn't-break-down byway. For two decades the Gator Hook Lodge stood bristling with Gladesman culture on the notoriously unfriendly Loop Road in the Big Cypress Swamp. Inhabitants included hunters and fishers, froggers and gator poachers, moonshiners and misanthropes. There was at least one amazing musician who played fiddle like an angel.
In the Gator Hook, named after a poaching tool employed to yank reluctant alligators from their dens, folks fought, bled and drank themselves silly. "No Guns or Knives Inside," warned the sign above the door. On Saturday nights, almost everybody in the place carried a dagger or a pistol.
An hour away, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack ruled glamorous Miami Beach. Out in the Big Cypress, out in the Everglades, the Gator Hook served as a rip-snorting relic of an earlier Florida where law and order were of little consequence.
The Gator Hook sat only a few miles from the Miami-Dade County border on the Florida mainland. Actually, it was located in a sliver of Monroe County, where Key West was the seat of government. The nearest sheriff's office, in Key Largo, was 92 miles away. A deputy who made the miserable drive from the Keys to Gator Hook was likely to be met by hard stares. Trouble? What trouble?
In the swamp, the Gladesmen preferred to take care of their own problems. Their material and spiritual sustenance came from the gators and the birds and a harsh and unforgiving lifestyle. Gladesmen would have eaten the Hatfields and McCoys, with grits, for breakfast.
The paved road from Tampa to Miami, the Tamiami Trail, was completed in 1928. A dreamer named James Jaudon looped a 27-mile gravel road off the trail in hopes of attracting tourist dollars to his new enterprise, the Chevelier Corp. But in time the only people to use the Loop Road were the loggers and roughnecks who loathed the rotten-egg odor of civilization.
Pinecrest, a settlement of about 200 grizzled Floridians who tolerated the lack of electricity, running water and telephone service — not to mention mosquitoes and the occasional cottonmouth bite — was what passed for civilization on the Loop. It had two restaurants, a gas station and what folks later claimed was a brothel owned by gangster Al Capone.
• • •
I was a timid and pimply faced city boy who liked to catch bass and the occasional water snake when I first discovered the Gator Hook. Thinking back on my teenage years, I can hardly believe I ever ventured inside. I was never bold enough to visit at night; daytime was scary enough. It was the first place I ever saw a grown man lying drunk on the floor. At noon.
"Where were you today?" my dad asked one Saturday.
"Bass fishing," I answered. "We caught a couple of water snakes and let them go. Then we had a snack at the Gator Hook. Dad, you should have seen the guys on the floor. . . ."
He turned pale. "Not for you," he said. He had read something in the paper about unsavory swamp behavior.
I would like to say I was always an obedient son. But we all know that teenage boys like to do stupid things that might get them hurt or killed. So in the spirit of adventure I visited a few more times.
Entering the Gator Hook was like taking a time-machine trip into the 19th century. Maybe I wouldn't take my little brother along, and certainly not a girlfriend, assuming I'd had one. But if you were brave enough, and maybe foolish enough, what you got was an amazing peek at a vanishing culture that was colorful and unsettling.
Nobody ever claimed the Confederate flag behind the bar stood for anything but an angry warning to unwelcome outsiders. In George Wallace country, African-Americans, Hispanics, Miccosukee Indians, liberals, tourists in foreign cars and college boys were persona non grata. While perched at the bar to eat a Red Smith pickled sausage, after a rigorous morning of snaking, I was always careful to tuck my long hair under a ball cap.
• • •
Even now, when I travel to Miami, I like to leave the Tamiami Trail in Collier County at an abandoned building called Monroe Station and take the turn onto the Loop Road. I look for snakes and alligators and always hope I might see a bear or a panther. Near what remains of the Pinecrest settlement, I try to remember the Gator Hook. But what can I say? It's been 45 years. My memories are vague. I can't even remember where it was.
One day not long ago, when I was supposed to be working on a story, I began poking around Facebook, the social network that connects millions of people and their interests. Out of curiosity I typed "Gator Hook" into the browser. A page dedicated to the old roadhouse popped up. It was maintained by a guy named Charles Knight. Nobody alive, it turns out, knows more about the Gator Hook.
His brother, Eley Jack Knight Jr., started the Gator Hook in 1958. His sister Joyce ran it for few years before handing over the keys to their daddy, Jack Knight, the ferocious former police chief of Miami's rough-and-tumble Sweetwater community. With his sawed-off 12-gauge under the counter, and billy club in his back pocket, he oversaw the Gator Hook.
