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Glimpse of past sits on Everglades’ western edge

The Smallwood Store at Chokoloskee Bay was founded in 1906. (Courtesy Smallwood Store)

Seminole history and culture is seen in many places in Florida – some more out of the way than others. The Smallwood Store at Chokoloskee Bay near Everglades City is one of those that’s a bit out of the way: it’s been called the southernmost point of the west coast of Florida.

The store and the area offer a slice of Florida’s Native influences and pioneering history. The store first opened in 1906 by pioneer Ted Smallwood. His descendants still operate it today. Over time the structure has served as an Indian trading post (where Seminoles used to camp), Post Office, general store – and, today, a gift shop and museum.

The “Tigertail Gift Shop” is named after the Seminole Tribe’s Charlie Tigertail, who has been described as the first Native to run a trading post and store in the Everglades. The Smallwood family says he and Ted Smallwood were good friends. The gift shop sells Seminole crafts, carvings and artwork, among other items.

The Ten Thousand Islands that surround Chokoloskee Bay also carry stories of mysterious disappearances and ancient Calusa Indian burial grounds. The area was even once the home of alleged serial killer Edgar “Ed” Watson.

The gift store carries items created by Seminoles. (Courtesy Smallwood Store)

Watson, who was born in 1855, once sought refuge from the law in the Ten Thousand Islands. It was reported that residents who thought he was killing their neighbors later killed him at the Smallwood Store. The gift store has books for sale on Watson and his life.

The Calusa Indians lived in the Chokoloskee Bay area about 2,000 years ago where they built mounds and canals to travel in dugout canoes. Descendants of the Calusa expanded the mounds and fished, hunted and farmed the fertile
soil.

Meanwhile, white settlements in the area began near the end of the 19th century with hide and fur hunters and archaeologists among the first to visit. Settlement brought the need for goods and mail, which both were met by the Smallwood Store.

The Smallwood Store was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and was a working store until 1982. In 1990, Smallwood’s granddaughter added the museum to the store. Today, visitors come for the history, to fish off the back deck, and to paddle kayaks in the Ten Thousand Islands wilderness.

The site is near to other attractions to round out a South Florida day trip. In addition to fishing and kayaking, there is picnicking, hiking, boat tours, the Collier-Seminole State Park, the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and eateries that serve stone crab and other seafood. The area also isn’t far from the Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park and also the Big Cypress National Preserve.

If you go

The Smallwood Store is located at 360 Mamie St. in Chokoloskee. It is open seven days a week: from December to April the hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from May to November the hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (239) 695-2989 for more information or visit smallwoodstore.com. Admission is $5.

Editor’s note: Some information for this article has been gathered from online sources and the Smallwood Store’s website. If planning a visit, it is suggested to call ahead to verify hours of operation.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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