Shortly after Tamiami Trail was officially opened in 1928, six service stations were built at 11-mile intervals to assist motorists. Monroe Station was located in Ochopee. Husband and wife teams were hired to manage the service stations (the husband being deputed by the county sheriff). The first team was William and Nettie Irwin. Their tenure was cut short however, as William was killed in the line of duty in January, 1929, in a head-on collision. He was the second motorcyle-related fatality in the line of duty in Collier County. The first fatality, occuring only one month prior on the same road.
By 1934, the Great Depression had taken a toll on Barron Collier's finances, as well as tourism along the trail. As a result, Barron Collier sold his service stations, including Monroe Station, in 1936. From there, it passed through a number of independent proprietors, until it was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1990s. There are plans to restore the building.
On May 11, 2000, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it is one of only two that still stand.
After Tamiami Trail opended in 1928, numerous small towns soon sprang up. One the first was an agricultural town, named Ochopee. As the story goes, the town got its name when a visitor to the general store asked the owner what the place was called. An American Indian was trading in the store that day, so the owner asked him what was the Seminole word for farm. He replied, "O-Chopp-ee."
One fo the first farms was started by Edgar S Gaunt. He initially purchased 250 acres from James Jaudon, to grow tomatoes with great success. This encouraged the J.T. Gaunt Company to purchase an additional 3,000 acres for a packing house, general store, living quarters and a gas station. By the 1940s, the company employed nearly 1,000 people.
In 1930, after years of developing the town of Pinecrest and Loop Road 30 miles to the east, James Franklin Jaudon, a successful businessman from Miami, moved to Ochopee to pursue various business plans for logging, a sugar cane plantation, a rum distillery and even a tomato business. He, and H.W. Bird, started H.W Bird Tomato Corporation, along Birdon Road, on the western end of Ochopee. He even became Ochopee's first post master, in 1932.
However, the Great Depression put an end to nearly all of his business enterprises. Referred to as the "Father of the Tamiami Trail," for his contributions to the highway, he died in 1938.
The original post office, located in the Gaunt Tomato Company general store burned down one night in 1953. As a hasty substitue, the post master began storing and sorting mail in an old irrigation pipe storage shed belonging to the tomato company. It has been in continuous use ever since. It has room for one clerk and one customer, and claims to be the smallest post office in the country.
Today, the post office primarily serves the Miccosukee and Seminole Indian reservations, as well as its popular landmark status for tourists posing for photos and for its post mark.
In 1970, a roadside motel opened it doors, serving the local community and road-weary drivers traveling along the Tamiami Trail. Named the Golden Lion Motor Inn, it was roughly two miles west of Birdon Road.
It employed a number of individuals from the local community and was a popular place for social events and holiday parties.
With much of the population having moved elsewhere and the Ochopee infrastructure not being able to meet the needs of the motel, it closed in 1982. The building now serves as headquarters for Big Cypress National Preserve. Other than the rooms now serving as offices, it has changed very little.
Since 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve has encompased the historic boundaries of Ochopee. Little of the once-busy town remains and the industries that put the "Farm" on the map are no longer in business. Although the town is gone, there are residents who still call the area home. Please be respectful of private property when exploring YOUR national preserve.
Last updated: February 27, 2017