Charles, 54 now, lives in a small house in Brevard County. I drove across the state to meet him. He loves talking about a childhood that included hunting, frogging and playing with dynamite.
"Everybody had dynamite because the ground is so hard out there," Charles says. "You needed it to dig a pond, dig a hole for a fence post, or blow up enough fish for a fish fry."
He illegally hunted gators, illegally drove an airboat, illegally drove a swamp buggy, illegally drove a car and illegally drank moonshine — all before he was 16. In the Gator Hook, he learned to use his fists. "Beers in cans, never in glass bottles at the Gator Hook," Charles tells people. "And plastic ashtrays, not glass. Glass could be lethal in a fight."
When drunk and riled, Gladesmen liked to mix it up. But if your airboat broke down, they'd stop and help. If you ran out of shotgun shells, they'd loan you one. Many could quote from the Bible.
Charles remembers playing with snakes, skinny-dipping and the night he was alone in the Gator Hook and heard something splashing outside. He froze when he saw a monstrous shadow looming at the window, followed by an unspeakable odor far worse than snake musk. Grabbing his dad's shotgun, he yelled "I'm going to shoot.'' The figure outside the window melted into the gloom.
Outside, he took a brave look around. Whatever he'd seen had been huge. The window ledge measured 7 feet above the swamp.
To this day, Charles Knight swears what he saw was Florida's bigfoot — the notorious, smelly skunk ape.
• • •
Charles Knight has friends who drink on Saturday night at Chili's. Sometimes they get a little crazy at a World of Beer or a Jimmy Buffett wanna-be bar out on the beach. He tries not to look bored. Instead he tells them what it was like at the Gator Hook.
Say around 1970. Around noon.
Charles Knight is a kid. He sweeps the dusty plywood floor while Loretta, Tammy, Hank and Patsy warble from the generator-powered Rock-Ola. He hears the pop-hiss of a beer can opening and the clacking of pool balls. A dozen gator skulls look down from the wall.
Charles greets the first visitor, the legendary poacher Gator Bill. Next he waves to Johnny Y, who has walked with a terrible limp since the day mobsters in Miami cut both Achilles tendons. The swamp woman Nell, all 225 pounds of her, comes in for an RC Cola. Everybody knows she's having an affair with a slender swamp man named Bob. There are rumors that she has arranged for her husband's murder.
A fearless long-haired young guy from Canada, Emile, strolls in for a hard-boiled egg and some eight-ball. He's taunted by a pair of Gladesmen until Jack Knight, watching from behind the counter, has heard enough. Plopping his 12-gauge on the counter, he asks the usual question.
"You boys looking for trouble?"
This time they're not.
The boy Charles Knight steps outside and sits on the front stoop for a smoke. A while later he hears a crash inside followed by his daddy's hushed voice at the screen door. "Charles, move aside." Charles automatically shuffles aside so his father can drag the unconscious battler into the parking lot.
• • •
Same day. A few hours later.
A kid named Lucky — Lucky lives on the Loop even today — is tired after deer hunting. Lucky is a large, gray-haired man now. Back then he was a strapping guy who never ran from a fight. On this day, he's brought along a 14-year-old buddy. Lucky is sure they will be served illegal beer in the Gator Hook.
"They don't check IDs," he assures his pal. "All they care about is being paid."
Lucky parks his pickup — his deer rifle in the back window — out on the road. Cocky as a turkey gobbler, he struts up to the Gator Hook front porch and immediately notices an enormous drunk, dressed in camouflage, leaning against the porch beam.
"WHAT YOU BOYS WANT?" he shouts, ejecting a stream of chewing tobacco at Lucky's boots. Lucky tries not to make eye contact, but notices a string of tobacco-colored phlegm dripping from the Gladesman's red beard.
"We just want to go in, sir," Lucky pipes up.
"YOU BOYS ARMED?" shouts Gargantua.
"No, sir," Lucky says, hoping he has provided the right answer. He hasn't.
"YOU NEED TO GET YOU A GUN OR KNIFE!"
Lucky and his silent pal retreat to the truck, climb in and get the hell out of there.
• • •
About two hours later.
The swamp opera is under way with parts performed by barred owls, whip-poor-wills and katydids. Pig frogs, thousands of them, join in. A bull alligator bellows. A black bear growls. Somewhere in the distance a bobcat screams.
