Visit Everglades City and the Ten Thousand Islands of Southwest Florida, the Everglades

What’s The Oldest Building In Everglades City?

Everglades City

by Rev. Bob Wallace

I was standing in front of “the friendly little church on the circle in Everglades City” when a man came up to me and asked, “What’s the oldest building here in Everglades City?” I pointed across the circle to a big old brown building a couple of blocks away and said, “the oldest building in Everglades City is the Rod & Gun Club.”

Visit Florida tells us it was built in 1873 upon a foundation set by the first permanent settler, William Smith Allen. It was purchased in 1922 by Barron Collier, a wealthy rancher and industrialist after whom Collier County is named. Collier turned it into a private establishment for his well heeled friends. The club has attracted many famous guests over the years, including Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne, Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Sean Connery, Mick Jagger, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, George Bush Sr., Gypsy Rose Lee, and Jack Nicklaus.

Rod and Gun Club on Visit Everglades City

According to Barron Collier was responsible for putting the Everglades on the map. At the beginning of the 20th century, he built a miniature city with functioning buildings designed for various purposes for his employees. He built several buildings to serve his employees. This included a laundry building, a bank, a post office and telegraph, bakery, the Everglades Inn, administration offices, a department store, a pharmacy, and a restaurant. (The bank today will soon become a Welcome Center, and the laundry is museum.) He even printed his own money to be used as scrip and exchanged for U.S. Dollars when leaving the area. Collier acquired the property from the Storter family and turned it into a vacation club for the elite and wealthy. He even had a couple of US Presidents as guests. And he helped the construction of the Tamiami Trail, a major highway into the city, cementing its productivity and legitimacy as a potential city.

Rod and Gun Club on Visit Everglades City

Today, the club is a living monument to a Gilded Age. According to Trip Advisor, this is “The largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The Everglades is like no other place in the world.” And the Rod and Gun Club is open to guests who can fish in the Everglades or the Barron River, hike on local trails, or visit nearby Native American reservations. Historical Everglades City dates back over 1,000 years. Steve Winston, writing in Visit Florida said, “From the outside, the Everglades City Rod & Gun Club looks simply like an old brown lodge. But when you open the doors and walk inside, you’re suddenly enveloped in a timewarp. The ambience – and all the furniture – is from the turn of the century. In fact, it’s the original furniture from the days when the Rod & Gun Club was a playground for some of the world’s wealthiest people.”

It was purchased in 1972 by the Bowen family from Michigan, who are still operating it. They’ve closed the top two floors of the main building and kept the bottom floor with a fine restaurant, great room, Victorian sitting rooms, and general store as an authentic monument to those grandiose times. They’ve built five cottages with four units each for guests.

According to Divine Naples “Modern-day Everglades City, and the nearby Chokoloskee Bay, were inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years. A few years after the Civil War, was when the region really started to see its share of American settlers. By 1899, George Storter, Jr. claimed the land and became a successful sugar cane plantation owner. He established a trading post in 1892 and acquired a post office named ‘Everglade’ which is where Everglades City got its name. Then tourists and wealthy vacationers in their yachts who loved to hunt, and fish came.

The first church and schools were built at the close of the nineteenth century. General stores and trading posts popped up. The ones already established became busier. Stores such as that of the Smallwood family, still standing today, became successful. And all the rest, as they say, is history.”

Rod and Gun Club on Visit Everglades City

Reverend Dr Bob N. Wallace
Everglades Community Church

2024-03-19T11:05:13-04:00February 17, 2024|Community|

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