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A Florida Treasure Hunt

Florida is full of treasure!

At least it is to someone who is looking for great stories, history and colorful characters. And to us Mangrove creators, that’s as good as gold. So last month Margaret, David, Joseph and I left on a treasure hunt and headed out to the west coast to a place called Chokoloskee, Florida. In doing research for my project titled "The Prey," I learned about an old Florida gem just over an hour west of Miami called the Smallwood Store. An old coastal trading post that is now a museum dedicated to preserving South Florida’s pioneer history. Eighty minutes and two geocaches later we were there!

Perched up high the Smallwood Store (originally called the Chokoloskee Trading Post) hovers over the shoreline of the gulf coast. Trappers, hunters and farmers could access the outpost (which also served as the local post office) by water or by land.

Now, this is no ordinary museum, it's a moment of Florida’s past frozen in time. Owned and operated by the Smallwood family for over one hundred years, the store is set up to look just as it did when it was in full operation.

The design of the building was thoughtfully crafted to provide for the pioneer clientele. Trap doors open to load goods easily into boats and the hoop skirt counters still lean at an angle to accommodate the ladies' fashions of the time. The shotgun style architecture draws in the ocean breeze keeping the whole place surprisingly cool on a hot summer day.

The handmade wooden shelves still hold medical supplies, spices and canned items that have been sold by the shop over the years.

Butter churns and jugs share space with anchors, rope, wooden toys, and cooking utensils. It’s easy to see how this place served as the lifeline for so many Floridians who depended upon it to provide them with the essentials for survival.

Of course, no Florida story would be complete without a little crazy thrown in – am I right? The Smallwood Store is no exception. The scandalous history of the area has inspired countless books and articles and is the subject of the latest Mangrove project,"The Prey."

The Smallwood Store embraces it’s checkered past with a complete display of photos and maps of the grizzly crimes that were committed there. I won’t give you the wonderfully gory details about what happened at the store in 1910. I challenge you to avoid the temptation to merely “google it” and instead jump in the car and discover it for yourself! Maybe I’ll see you out there. I will definitely be visiting again with my boys so they can experience history first hand from this genuine Florida Treasure!

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