Inside the Gator Hook, gripping his fiddle like it's a good woman's soft hand, a white-haired fellow puts down his beer and stands away from the counter. His name is Ervin Rouse and he is the Loop Road's only celebrity and resident eccentric.
He was born in North Carolina, one of a passel of Rouses who all played musical instruments. In 1938, he and his brother Gordon were staying at a fleabag hotel in New York, feeling homesick, when they pulled out their fiddles. By the time they'd checked out next morning, they'd written a new tune about the railroad train that ran between New York, Tampa and Miami, The Orange Blossom Special. In some quarters, it's still known as "the fiddler's national anthem."
Once or twice a year the fiddler receives a fat royalty check, drives to Miami and returns with a new Cadillac he proceeds to run into the ground. He impulsively buys airboats, gives away money and buys drinks for everybody in the bar. One time another musician notices an uncashed royalty check in Ervin's briefcase — for $25,000.
"He was the greatest guy in the world," Charles Knight tells people now. "He was also insane and the drinkingest son-of-a-b---- I ever knew. He never bathed, always smelled bad, always had two dogs with him, Butter and Bean. But he was so kind he'd give you the shirt off his back."
• • •
Ten minutes later at the Gator Hook.
On the stage.
Tuning up, Ervin Rouse is going to be accompanied by Jack Knight's lovely daughter, Joyce, on bass. Charles, though he's a kid, gets to play drums. Nobody seems to know the new guitar player; the old one disappeared a few weeks ago after somebody accused him of making a sexual overture to a Gladesman's young son.
Nobody was arrested, of course, but the alleged pedophile vanished from the face of the earth, no questions asked.
Ervin Rouse's bow caresses the strings. He sings in a hoarse and a surprisingly high voice:
Hey, look a-yonder comin'
Comin' down that railroad track.
It's the Orange Blossom Special
Bringin' my baby back.
And couples, dozens of them, rush the floor, men in overalls with hair slicked back and shoes polished, partnered with barefooted Honky Tonk angels in cotton dresses. They're dancing — clogging, actually — at the Gator Hook, celebrating Saturday night on the Loop Road in the mighty Big Cypress.
About midnight, when things have quieted down a little, an inebriated Gladesman wades into the swamp and hangs a dynamite stick from the limb of a pond apple tree. From the back porch, a couple of other high-spirited Gladesmen open fire with their .22s.
The marksman whose bullet ignites the dynamite wins a free beer.
• • •
Today, part of the Loop Road is paved. Most of it is gravel though it's usually passable even in a Prius. During the day, tourists from Germany and England and Miami admire the swamp through open car windows. If they have a problem, or a question, a nice park service ranger in a station wagon will stop and help. At night, it's still lonely and spooky and loud from the frogs and insects. My cellphone can never pick up a signal.
In 1974, the federal government declared the Big Cypress a 700,000-acre national preserve, protecting it from development that threatened from all directions. Environmentalists were thrilled, but dismayed Gladesmen knew that life was about to change in the swamp.
In 1977, Jack Knight closed the Gator Hook, disillusioned with the federal government's presence in the Big Cypress. The Loop Road and the Gator Hook were Gladesmen habitat, was how he saw it, not a place for city folks in VW Beetles to visit for bird-watching. So he locked his door, went home to Miami, died of throat cancer.
His oldest son, the Gladesman, Eley Jack Knight Jr., the bar's original owner, gator poacher and wildest heart, drove out to the swamp a few years later with a can of gasoline. No way he was going to let the park service knock down the abandoned old bar. He burned it to the ground instead.
More than three decades have passed. You won't find anything about the Gator Hook in the history books, though it remains alive in Randy Wayne White's novel The Man Who Invented Florida and in Tim Dorsey's Electric Barracuda. Peter Matthiessen set a terrifying scene inside the bar — a gator poacher menaces a college professor — in his National Book Award-winning novel, Shadow Country.
Ervin Rouse is dead. His bass player, the gentle Joyce Knight, has passed away. Eley Jack Knight Jr. may or may not be resting in peace: In 2000 he died from liver disease after three years in a penitentiary for manslaughter. Charles keeps his brother's intimidating gator-skinning Bowie knife in a cardboard box.
Charles? He's had his downs and his ups. Today he is a rock musician, manages restaurants and plans to write a novel based on his wild youth on the Loop Road. He has wonderful children and a beautiful girlfriend to whom he enjoys retelling the legend of the Gator Hook.
