HISTORY OF MIAMI
does have a history. Nevertheless children in schools here certainly
have less to deal with than those in virtually any other school in the world, as the City is barely 100 years old and one of the youngest major cities in the United States.
The name comes
from Mayaimi, which means "very large lake" and probably refers
to Lake Okeechobee. The Miami River marked the beginning of a canoe trail
through the Everglades to the big lake.
Signs of human
presence at the mouth of the Miami River can be traced back over 10,000
years. At this time the area consisted of coastal pine forest and savannah.
Inland was what is now called The Everglades,
which is a vast shallow river creating marshes and wetlands rich in sub-tropical
flora and fauna. Truly an Eden for primitive peoples.
rendering of Tequestas
HistoryMiami Museum of Southern Florida
The inhabitants on
the east coast formed the Tequesta
Tribe and on the west coast the Calusa and were originally groups
of hunters and gatherers. At the time of the Spanish arrival in South
Florida in 1513 the Tequesta were relatively advanced with a socio-political
system, substantial farmlands and wood and wattle constructions. They
were also warlike, and no permanent settlement was attempted until the
1560s, when a mission and fort was constructed at the mouth of the Miami
and disease finally took its toll on the native population, and by 1750,
there was virtually no record of any surviving pure Tequesta.
Circle and high rises
There are several
archeological sites in the area, but probably the best known is the strange
Circle. The Miami Circle is located in the heart of downtown Miami
where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay. Located in 1998 when demolishing
the Brickell Point Apartment buildings, the site was recognized as an
archeological treasure and in a rare moment of vision, the area was purchased
by the state and county for US$ 26.7 million.
It consists of a perfect
circle of 24 holes or basins cut into the limestone bedrock, surrounded
by a large number of other 'minor' holes. It is the only known evidence
of a permanent structure cut into the bedrock in the United States and
considerably predates other known permanent settlements on the East Coast.
The purpose of the original circular structure of wood poles and thatched
roof is unknown, and is believed to be somewhere between 1700 and 2000
Location is on Brickell
Point just south of the Brickell Avenue Bridge over the Miami River. Regrettably
the property is not open for regular visitation at this time.
in the early 1800s, white settlement finally drifted into the area. In
1803 squatters were reported around Biscayne Bay and in 1821 Spain sold
Florida to the United States for five million dollars.
Meanwhile just off
the mainland on Key Biscayne, three acres were acquired for the construction
of the Cape
Florida Lighthouse. The lamps were lit in December of 1825. This is
the oldest extant building in Miami. The hurricane of 1835 failed to extinguish
the light, but on January 6, 1836 the Seminoles were more successful.
They waited until nightfall and set fire to the wooden door. Assistant-keeper,
John Thompson and his helper, Aaron Carter, attempted to fight them off
to no avail. Thompson survived, but Carter was killed. The lighthouse
was disabled until 1846.
Florida Lighthouse today
The native attacks
were part of the Second Seminole War. The First Seminole War was from
1817 to 1818; the Second Seminole War from 1835 to 1842; and the Third
Seminole War from 1855 to 1858. Read about the three Seminole
The first documented
and successful settler in the area was Richard Fitzpatrick, who in 1830
purchased four square miles, two on each side of the Miami River and set
up a plantation, where he cultivated sugar cane, bananas, corn, and tropical
fruit. He became the first representative of the new county of Dade, formed
in 1836 and named after Major Francis Dade, who was killed by Seminole
Indians in the catastrophe known as the Dade
Massacre which had occurred in central Florida just the year before.
county seat of Dade was on Indian Key. On August 7, 1840, a group of Seminoles
attacked the village and burned all but one house. Here is a fascinating eyewitness account of the indian attack.
In 1842, Fitzpatrick’s
nephew, William English re-established the plantation in Miami. He charted
the "Village of Miami" on the south bank of the Miami River
and sold several plots of land. In 1844, Miami became the county seat,
and six years later a census reported that there were ninety-six residents
living in the area. The slave quarters of his plantation
house, later used as a military post called Fort
Dallas, are preserved in Miami’s Lummus Park two blocks
north of Flagler Street on N.W. North River Drive beside the Miami River.
Flagler, Railroad Magnate
As with so many North American cities, it was the arrival of the railroad
that started Miami's rapid growth. In 1894 railroad magnate Henry
Flagler had built a railway from New York to Palm Beach, and here
it ended. Two prominent Miami settlers, William Brickell and Julia
Tuttle, owners of the south and north shore respectively at the mouth
of the Miami River were anxious for the line to continue to Miami, but
Flagler saw little reason to extend it into what he considered a wilderness.
