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South of Orlando, between the beach side communities on the east and west coast, you’ll find huge open tracts of land. Prairies, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades with small towns and farms scattered throughout. This is the agricultural heart of Florida. Citrus groves spreading as far as the eye can see, and sprawling cattle ranches. Roads where you can pleasantly lose yourself for as long as you’d like.

Even by the wilderness standards of the region, SR 29 is sparse. The biggest city on it is LaBelle, the Hendry County seat. I would’ve thought it was Clewiston. Both are at the northern border of the county, Clewiston on the east side, LaBelle the west. Actually, they’re pretty much the only two urbanized places in the county.

From Clewiston, there are two main ways to get to LaBelle. One is SR 80, which splits off from US 27 and takes you right into LaBelle.

But I’m going to start the other way, from Moore Haven. Going west from there, take a left at the SR 78 intersection. No more dike, as you’re heading away from Lake Okeechobee. After about 8 miles, you’ll see a cemetery on the right. This is the Ortona Cemetery. There aren’t any signs I could see indicating you’re in Ortona, but that happens sometimes. The cemetery is the burial site of Billy Bowlegs, a historical figure of some note, apparently. You can drive around in the cemetery, or park and walk some. It’s a rather large cemetery, so you could easily spend an hour or more exploring.

Only a little further on is a turnoff that will take you to the Ortona Mounds Indian Park. There’s a small highway patrol station next to it. A nice park, with some hiking trails. If you go far enough, you’ll be able to see the Ortona Cemetery from the rear. (see Google map)

About 6 miles on, and you’ll reach SR 29. Going south, you’ll only see fields and large stands of trees. In a couple of miles you’ll see buildings here and there. Another mile or so, you’ll cross a bridge over the Caloosahatchee River. Welcome to LaBelle.

In fact, you’re in the historic district. Park in the park next to the river, or somewhere off the street. This is one of the smallest historic districts in the state, only a block long. Go a bit further down, and grab a bite at the restaurant in the old Forrey Building. Pretty good food, as I recall.

Other highlights include the original home of the county’s namesake, and one of the more unusual-looking courthouses in the state. I can honestly say I’ve not seen another like it. I don’t mean that in a bad way; I think it’s got a quirky charm. There’s also a heritage museum a block down from it, if you want to find out more of the area’s history. And a Wendy’s nearby, if you’re hot from all the walking and need a cold drink or a Frosty to chill out.

If you like festivals, there’s a biggun here in February. It’s the Swamp Cabbage Festival. For the more refined, swamp cabbage is better known as hearts of palm. I never even considered where hearts of palm came from. Turns out it’s the inside of Sabal palms, the state tree of Florida. I may attend someday, as it’s piqued my curiosity now that I know more about it. (see Google map)

Head east 5 miles on SR 78 or Fort Denaud Road and you’ll reach the site of, well, Fort Denaud. There’s an old bridge that crosses the Okeechobee Waterway. There’s a historical marker about the area on the north side of the bridge, and a smidge further north is the old Fort Denaud Cemetery.

If you want to visit Fort Myers, just keep going west another 20 or so miles. I will be doing a roadtrip post for that area eventually. (see Google map)

  • Fort Denaud Historic Site
  • Historic Fort Denaud Bridge
  • Fort Denaud Cemetery (Ft Denaud Cemetery Road)
  • Roan House (south of SR 78, somewhere) (AGFHA)

Ten miles down SR 29, if you turn left at CR 832, you’ll be in the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest. No idea what it’s like, but it’s a decent size, so there’s probably at least some hiking trails. (see Google map)

By the way, SR 29 is a very straight road. It does have some bends, but they’re few and spaced out. So beware of highway hypnosis.

Over 20 miles from LaBelle, and you’re in Immokalee. And in Collier County. The one NRHP site is the Roberts Ranch, which looks to be part of a living history sort of museum. It covers a large area. The hours are limited, so check to see when they’re open if you want to see it all.

If you’re low on gas, or need to avail yourself of facilities, do it now. It’s around 35 miles until the next outpost of civilization, at the US 41/Tamiami Trail intersection.

You’re skirting the edges of the Everglades now. The Big Cypress National Preserve is on your left the rest of the way. In a while, you’ll see high fences on either side of the road. That’s because you’re going through part of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. It’s also one of the rare roads in Florida that has a day vs. night speed limit. To reduce your chances of hitting a panther crossing the road, I suppose.

Twenty miles from Immokalee, and you’re at I-75. The road goes over the interstate, and you can actually get on it here. If you want to get to Naples or Miami quick, this is the place.

The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge continues a ways, then the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park will be on your right. There’s an entrance along here, and one further south of Tamiami Trail. It is home to unusual orchids and lots of older growth trees native to the area. (see Google map)

About 17 miles on from the interstate, you’ll reach the Tamiami Trail. Not travelled much nowadays, with I-75 to the north providing a faster route between coasts. But the trail was a tremendous accomplishment for its time, and still in use today.

There’s a visitor center here for the Preserve, and a small convenience store across the street. Get some info and stretch your legs, why doncha.

