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Abandoned Oasis: Ochopee’s Monroe Station

A narrow road called Tamiami Trail runs through Big Cypress National Preserve between Naples, Florida and the Miami suburbs. The 720,000-acre preserve was added to the United States National Park System in October 1972. An abandoned white, clapboard building sits conspicuously at the intersection of Tamiami Trail and Loop Road, beckoning travelers to pull over and contemplate its origin. For many decades, this small building was the only way station on the long journey through the wet cypress forest. Federal regulators forced it to close in the 1980s due to environmental concerns over its old gas pumps, and it has sat abandoned ever since. Now known as Monroe Station, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 after being used in films like Gone Fishin’ (1997) staring Danny Glover and Joe Pesci.

This unique building has an interesting history, and is even rumored to have been a stomping ground of infamous gangster Al Capone. The Tamiami Trail was completed across the Everglades in 1928. Shortly thereafter, a man named Barron Collier built six stations along the road for motorists looking for somewhere to fuel up, relax, and get a bite to eat. One of these was Monroe Station. According to local legend, Al Capone owned a speakeasy and gambling den in the nearby community of Pinecrest. He left its management to a relative and occasionally returned to visit. On these trips, locals say, Capone stopped by Monroe Station. However, there is no evidence that the infamous Chicago gangster ever set foot in the area.

Originally, Monroe Station was one room deep, with a flat-roofed canopy extending out from the first floor over the gas pumps (pictured c.1933). It served as a way station for the Southwest Florida Mounted Police, where an officer and his wife lived. While the officer went on patrol on his motorcycle, his wife tended the store and gas station. William Erwin, the first officer to serve at Monroe Station, died in an accident along the road in January 1929. Just a few years later, in 1934, the Great Depression dried up funding for the Mounted Police and all six stations were closed and demolished or sold to private owners.

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