Miami Beach History
old_miamibeachThe first South Floridians were the Tequesta Indians, who discovered the area more than 10,000 years ago and had it all to themselves until the Spanish claimed it in the 16th Century. In 1821, the Spanish flag was lowered and the Stars and Stripes raised over Florida. Enterprising wreckers from the Bahamas came to South Florida and the Keys in the early 19th Century, to hunt for the remains of an international array of ill-fated ships that crashed onto the treacherous Great Florida reef.
At about the same time, the Seminoles arrived, along with a group of runaway slaves. They fought to stay in Florida, and the area became a war zone from 1836 until 1857, with most non-Indian residents being soldiers stationed at Fort Dallas on the Miami River. Some of these soldiers and a few other adventurous frontier settlers gave Miami yet another new, foreign-born population. At war's end, many of the Indians remained in the Everglades.
The Bahamians who stayed became Miami's first permanent residents and helped found South Florida's first real community, Coconut Grove.
The area's greatest change came thanks to a visionary Cleveland widow named Julia Tuttle, who purchased 640 acres on the north bank of the Miami River in 1891, moving her family into the abandoned Fort Dallas buildings. Within four years, Tuttle -- the "mother of Miami" -- convinced Standard Oil co-founder Henry Flagler to extend his railroad to Miami, build a luxury hotel, and lay out a new town. The railroad arrived in 1896. The City of Miami was incorporated on July 28 that same year.
All kinds of people flocked to the new city, which was never an ordinary Southern town. Miami's first mayor was an Irish Catholic. Most of the early merchants were Jewish. African Americans and Black Bahamians made up one-third of the city's incorporators.
Greater Miami never lacked for forward thinkers, including John Collins (a New Jersey Quaker) and Prest-O-Lite king Carl Fisher, who together in 1913 embarked on an agriculture venture on a spit of oceanfront beach and started a bridge across the bay. Miami Beach was born.
During the Depression, Pan American Airways launched the era of modern aviation with "Flying Clippers" from Miami's Dinner Key. Even then, Pan Am advertised Miami as the "Gateway to the Americas." Today, Greater Miami has overtaken New York's JFK as the nation's leading gateway for international arrivals with 5.1 million international travelers arriving in the U.S. through Miami in 1994.