At Smallwood Store, you live a little Everglades history
Smallwood Store is an exceptional slice of Florida history at an end-of-the-road site overlooking Chokoloskee Bay near Everglades City.
You’ll have to travel many miles to find a more evocative, authentic look at old Florida.
Smallwood Store opened in 1906 when Chokoloskee was the Wild West and Ted Smallwood was a pioneer. This wooden building on an island was an Indian trading post, post office and general store to a small community of hardy and sometimes ornery individualists.
Today, one thing that makes Smallwood Store so special is that not only has it been preserved, but it is still owned and loved by descendents of the family that founded it.
Admission to Smallwood Store is $5 and if you like old stuff, you can while away an hour soaking up the ambience, reading the extensive and informative displays and admiring the view.
You’ll learn that the wooden counters slanted in at the floor to accommodate hoop skirts, that in 1984 two-thirds of the adult male population of Everglades City was jailed for trafficking in marijuana, that the first Coke machine came to town in 1945 at Smallwood’s, which had the only electricity for 30 miles.
You’ll see rattlesnake skins, wooden barrels, a shot-gun worn out from shooting alligators and an antique gumball machine.
You’ll see the stories of Seminole Indians, pioneers, murderers, recluses and strong, persevering women. (On display is a handsome wooden table built by one of Ted Smallwood’s daughters.)
Smallwood Store devotes space to telling the legendary story of suspected serial killer Ed Watson, who sought refuge from the law in the Ten Thousand Islands. He was later killed himself at Smallwood’s Store by residents who suspected he was killing their neighbors.
Books on the Watson episode are available in a small gift shop, where you also can buy Seminole arts and crafts, postcards, T-shirts and plastic alligators.
The day we visited Smallwood store, we were lucky enough to meet Mallory Smallwood McMillin, who grew up at the historic store. Her mother opened it as a museum when she was 3 and she remembers taking her naps in a back bedroom where her great-grandfather slept when he stayed at the store when Seminole Indians camped there. She graduated from Everglades City High School (in a class of 13) and returned after college to live here and work at Smallwood Store.
Smallwood Store was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and remained open as a working store until 1982. When the doors shut, 90 percent of the original goods remained in the store, according to the family.
Today visitors from around the world come here for a peek at a non-commercial Florida. Folks fish from the back desk and launch kayaks into the Ten Thousand Islands wilderness.
For the moment, what you see at Smallwood Store is a world Ted Smallwood would easily recognize.
[Note: For almost four years, neighbors and fans rallied around Smallwood Store in a dispute with a developer who claimed to own the only road to the store, actually building a fence across the road that closed the store for six months. Smallwood won that dispute in spring 2015.]
Visiting Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee:
- 360 Mamie St, Chokoloskee, FL 34138
- Open seven days a week; 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (From December to April, opening time is 10 a.m.)
- Smallwood Store’s website
Things to do near Everglades City and Chokoloskee:
- Our favorite Everglades kayak trail is the Turner River, eight miles from Everglades City.
- A great saltwater kayak trail nearby is Sandfly Loop, which gives you a taste of the Ten Thousand Island. For this, you launch from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center for Everglades National Park, which is five minutes from Ivey House.
- Halfway Creek is another kayak trail quite close to the Turner River. (It’s where we kayaked the time water was too low in the Turner River.)
- We’ve stayed at Ivey House Bed and Breakfast in Everglades City, which also operates a kayaking outfitter.
- There are two good boat tours offered at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.
- If you’re interested in the building of the Tamiami Trail, visit nearby Collier-Seminole State Park, which has the historic Bay City walking dredge, the last of its kind in existence. It’s a huge machine that was operated by Earl Ivey of Ivey House. The park also has good hiking and kayaking.
- Everglades City is the base for many stone-crab fishermen, so it’s a good place to indulge in the seasonal seafood. Here’s where to eat stone crabs in Everglades City plus general background on the city.
- Our guide to the scenic drive across Florida via Tamiami Trail is full of good places to hike, picnic and explore nearby.
- Camping and kayaking in the Ten Thousand Islands
- Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge
- Nearby Ochopee Post Office on the Tamiami Trail is the smallest in the US. And so cute.
- Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park: Excellent trail for bicycling and wildlife viewing in Everglades National Park.
- Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery: View his large-format black-and-white photos of Florida’s wilds.
- Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk: This is a beautiful spot worth a short walk. One of the prettiest boardwalks in the Everglades region, and it’s free!
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Interesting nearby places to stay and eat:
- Ivey House Bed and Breakfast
- Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe
- Camellia Street Grill (on Yelp)
- Triad Seafood
- City Seafood
Find a room in Everglades City:
Updated January 2017