Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cosmic Thoughts on the Demise of a Roadside Trading Post

I was driving home from the "Give Springs A Break" event in Northcentral Florida where my head was filled with lots of information about springs, much of which was not warm and fuzzy. Hydro geologist Todd Kinkaid, one of the premier scientists studying the flow of underground water in the state concluded that springs will become "ephemeral systems." That means they will no longer have enough water pressure to flow normally unless large rain events increase the amount of water bubbling to the surface. Depressing stuff.

I stopped at Wildwood just before the turnpike to gas up and I noticed a rundown trading post next to the "Florida Citrus Center" where I was pumping fuel. In a previous blog I explored the Cherokee Trading Post on the other side of Wildwood near the Turnpike.  I drove over to photograph the weathered signage on the side of the building and was surprised to find that the roof had caved in and the entire building was full of plants. The age of roadside "Trading Posts" has long passed; our culture has more sensitivity towards Native Americans and places like this are no longer politically correct. Exploring the crumbling structure felt like observing an archeological relic from the not-to-distant past. The overgrown interior reminded me of the resiliency of nature and how that when left alone, the earth's environment will bounce back with remarkable speed. Perhaps mankind is ephemeral, and the earth is just waiting us out to set things right.

Florida seems to be in the midst of tremendous growth spurt again, and the forces of change are at work all along the roadside. When viewed from the limited window of a human lifespan, the amount of damage mankind makes to natural systems can seem overwhelming. But as Todd Kincaid reminded us, the amount of time humans have been around compared to the age of the planet is infinitesimal and the havoc we wreak on the environment is just a blip on the radar of cosmic time. The detrimental effects of our short-sightedness may not ultimately harm the planet itself, but rather merely cripple our own species. Let's hope we see the errors of our ways before it's too late.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bushels of Old Florida at the Smallwood Store

The following is a guest post by my good friend and Old Florida enthusiast Phil Eschbach:

Recently I visited the Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee Island, among the ten thousand islands in remote southwest Florida. I have been meaning to go there for a long time for two reasons, First, I discovered that a cousin of mine is Lynn Smallwood McMillin, whose grandfather, Ted Smallwood, operated the first post office and store back in 1906. Lynn now runs the store with her husband. Second, I have always wanted to go there, even though I have been in the Everglades many times. As best as we could figure, she is my 5th cousin, descending from original settlers from north Florida. Mine came in 1790 and met hers around 1820.

Lynn Smallwood McMillin and Phil Eschbach

It was a real treat, seeing the old place stocked with items, some almost a hundred years old, that used to be sold there when it was the only store for miles where fishermen could buy their daily goods and sell their catch.

Shelves stuffed with vintage items.

Contemporary image, not much different from historical ones below:

Archival image from the State Archives of Florida
Archival image from the State Archives of Florida

Archival image from the State Archives of Florida

Lynn took us on a personal tour through the ten thousand islands, navigating without a map or compass, as if it were the back of her hand. I’m sure I would be lost in a minute. We saw lots of wildlife as well as beautiful scenery of beaches loaded with shells and mangrove islands along the gulf coast. She was quick to point out various islands where early pioneers had first lived and eked out a living fishing and shrimping. She pointed out the island where the infamous Mr. Watson lived.

The store is now a non-profit museum and was declared a national historic monument and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The museum is open every day and offers boat tours of the islands. 

Contemporary images courtesy of Phil Eschbach

Phil Eschbach, a ninth generation native Floridian and resident of Winter Park for over 35 years, is a commercial photographer specializing in architecture and travel. His family arrived in Florida in 1790. He is a graduate of the University of the South and has maintained a studio in Winter Park for many years. His photography exhibitions in Central Florida have included shows at the Winter Park Public Library, Commerce National Bank and Orlando City Hall. 

Archival image from the State Archives of Florida