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Glen Simmons

1995 Florida Folk Heritage Award


Glen Simmons (1916-2009) was an Everglades skiff builder from the Florida City area, south of Homestead. His father bought two acres that year, farmed, and grafted trees for people who were setting out groves. Simmons and his two brothers attended school in Homestead.

During the Depression, Simmons left school and began working in the woods to help support his family. He started building shallow-draft pole boats at the age of twelve. Old men who hunted the Everglades for their subsistence taught him the skills necessary to survive in the swamps. He could stay in the woods for two weeks at a time, requiring only food, bullets, fresh water, and a mosquito bar. He married the former Maxie Henderson in 1943, and she accompanied her husband on many of his hunting trips.

Simmons earned his adult living by hunting, fishing, banana farming, and guiding newcomers. He saw many changes in the local economy. For example, when the taking of alligator hides was outlawed in both Dade and Monroe Counties, he was forced to adjust his hunting. Gradually his guiding clientele shifted from sportsmen who wanted to enjoy the region to researchers who came to study the swamp ecosystem. Skiffs were the primary means of transportation between the swamplands in Simmons' youth. Typically, a Glades skiff is 16 to 18 feet long, and two feet wide. The design has a flat bottom that enables the craft to be poled over very shallow water. Originally, skiffs were entirely made of cypress planks. However, once the cypress to build boats became rare, Simmons began using marine plywood for the bottom and redwood or cypress for the gunwales and transom.

Simmons demonstrated skiff building at the Florida Folk Festival twice, participated in the Folklife Apprenticeship Program in 1992-1993 as a master artist, and received the 1995 Florida Folk Heritage Award. As an experienced guide, he continued to share his knowledge of the Everglades environment and the woodworking skills associated with it until late in his life.