The legend goes that during the great freeze of 1895, Julia Tuttle’s
citrus plantation in Miami was the only one in the state not to be affected
by the freeze, and she sent him a live orange blossom as proof. Together
with some pretty generous land concessions, Flagler was persuaded to extend
the line to Miami, which arrived in April 1896. In July 1896 the city
was officially incorporated.
commitment was to build a grand hotel. The 450-room Royal
Palm Hotel was built not on the beach, but on Biscayne Bay on the
north shore of the Miami River, where presently the huge Met 2 office
tower is under construction. To our eternal shame, in 1930 it was condemned
and torn down.
In 1900, 1,681 people lived in
Miami; in 1910, there were 5,471 people; and in 1920, there were 29,549
people. The modern era began with the arrival of Henry Flagler’s
railroad. Soon systems of drainage canals began to crisscross the area.
The destruction of mangroves and draining swampland created new land for
settlers. In the 1920s a real estate boom changed the area as new subdivisions
and tourist resorts were built. From one winter season to the next the
City of Miami changed so rapidly that visitors remarked that it had “grown
like magic” and Miami came to be known as the “Magic City.”
In 1913 the first
bridge across Biscayne Bay was constructed, joining Miami and the fledgling
Miami Beach. People from all over the nation were investing in land,
often sight unseen, and often little more than mangrove swamp. Legend
has it that John
Collins offered a free plot of land on Miami Beach if the buyer would
actually build a house and live in it. There were few takers.
from the 1926 hurricane
The bubble burst when
an old cargo ship capsized in the Port of Miami, blocking it for weeks.
The railroads were already overloaded, land and the cost of living were
rising astronomically and in 1926, the
Great Miami Hurricane, a
category 4 hurricane, one of the most deadly to strike the United
States, swept through downtown Miami. Coupled with the Great Depression,
this heralded the disastrous end of the Miami
During the mid-1930s,
the Art Deco district
of Miami Beach was developed. Miami Beach had become America’s tropics
and with advancements in transportation it was possible for many more
citizens to holiday in the winter sunshine of Miami and Miami Beach.
bombers over Miami 1941
War II the military brought thousands of troops to the area for training.
When the war ended many returned with their families to live here permanently.
A growth surge in population followed the war creating the area’s
second housing boom, and by 1950 the population had swelled to half a
In the 1960s thousands
of refugees from Cuba began coming into the area following the revolution
that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. By the end of the 1960s, more
than four hundred thousand Cuban refugees were living in Miami-Dade County,
having almost completely taken over the residential areas west of downtown
Miami along the Miami River, now known as Little
Up to January 12, 2017, Cubans were
the only nationality to be allowed to stay in the United States without
visas or resident permits issued by overseas consulates. Under the 1966
Cuban Adjustment Act, all Cubans who reached U.S. soil were automatically
granted political asylum because Cuba is a communist nation. Cubans caught
at sea, on the other hand, were typically returned to Cuba. The "wet
foot-dry foot" phrase comes from the different treatment received
by immigrants who made it to "dry land."
featured in Miami Vice
The 1980s saw the
influence and wealth of the cocaine cartels as Miami went through the
infamous period of the “cocaine
cowboys” and became the cocaine capital of America. The TV series
Vice" and the movie "Scarface" were based on this period. The amount of money produced
by Miami's coke industry in the Eighties was unlike anything ever seen
in the nation's history. The
U.S. Treasury Department made a
couple of startling calculations: A full-size suitcase stuffed with twenty-dollar
bills could hold roughly a half-million dollars, yet many millions were
being deposited every day. How to count it all? Also this: Analysis indicated
that, in 1978 and 1979, the United States' entire currency surplus could
be ascribed to Miami-area banks.
This was a low epoch
for the city, and tourism dropped precipitously due to increasing violence
and more options to visit alternate exotic tropical destinations in Mexico
and the Caribbean.
Deco Lincoln Road
In 1979, the Art Deco
area of South Beach was recognized as a historic landmark in the U.S.
National Register. This recognition of the Miami Beach Architectural District
and the subsequent work of preservation by the Miami
Design Preservation League was responsible for the Beach's renaissance
as we know it today. With the unrivaled backdrop of palm fringed beaches
and unique colourful Art Deco buildings, Miami became a modeling dream.
Photo shoots from all over the world were being shot there and articles
burgeoned in classy fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Cosmoplitan,
etc. bringing the gamour of Miami Beach to readers worldwide, turning
the city into a showpiece.
In the 1990s it was
Haitian immigration that
made the news, fleeing their violent homeland to come here seeking a better
life. To their chagrin, they were not to be treated like Cubans as they
were considered “economic” refugees, rather than “political”
refugees. Immigration helped the County’s population surpass two
million in 1992.
In 2003 cardiologist
Arthur Agatston, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Cardiac Prevention Center
in Miami Beach published The
South Beach Diet.
Today many different
ethnic groups and cultures live in this modern metropolitan community.
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