"I didn't appreciate it enough when it was there," he says. "I wish I could go back to that time. It was a wonderful life."
Charles never tells anyone exactly where to find what's left of the bar because "I don't want it desecrated by some idiot." I told him I'd be respectful and he told me where to look. Even with directions I couldn't find it. I stopped at my friend Lucky Cole's house on the Loop Road. Lucky climbed into his truck and told me to follow him.
"It's in there," Lucky said a few miles later. "I'm wearing shorts, so I'm not going in because of the poison ivy."
I was wearing jeans and boots. I kicked my way through the poison ivy and weaved through the red maple, sweetbay magnolia, cocoplum and sword fern all the while looking for cottonmouth snakes.
My hair is gray. I take Lipitor.
The broken steps of the Gator Hook, weeds sprouting from cracks, lay before me like a monument. Beyond the steps in the shallow swamp water stood the two dozen or so concrete blocks on which Eley Jack Knight Jr. placed his Gator Hook Lodge in 1958. I saw no cottonmouths or gators, bears or skunk apes. I heard the distant cry of a great blue heron, but not Ervin Rouse playing The Orange Blossom Special.
Lucky called out from the road.
"I'll come back in a week,'' he yelled. "If your truck is still out here, I'll send a rescue party."
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Jeff Klinkenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8727.
The Gator Hook bar was as wild as the Everglades outside 03/14/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 15, 2012 5:45pm]
© 2014 Tampa Bay Times
Florida 500: The Tamiami Trail
Posted on January 4, 2013 by Kartik Krishnaiyer
A Tangential History of the Tamiami Trail
By Ross Hancock
Kartik’s recent series on the history of the Florida Turnpike got me thinking about a road project from an earlier time that also had a great impact on the state. On so many beautiful days like today, I have crossed the peninsula via the Tamiami Trail to paddle in my favorite places — the “Shadow Country” backcountry rivers and bays of the Ten Thousand Islands.
There is so much Florida history in the Lostman’s River country south of Chokoloskee, much of it told in Peter Matthiessen’s trilogy that incorporates the Killing Mr. Watson novel. The Tamiami Trail itself takes me past mile markers of Florida history, from its eastern terminus on Brickell Avenue, down Little Havana’s Calle Ocho, past Miccosukee villages and their casino, the ValuJet Flight 592 crash site memorial, tourist traps like Safari Park and the Swamp Ape Research Center, the abandoned Everglades Jetport, and America’s tiniest post office. Near the Miami-Dade/Collier border, the otherwise laser-straight Trail takes a mysterious jog north, called the “Forty-Mile Bend.”
Ironically, the road itself threatens my fragile destination. But that is another story.
By 1911, various Florida counties were issuing bonds to build hard-surfaced roads to accommodate the hundreds of automobiles in the state’s larger cities. Inter-city car travel had been made imaginable by a 1909 auto endurance race between Tampa and Jacksonville. The race took four days. There was statewide enthusiasm for road projects to bring winter tourists down the east and west coasts.
Boosters from Florida attended the Dixie Highway Association convention in Chattanooga in 1915, lobbying to extend Dixie Highway through central Florida. Though their persuasion failed, the Florida delegates quickly reassembled in Orlando as the newly formed Florida Highway Association, and backed several projects, including a road from Tampa to Miami. That same year, the state legislature created the Florida State Road Department, and in 1916, Congress passed the Bankhead Act to provide federal highway aid to a car-crazy nation.
Sections at each end of the Tamiami Trail were gradually patched together, including, by 1918, 35 miles from Brickell nearly to Dade County’s western boundary. But the real challenge would be completing work on the final cross-state segment from Naples to Dade, which crawled along at one-and-a-quarter miles per month, despite having a steam-powered “walking dredge” and an average of 150 men working at any given time. The Tamiami Trail would take 13 years, two-and-a-half million dynamite sticks, and $8 million before opening to traffic. Workers would drown and be crushed in accidents. A world war, a land bust, and a devastating hurricane would be endured first.
It would take an encyclopedia to tell the story of the Trail and the politics and technical challenges involved. I will tell a slice of a chapter of it, starting with my perspective at water level, in a handmade kayak in Mr. Watson’s shadow country.
