Yes...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.

Artistic 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 River.

Intermarriage, slavery and disease finally took its toll on the native population, and by 1750, there was virtually no record of any surviving pure Tequesta.

Miami Circle
Miami Circle and high rises

There are several archeological sites in the area, but probably the best known is the strange Miami 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 years old. 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.

Pioneer period
Finally 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.

Cape Florida Lighthouse today
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.

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 Wars here:

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. The original 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.

Henry Flagler, Railroad Magnate
Julia Tuttle

The Railroad

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.

Royal Palm Hotel

Flagler’s other 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.

Modern Miami
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.

Damage from the 1926 hurricane
Florida Photographic Collection

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 Land Boom.

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.

Dive bombers over Miami, 1941
Dive bombers over Miami 1941
Florida Photographic Collection

During World 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 million.

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 Havana.

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."

Condo 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 "Miami 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.

Art 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.

Caribbean Marketplace
Little Haiti

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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