Swamp Landmarks

American Flag

Belgium’s seal of Florida?
And how I found it by chance

I didn’t expect to find …

A seal of Florida in Belgium.

As seen at the Henri Chapelle American Cemetery

But there it was plain as day, and engraved on a smooth limestone column, as were all the other 49 territories and states. The reason: I had biked upon the cemetery where 7,992 American soldiers are buried, all killed in the line of duty during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

Some views from the memorial

The cemetery is located on top of one of the areas highest hills, with a breathtaking view, and was probably of great tactical importance from a military standpoint. I stayed long enough to pay my respects, take a few photos and then stare out into the expanse. I thought about all those soldiers, what they gave up, and what their lives could have played out had they not given the greatest sacrifice. Most of all, I was overwhelmed by the peacefulness and beauty of the spot. It was almost heavenly, there at the time and now thinking back.

Happy Memorial Day!

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Fact: The Battle of the Bulge was a four week battle that resulted in 75,000 US casualties including as many as 20,000 dead.

Major tourist draw?
And why it's bigger than it looks

It may not look like much …

At least at first glance.

Ochopee is home of the world’s smallest post office

And really there’s not much of a view …

Now that Brazilian Pepper has boxed it in.

And possibly the most photographed. But why?

But believe it or not, the rather non-descript shack is one of the swamp’s biggest visitor draws, even bigger than Monroe Station before it burned down. I’m often left to wonder why. Maybe its small size makes it easy to photograph, and photograph it people do. By the hundreds. Maybe even more than Naples Pier. Well, maybe not that much. But a lot. Which is all the more perplexing because its a very claustrophobic spot, surrounded by a rather unsightly and impenetrable thicket in back, at an odd bend in the Tamiami Trail in close proximity to tractor trailers rumbling past, and on an uneven gravel parking lot. Yet there they are, tour bus after tour bus unloading passengers to line up one after the other, sometimes in groups, to take a photograph almost as if it were the Statue of Liberty or some other national spot of acclaim. Important detail: It doesn’t even have restrooms!

More about the building: It has a hydrologic pedigree. It was previously a pump house for the farm field in back. When a fire burned down original building to the ground in 1943, the pump house was brought in as a makeshift fix. Eighty years later its still there.

To me it’s one of the great mysteries of the swamp. Other similarly small post offices scattered throughout the swamp were closed down without fan far. Why this one has both withstood the test of time and remained such a popular destination eludes me every time I drive by. Only gators rival the post office for being more photographed. And yes, the cypress trees are jealous!

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Trivia: Ochopee Post Office is 61.3 square feet, or about 6′ x 10′.

cultural waters

Chunk o’ tabby
A diamond in the rough?

Remember being coaxed into being good as a kid …

Or else risk not getting something on your list?

This chunk of limestone
is on display at the Palm Cottage

Like a chunk of coal, or a hunk of rock (as shown above).

Well despair no more!  That’s no ordinary stone: it’s a prized piece of Tamiami Tabby.  The original settlers of Naples didn’t have any cement mills, but with plenty of sand and water and shells they were pretty well set. Mix them together in a broth over the high heat of a buttonwood fire, and then let it dry, and tabby is what you got.

Palm Cottage is the oldest 
house in Naples, Florida

Not as strong as modern cement, but good enough:

They used it to build the Palm Cottage – Naples oldest house – which, just a few blocks from Naples Pier, is still standing.  At least, that’s what I read on the sheet of paper above the rock.

Couldn’t think of a better gift!

Water Drop

Half or full way island?
A brief history of Planation Island

Technically speaking,

Plantation Island isn’t an island, or is it?

Plantation Island, looking south to where Halfway Creek spills into Chokoloskee Bay

Chokoloskee a little further off coast, on the other hand, is an island. It’s located in the background of the photo to the far left and pretty close to the mouth of the Turner River where it empties into Chokoloskee Bay. Chokoloskee is a shell midden that dates back to the coastal empire of the Calusa Indian Tribe that dominated south Florida in pre Columbian Times. Believe it or not, it’s maximum elevation is nearly a whopping 20 feet above sea level. That’s higher than most if not all of Naples. Up in 1953, Chokoloskee was a true island community. The only way to travel back and forth to the mainland was by boat. That changed with the construction of the Chokoloskee Causeway that provided an overland route (visible as a thin sliver in the photo above).

Another view of Plantation and Chokoloskee Islands

Compare that to Plantation Island that was built along the banks of Halfway Creek in or around 1968. How did Halfway Creek get its name? Answer: By merit of its location about halfway between Turner River (Chokoloskee) and Barron River (Everglades City). As for its height, my guess is its just a few feet above sea level, or a solid 10 feet lower than the island the Calusa built. And if you consider its surrounded by a creek and mangroves on all sides, despite being on the mainland I think its designation as an island holds up.