When I was a kid, many of Stuart’s older restaurants had signs. Some locals may recall Jake’s on US1, or still today, Harry and the Natives in Hobe Sound. There are certainly others, nevertheless, there seem to be fewer restaurants with funny signs hanging on the walls than when I was a kid.
Thus it was awfully refreshing when Ed and I were at Lake Okeechobee this past Monday and I forced him to drive north, close to the rim, on the Old Conners’ Highway to J&S Fish Camp. He was hemming and hawing the whole way, thinking I didn’t know where I was going, but I did. When we finally got there, after driving about four miles north of Port Mayaca, we had a beer in the Tiki Bar, read the collection of signs, listened to an awesome old jukebox playing our favorite songs, and laughed so hard we felt like we were young again.
With all of the development in Florida right now, and 26,000,000 people expected to live here by 2030, places like this become even more wonderful.
That they are “one in a million” is just a sign of the times….
J&S Fish Camp: http://www.jandsfishcamp.net
The following excerpt is from the Visit Florida website and tells the story the wonderful J&S Fish Camp and some of the others.
Campgrounds outnumber lodgings along Lake Okeechobee, drawing visitors outdoors. Wayne McSwain, who was raised in Belle Glade, remembers camping along the shoreline of Lake Okeechobee. “You camped along this canal, because there were a lot of trees here,” he said, pointing down from his perch atop the Herbert Hoover Dike, “and you came out here and swam every day, and water-skied… and you didn’t worry about the alligators at all.”
McSwain’s father ran the grocery store on the road to Torry Island, along the way to Slim’s Fish Camp. “It was (started by) the Corbins,” McSwain said. “A lot of people from out of town came over here for fishing.” To get to Slim’s, you cross one of the last remaining manually operated swing bridges in the United States. “I was 14 or 15 when Slim let me turn the rod to make the bridge pivot out of the way,” McSwain said. “It was fun for me, and I bet he got paid for it, too.”
Camping along Lake Okeechobee has changed since McSwain’s youth. With construction of the dike, a key protective barrier given the seasonal threat of water-intensive hurricanes, away went the views and the easy access. Still, the lake draws campers all year. They settle into fish camps, bring RVs for the winter to the campgrounds lining the eastern shore and hike into primitive campsites along the Florida Trail. The one campground with a view of the blue horizon was briefly known as Pahokee State Park. “The land still belongs to the state,” said McSwain, “but they’ve leased it out to campground operators for the past 30 years or so.” It’s now Lake Okeechobee Outpost KOA with a lakefront pool and restaurant.
At J&S Fish Camp, regulars crowd the bar at 10 a.m. “We know we’re the oldest fish camp around the lake,” said manager Ted Miller. “The cabins were built for the people who worked building the dike.” For the price of “a beer and a stay in a cabin,” the murals of alligators and lakeshore came from an artist’s brush, and the 1930s cabins took on tropical hues. Lake levels affect business dramatically. “When the locks are open,” said Miller, “we have fishermen come in for boiled peanuts and a beer and to have a look.”