The Birth of the City of Miami, Part II

Paul S. George, Ph.D
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As noted in the previous installment of the history column, James E. Ingraham, a top lieutenant of empire builder Henry M. Flagler, was instrumental in the birth of modern Miami.  In Ingraham’s telling of the story before the Miami Woman’s Club in 1920, he presented Flagler with undamaged orange blossoms gathered in the Miami area at the behest of Julia Tuttle, who was destined to become Miami’s “Mother.” For Ingraham, the blossoms were proof that the fearsome freezes of 1894-1895, which resulted in the widespread destruction of farm crops and fruit groves throughout Florida, had not impacted the southeastern sector of the sparsely populated state.  Ingraham explained “that here was a body of land more than forty miles long, between the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps very much longer than that, absolutely untouched, and that I believed that it would be the home of the citrus industry in the future because it was absolutely immune from devastating freezes.”

Ingraham also informed Flagler that “’I have also written proposals from Mrs. Tuttle and Mr. and Mrs. Brickell, inviting you to extend your railroad from Palm Beach to Miami and offering to share with you their holdings at Miami for a town site.’ Mr. Flagler looked at me for some minutes in perfect silence,” Ingraham recalled, “then he said, ‘How soon can you arrange for me to go to Miami?’”

Soon after this meeting, Flagler decided to see this “freeze proof” section for himself. In late February 1895, he traveled by special train to West Palm Beach and there transferred to a boat, which took him south along the Florida East Coast Line canal, which stretched to the New River in today’s Fort Lauderdale. From there the Flagler party traveled by carriage to the northern shore of Biscayne Bay where they were met by Julia Tuttle’s launch, which delivered them to her home on the Miami River.  Ingraham remembered that the day was beautiful and “that night was the most perfect moonlight that I have ever seen.” Before bedtime, Flagler had decided to accept the land offers of Tuttle and the Brickells and bring his train to Miami, build a resort hotel and create a city.

At that point, a verbal agreement existed among these parties. Preliminary to drawing up a formal contract, Flagler, on April 22, 1895, wrote Tuttle, reviewing her offer of land to him in exchange for, as noted, his extension of the railroad to the Miami River, laying out a city and building a grand tourist hotel. Flagler was careful to specify the land he would receive and the tract that Tuttle would retain under the terms of their agreement.  The owner of more than 600 acres of choice land representing much of today’s downtown Miami, Tuttle would grant Flagler a 100-acre parcel whose boundaries would stretch from Biscayne Bay to today’s Southwest Third Avenue and from today’s Southeast and Southwest First Street on the north to the Miami River.  Within this tract, a thirteen-acre parcel, upon which the home of Tuttle stood, was reserved for her as her “home lot.”

The remainder of the Tuttle property would be divided between Flagler and Tuttle.  Tuttle wisely insisted that her portion of this division would lie in alternate lots, after the property was platted, with those of Flagler, since she wisely believed that the value of his lots would elevate the worth of hers! This divided tract would be bounded by the Miami River on the south and southwest, today’s Northeast and Northwest Eleventh Street on the north, Northwest Seventh Avenue on the west, and Biscayne Bay on the east.

On the south bank of the Miami River, the Brickells, determined to remain relevant during this  pivotal moment, also offered Flagler choice riverfront land from their vast holdings. In the next installment of this column, we will examine their offer, the quid pro quo they anticipated in exchange for their largess, and the ensuing progress toward creating a city from a wilderness.

Paul S. George, Ph.D., serves as Resident Historian, HistoryMiami Museum.  He conducts history tours throughout the County and even beyond for HistoryMiami. Additionally, he teaches classes in Miami/S. Florida and Florida history for the Museum. Dr. George has also led, since 2002, tours of Little Havana as part of Viernes Culturales, a monthly celebration, every third Friday, of the culture and history of that quarter.

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