Technically this is the end of SR 29. But we’re going to continue on a little further down to the original end, which is now CR 29. Oddly, after only visiting there for a couple of hours, this is now one of my top ten spots in the states.

Just 4 miles down, and you’ll be in Everglades, a/k/a Everglades City. In the early days of Collier County, this was the county seat. Which seems weird now, since it’s currently Naples. But back at the county’s founding, there wasn’t much of Naples. Everglades City was going to be the boomtown, after the Tamiami Trail was finished. It was for a while, but then development and travel shifted away from the area.

Now, Everglades is a quiet town tucked away in the southwest part of the state. But it’s not rundown, as so many Florida towns that have survived from bygone days are. It’s very bright and clean and casual. Probably popular with boaters and fisherman and folks wanting to escape the big city. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

All the historic things on the list are clustered with a half-mile of each other. There’s not a traditional downtown collection of buildings. They’re kind of strewn along Everglades Boulevard. You’ve got the old depot, which is now a restaurant. Then there’s a giant traffic circle. On it are an old church which looks brand new, and the city hall which used to be the county courthouse. Then there’s a history museum in a former laundry, and the city’s bank (which was for sale when last I was there). Last but certainly not least is the Rod and Gun Club, which has been a fixture here since the 19th century. (see Google map)

Another 4 miles south is Chokoloskee, on Chokoloskee Island, which is a shell midden. Consult the map linked below, since it’s tricky to get to the next place. I almost missed it when I was there. You wouldn’t think you could get lost in such a small town, but the roads are very twisty and everything’s close together. Very Castrovalva.

Once you get to the end of Mamie Street, you’ll find the last NRHP on this trip, the Ted Smallwood Store. Another survivor of many decades. More amazing because it’s all made of wood, and must have been hit by dozens of hurricanes since it was built. A testament to old fashioned craftsmanship.

Head north until you get to Tamiami Trail. West to Naples or east to Miami, your choice. If you decide east, you’ll go through the Preserve and the Everglades. Oh, and there’s Monroe Station, and old post office NRHP about 15 miles away. If west, there’s a boardwalk that goes into Big Cypress Bend. You can also visit Collier-Seminole State Park, which has one of the original dredges used during the construction of the Tamiami Trail. (see Google map)

There you are, really rural Florida. Until next time, see you on the road!

Route length: 81 miles

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Couple of weeks back I stayed away from home Saturday and Sunday. I partially re-enacted my Easter trip earlier this year. Managed to knock out 4 counties worth of NRHPs, Okeechobee, Glades, Hendry and Highlands. Also made more of a dent in Polk. The routes:

Day 1Day 2

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In LaBelle, looking north along SR 29

Finally reached the booming metropolis of LaBelle. I say that sarcastically, but it is a nice town, and bigger than I expected. It looks isolated on a map, but it’s not far from Fort Myers, and is the county seat of Hendry County. Crossing the Caloosahatchee River bridge (above), I was right at the beginning of the local historic district (photos and street view). I parked and started walking. There was some sort of church party going on at the park there, then realized, of course, ‘cause it’s Easter. Another small district, only a block long (I like those). Just beyond it was the Forrey Building (photos), which looked rather modern and not NRHP at all. There was a restaurant in it and I was hoping I could eat there (theme 3, if anyone’s counting, or is it 2), but it was closed.

Back in the car and heading south for my next stop, the Old Hendry County Courthouse (photos). Can I just say I think it’s neat? The tower on one side is so odd, and makes it different from any of the other courthouses I’ve seen. I got shots of it and the local history museum a couple of blocks away. Stopped at Wendy’s for lunch, since I needed something and the Forrey place was closed. Next went to city hall that was about a mile away. Very impressive, very solid. Then it was to the Capt. Francis A. Hendry House. Captain Hendry was the person after whom the county was named, big surprise. I could tell the house had been reno’ed, and a very expert job was done. It looked spiffy. That finished LaBelle.

Or so I thought. After I left and was a good many miles away, I was checking my lists, and realized I’d missed one NRHP site, the Caldwell Home Place. Oh, I was peeved to no end. The thought of having to make a special trip back to LaBelle, which really isn’t on the way to anywhere I still need to go. I’ll just have to make it be on the way for some trip. Maybe to Fort Myers, as there’s a few spots I didn’t get to on this trip. Of which, more later.

Speaking of Fort Myers, the next leg was a jog almost to there. I was planning to go through it via Naples, but there were some spots on the eastern outskirts that weren’t too far from LaBelle, so I thought I’d hit them up. First was Fort Denaud (photos), not much more than a traffic sign on SR 78. I crossed a bridge over a small canal, then stopped at the local cemetery. Because I have a thing for cemeteries. The historicity of them, doncha know. Didn’t get out, just drove by and snapped a couple.


Panorama view of the Alva Consolidated Schools

Continuing west, I began the next phase of the schools theme. Three in a row. The Alva Consolidated Schools, Olga School and Buckingham School. The last two are now community centers, but it’s nice to see them all still being used, in whatever capacity.


