For those weary of contrived-looking historic districts and sanitized wilderness adventures, there is an alternative: The Ivey House, a 10-room bed-and-breakfast in the heart of Everglades City, at the gateway to the 10,000 Islands and the River of Grass.
Here, you can get a taste of Florida history while exploring the Everglades by power boat or canoe.
About that history: Originally erected at Fort DuPont, across the river from the present site of Everglades City, the house served as a distribution center in the 1920s for supplies used in the construction of the Tamiami Trail that joined western Florida with Miami.
The carving of the Trail was an engineering miracle at the time, the dream of one of Florida's greatest developers, industrialist Barron G. Collier.
Collier purchased more than a million acres of swampland and, with remarkable persistence, set about converting the soggy mass into productive farmland, with Everglades City as its commercial and transportation hub. Soon, the city became the seat of the county called Collier and began sprouting sizable structures to accommodate the thousands of settlers Collier was sure would pour into his city. There was even a streetcar to serve the masses.
But ultimately, the place did not become the second Miami he envisioned. Although the trail was completed in 1928, the Depression laid waste to Collier's dream in the 1930s. Then, what remained of that dream was shattered in 1960 when Hurricane Donna devastated the Glades and Everglades City.
Still, Collier's first building - which by then had become a recreational center for the Trail workers, with a bowling alley and pool hall - survived. Today, it lives on as the Ivey House, a perfect base camp for those wanting to explore the Everglades by canoe.
In 1989, North American Canoe Tours Inc.bought building and uses the house as its winter headquarters, offering tours from Nov. 1 through April 30, when the mosquito population dies down.
Tours start and end with overnights at the Ivey House. Here, the rooms are furnished in a functional, summer-camp manner. Three have a large double bed; seven have a pair of twin beds. All are air-conditioned. There are separate men's and women's restrooms, with multiple showers and toilets.
The common living room has cable TV and telephone and a well-stocked library filled with books and booklets on the Everglades. Additional information is available at the nearby National Park Visitor Center, which has fine displays on the history of the town and Everglades wildlife.
-- Robert Tolf