Naples Florida History
CHICKEE AND TABBY
Historic Structures & Homes in the Wilderness
By Barbara Jones, Docent - Naples Historical Society
Early creatures, humans included, took refuge in convenient caves. As brains developed, so did concepts of shelters. Our ancient ancestors surveyed their environment and through trial and error employed the properties of natural elements for building homes. So what happens if your environs consist of sandy beach and swamp?
Early native inhabitants of Florida maintained a viable culture based on the abundance of flora and fauna around them. The Seminole word for "house" was chickee-a cozy-sounding name for one's safe place. But safety was illusory for the Seminoles, who were pressed and hounded ever further into the interior of the Everglades by soldiers clearing the way for settlers and farming.
So chickees, while comfortable dwellings, were necessarily quick to build and temporary. But a group of these erections comprised a village, with great house for the chief & main warriors, cookhouse, raised on poles with underground food storage, and ancillary huts.
A basic chickee consists of palmetto thatch roof supported by cypress logs. The structure is so successful in providing shelter from both sun and rain that it is popular even now. Naples Historical Society's Norris Gardens at Palm Cottage™ (Naples oldest house-1895) showcases a large chickee in the Chickee Pavillion, which is used for meetings and socializing. It was built a few years ago in a very short time by members of the Seminole tribe, who alone are authorized to remove cypress logs from Florida marshes for construction purposes. Creating chickees is a useful way to both preserve and learn from Florida's history.
Moving forward in time-in the 1800s, white settlers discovered a method of producing concrete using local materials. The main 12' high story of Palm Cottage, withstanding over a century of wind and water, is tabby (or tabbie) cement. Cement (later also called concrete) is usually an amalgam of lime, clay and water. Naples builders had access to sand, shells and seawater. Shells are composed of calcium carbonate, which provides lime. Shells were roasted (over very hot buttonwood fire) into powder for lime. Craftsmen added sand and water, and tossed in more tiny shells, creating the unique cement known as tabby. Stop by Palm Cottage and you will be able to see a cross section of this special cement.
I wonder-if we had to start over today, would we be as innovative as the original natives and early settlers?
Chickee and tabby are only two of the many historic stories from the Naples Historical Society. Take a step back in time and see what it was like for Naples pioneers and early settlers…tour Palm Cottage™ today; it is the oldest house in Naples!
Located at 137 12th Avenue South, one block east of the Naples Pier.
The Palm Cottage house museum is open for tours.