We are in a mangrove creek at the entrance to Sweetwater Bay, a 15-mile paddle south out of Chokoloskee. The Everglades once fed pure water into the foliage bordering this quiet bay, and pirates replenished their water stores here. The flow comes from Sweetwater Strand, and while the sheet flow is a trickle and the water is tainted by agricultural runoff, the strand is home to otters that feast on oysters as far north as the Tamiami Trail, just a few miles inland. It is not unusual to see sawfish and porpoises hunting in the shallows here.
An osprey overhead watches flamingo-colored spoonbills work the mud flats. The Park Service has provided a wooden platform for camping. If you tie up to it on a moonless night, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy above, and the whole Milky Way is reflected in the water below along with bioluminescent fireworks in the wake of shrimp and trout.
The creek behind us leads to Chevelier Bay, named after a French poacher who lived on it a hundred years ago. Jean Chevelier used his cabin as a base to shoot tropical birds for European collectors, and to dig for gold among the 2,000-year-old Calusa mounds in the area. Chevelier’s friend Edgar Watson lived just downriver toward the Gulf until he was gunned down by his neighbors in 1910. Mr. Watson virtually invented sugar farming in Florida, which is yet another history story for another day.
It was on pristine Chevelier Bay, Sweetwater Bay, and 200,000 acres of precious wilderness extending all the way east to the Dade County line that Capt. J.F. Jaudon, an ambitious developer who served as Dade’s tax assessor, wished to erect the city of Chevelier, along with development of sugar and rubber farming, logging, oil drilling, and the distillation of rum. For that dream to be fulfilled, the Tamiami Trail would have to be completed.
By 1921, Lee County, which bordered Dade at the time, was not making progress extending the Trail from Naples toward Miami. Capt. Jaudon took matters in his own hands and started working westward from the Dade side, extending the road for 16 miles through property he owned.
This stretch comprises most of what is now the unpaved Loop Road from the east end of the Forty Mile Bend toward Monroe Station.
Jaudon also built his first development on that road, called Pinecrest, which he marketed as “The Next Miami.” While Jaudon was engaged in that project, Southwest Florida advertising magnate Barron Collier obtained state approval to complete the Tamiami Trail from the west, rerouting it through his own land to circumvent his rival’s landholdings.
In appreciation for taking over work on the Trail, which was finally opened in 1928, the state named a new county for Collier. Bypassed by the highway, Jaudon’s development plans were dashed until gangster Al Capone financed a hunting lodge, casino, and airstrip in Pinecrest, where he could do business with minimal scrutiny. The remote community survived the depression, but the burning, possibly by arson, of Capone’s Pinecrest Lodge in the mid 1930s and the depletion of logging in the area turned Pinecrest into a ghost town by the early 1940s.
Today the Forty Mile Bend of the Tamiami Trail, 40 miles west of Miami, looks like bad surveying, as if the eastbound and westbound crews almost missed each other. But it is really just a monument to the competing ambitions of Collier and Jaudon.
Where the road bends back from northwest to due west, if you turn onto the unpaved Loop Road at Monroe Station and drive south a few miles, you will come to a small bridge over a creek of Sweetwater Strand. This is a cypress-shaded spot immortalized in Clyde Butcher photos, one of the prettiest spots on the planet. You can observe the otters and alligators and wood storks, and watch the water flow Gulfward toward Sweetwater Bay, Chevelier Bay, and Lostman’s River — all now under protection of the National Park system — safe from poachers and developers, but thirsty for water that is unblocked by roads and untainted by runoff.
This arch stood over the Tamiami Trail at the Dade-Collier line until it was demolished in 1958 when the road was widened.
Before NPS took over Oasis Visitor Center, it was an Amoco Gas Station:
Here's some info I swipped off of the "Constellation Survivors" website:
The aircraft you describe is L1049G c/n 4617, which was delivered to the Portuguese flag carrier TAP as CS-LB in July 1955 and retired in mid-1967. It was sold to International Aerodyne and flown to Miami, FL in September 1967 and registered N4624 in April 1969. Sold to Air Cargo Operations Inc in June 1969 and to Leasing Consultants the same month, the aircraft never flew again but was used instead for spares. Disassembled in October 1969, the aircraft was transported to Everglades, FL and by September 1971 was placed atop a restaurant at the Dade Collier/Oasis Airport, Tamiami Trail. The restaurant closed and the building was later used as a garage with the aircraft remaining there until early February 1978 when the garage closed. The aircraft was taken about a mile away and cut up for scrap in February 1978.