“Hidden History of Everglades City & Points Nearby,” by Maureen Sullivan-Hartung. History Press. 128 pages. $19.99.
Local and regional histories have come into vogue in recent years, especially those that savor and save a vanishing or already vanished way of life. It’s clear that Maureen Sullivan-Hartung loves her topic, and her industry in seeking out the facts, tales, and personalities of the Everglades City area is commendable. As both a freelance writer and as a reporter for the “Everglades Echo,” the author has developed a keen sense of where the story lies. The individual portions of the book – in many cases originally periodical pieces – are usually well-shaped; however, they haven’t always been recast to flow smoothly into one another, nor are they arranged for maximum effect. The whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts, but one can savor the parts.
The book begins with a history of the Everglades City area (once called “Everglade”), figured as “Florida’s Last Frontier.” This introductory section underscores the importance of the key player in the region’s history, Barron Gift Collier, and his leadership role in making development of what became Collier County possible through building a major stretch of the Tamiami Trail. The author details this major engineering feat, recognizing the talents of David Graham Copeland. Ms. Sullivan-Hartung’s descriptions of the construction equipment are impressive, as is her discussion of law and order taming a frontier society.
She continues to draw the history of the city proper through an examination of its major buildings, their genesis and changing uses. Along the way, readers are introduced to prominent families and businesses, to significant events, and to a way of life in transition. Portraits of pioneers and colorful characters give humor and flavor to the reader’s journey. The section on “Harriet Bedell, Deaconess of the Everglades” is particularly intriguing.
In a chapter on special events, Ms. Sullivan-Hartung pays attention to the annual Seafood Festival, the dedication of Everglades National Park, the visits of Hollywood filmmakers to the Everglades City environs, the impact of several major hurricanes, and the curtailing of the illegal “square grouper” (marijuana) industry by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The author offers a great deal of variety as she builds our understanding of Southwest Florida’s fringe.
To read this view in its entirety, as it appears in the January 5-11 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 6-12 Naples and Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Sullivan-Hartung pdf