Construction on SR 82

When I got to SR 82, I took a wrong turn. I wondered why I was seeing multi-story buildings, then realized I was headed towards Fort Myers. Not yet! I U-turned and headed east, where I meant to go. And oh goody, construction for miles and miles (above). Just before I got to SR 29 again, I saw Hotel 82. Looks well-kept, but how it stays in business when it seems so isolated, who knows?

Not long after I got to Immokalee. The Roberts Ranch (part of a museum) was the only thing I needed, and of course it was closed. Yeah, Easter Sunday. Found out it’s open by appointment only anyway. Got what I could from outside the fence. I could try coming back in future, but I won’t cry if that doesn’t happen.


SR 29, a few miles south of Immokalee

Now was a good stretch of driving. SR 29 is very straight around here. More lush vegetation around, which ain’t a surprise, since I was getting near the Everglades. Then I entered the Florida Panther NWR, and suddenly there were tall fences on both sides of the road. There looked to be culverts here and there too, so panthers could pass under the road. And for the first time in all my travels, I saw signs that had day and night speed limits listed. To reduce the risk of hitting stray panthers, one supposes.

Eventually I got past the NWR. I wanted to see Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, but too much else to do, so more skipped. Reached I-75, which SR 29 goes over. I like the look of the area, see if you agree (street view). After another 10 or 20 miles I got to US 41. Or as this stretch is better known, the Tamiami Trail. Since it connects Tampa and Miami, doncha know.


Everglades Community Church

I’d return to it later, but continued south into Everglades City, which was only 4 miles further. Now this is a place I could see myself revisiting. I don’t know why I like it, but I do. Maybe the small townyness, but not too small. I was a little confused getting around at first, but sorted that out. Found the traffic circle where the old community church was, and the old county courthouse (photos) almost across from it.

Quick history. Everglades City was the original county seat for Collier County. Then in the 1960s the seat moved to Naples, most likely because it was larger and not as remote. The original courthouse building still stands though, and now is the city hall (street view). Apparently it got seriously damaged during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, but it was restored, thank goodness.

All the stuff I needed photographs of were on or near the circle. Besides the two previously mentioned were the Bank of Everglades Building (for sale), the old depot (now a restaurant), Everglades Laundry (a local history museum) and the Rod and Gun Club, one of the oldest such clubs in the state.

Another 4 miles south was Chokoloskee, on Chokoloskee Island. A veritable mountain in the area, about 20 feet above sea level. Mostly because it’s a giant shell midden. Some mild confusion again, but found the Ted Smallwood Store (photos). Would have been nice to get there earlier, ‘cause the light wasn’t as good as I would’ve liked. But hey, if I ever get back to Everglades City, Chokoloskee’s only a shell’s throw away. The store is another one of those buildings I’m amazed is still standing. That it’s up on high pilings helps, I’d think.


Tamiami Trail, looking west at the SR 29 intersection

Back the way I came, and I’m at the Tamiami Trail in no time. Well, some time. But not much time. Another skip, Monroe Station. It’s too late, and too far east. So it’s west on the Trail, to Naples.

I can only imagine what it was like driving between Miami and Naples back in the day. I think Mom and Dad made the trip a few times, though maybe it was on Alligator Alley. Even now, there’s not much of anything, except swamp. And I don’t think the road was in as good condition years ago. Many would consider the area desolate, even though there’s a whole complex ecosystem working all around. There’s a simplicity of purpose to places like this. Maybe it’s the lack of human presence that I find so serene. You can forget about all the complexities of modern life. I think it’s one of the big things that attracts me to the backroads.

I reached the Collier-Seminole State Park (photos), which was still open, but not for long, since sunset was soon. The pictures I got weren’t great, but they’ll do. The Bay City Walking Dredge No. 489 impressed me a lot.

After leaving the park, it was less than 10 miles before I reached the outskirts of Naples. The backroads part of the trip was over. It’d be big city roads after this.

It was about 7, so well time to find somewhere to crash. I wasn’t going to, but I decided to try the Bayfront Inn, pricey place though it looked to be. My luck was good, though, since I got a 3rd floor room for about $100, about $30 less than normal. Probably because it was a Sunday night, and what with the economy and all.

The hotel was part of a mall type of complex, so I walked around after checking in and found an Italian restaurant, Portobello Cafe. Which was ironic, since the only portobello dish on the menu was an appetizer. They had the doors open, which was a thrill, since it was definitely toasty and muggy. I toughed it out, and it was so worth it. I got chicken veggie soup and garlic bread to start, and spaghetti and meatballs. Sometimes simple is best, and that was the case here, ‘cause it was all good to very good. The one curious note was that the staff all seemed to be Hispanic, nobody Italian there at all. But hey, considering the results, maybe there should be more like that.

Back at the hotel I watched Iron Chef America. It was Morimoto and the secret ingredient was leeks. Mister Iron Chef won, as expected. Mom would’ve like this one, she had grown rather fond of leeks.

I had been tired on and off since 2 pm, so a good night’s sleep would do me world of good. Yet I stayed up later than planned doing map and itinerary sorting. Still, went to be bed about 12:30, which wasn’t that awful.

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