2,000 years ago on a coast now called “Ten Thousand Islands”, Chokoloskee Island was inhabited by a culture of mound-dwelling tribespeople. After they left, the Seminole Indians called it home. Then, Ted Smallwood built a trading post.
There may be more to the story, but as far as many locals of the island at the western edge of the Everglades are concerned, Chokoloskee’s history began with Ted Smallwood and his trading post. Unfortunately, it seems as if that history may end there well, or at least the preservation of it.
In 1906, the wild Everglades were even wilder than they are now, and Ted Smallwood was the first to bring some order to the isolated settlement. He set up shop on the great Calusa Indian shell mound, his store acting as a trading post for the plentiful hunting and farming bounty in exchange for tools of survival necessary in the rugged new territory. Besides being the only store servicing the island, Smallwood’s was also the post office and a social hub of sorts for the rough type of men that the seclusion of the islands attracted—the type of men that didn’t want to be found.
Ted Smallwood’s establishment kept its doors open until 1982, long after being added to the National Register of Historic Places. Sealed up like a time capsule, almost everything was left exactly as it was when Ted was still in business. 8 years later, Ted’s granddaughter reopened the historical bubble as a museum, telling the tale of the pioneers that made a home in this unconventional corner of the New World.
The window into the past is complete; animal pelts, school supplies, tools, tablecloths and everything in-between sits frozen in time, down to the advertisements on the walls. No reproduction, this museum is the real thing, exactly how it was when Ted Smallwood was just about the most important man on the island. Sadly, this historic gem is now in danger of disappearing.
The enemy is predictable—greedy developers who managed to find a loophole in the records allowing the road that leads to Smallwood to be declared a private driveway, which they promptly bulldozed. Mamie St.—the first road ever built on the island—was demolished, and the only route to the trading post-turned-museum is gone. Adding insult to injury? The road was named after Ted’s own dear wife.
For 6 months, furious residents demanded their road back, and access restored to their little piece of history, which incidentally also delivered a fairly solid tourist revenue. The developers, unconcerned with the preservation of the island’s yesteryear, continue to push forward despite legal setbacks including an order issued requiring them to restore the road until the legal red tape is untangled. Sadly, even with small legal triumphs, the museum and its keepers aren’t likely to be able to fight for long. Up against financial woes and aggressive attorneys, even a settlement requiring a new road coming from another direction could be an impossible financial burden. While the small town holds their breath, their pristine time capsule sits untouched as money and progress (aka, condos) duke it out in court with those hoping to preserve what they consider the islands greatest wealth.