Gladesmen Ethnography

Gladesmen-SidebarNot every historic preservation study involves something as tangible as a building, site, or group of structures.  The concept of Traditional Cultural Properties (TCP) refers to places that living groups of people value because they reflect and symbolize their traditional identities. TCPs are sometimes difficult to envision, and may not be obvious to non-members of a community.  They are an important concept in preservation planning, however, and their study combines historical, archaeological, and ethnographic research.  The Everglades of south Florida represents one such place that is associated with the folk culture of the Gladesmen.

The Modern Gladesmen TCP was defined as a result of cultural resources investigations performed for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a massive project intended to restore and protect south Florida’s ecosystem.  New South Associates completed the study at the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District.  The cultural resources study area included all or portions of 13 south Florida counties: Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie. Fieldwork also extended north into the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.

The study demonstrated the traditional links between Gladesmen and the specific environment of the Everglades. Interviews with 34 self-identified Gladesmen revealed that that this folk culture comprises a regional variant of Florida Cracker Culture. Gladesmen’s distinct cultural, behavioral, and ideological ties to the Everglades grew out of separate subsistence practices and adjustments to this unique environment during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During the 1920s-1940s, many Gladesmen made their living by hunting, fishing, and selling alligator skins. The post-World War II period was one of transition that produced a generation of Gladesmen who adopted modern technology, such as airboats and swamp buggies, to their interactions in the Everglades. The Modern Gladesmen inherited and share many characteristics of their forebears, although their activities no longer focus on subsistence. As such, they do not represent a self-sustaining, autonomous group, but rather are a subset of modern American culture in southern Florida that has evolved through time.

Gladesmen-Interview

Field oral history interviews being conducted

As part of this study, New South evaluated 13 historic TCPs to determine if any were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. These properties were located throughout southern Florida and were classified into three categories based on function: commercial properties, non-commercial properties, and natural landscapes/waterways/roadways.  As this study was introductory nature, it did not attempt to locate all potential TCPs in southern Florida, but rather introduced a sample of property types associated with Gladesmen Culture.  The study therefore served as a foundation for identifying and evaluating related cultural resources in the future, and provided a planning tool to evaluate the potential impacts that Federal undertakings in south Florida could have on TCPs.

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