Everglades Biographies

Ernest F. Coe

Ernest F. Coe, affectionately known as Tom by his friends, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on March 21, 1866. He graduated from Yale University's School of Fine Arts in 1887. He and his wife Anna came to Miami in 1925, settling in Coconut Grove. Anna died in 1941.

According to his friend Marjory Stoneman Douglas, writing in her autobiography Voice of the River, "Coe lost his money in real estate speculation during the boom and the bust. In the meantime, he'd discovered the Everglades and decided it should be a national park." Alarmed at the loss of rare birds through poaching and the removal of rare or unusual orchids from their natural habitat, Coe feared that many animals would face extinction if something wasn't done.

In 1928, Coe hatched his plans for a national park to be located within the lower Everglades. He created the Tropical Everglades National Park Association and appealed to south Florida notables to join up. Early members included Miami Herald journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas and University of Miami president Dr. Bowman Ashe. Renowned botanist Dr. David Fairchild served as the association's first president.

As an official of the Tropical Everglades National Park Association, Coe persisted in gaining local and national support for the park's establishment. He wrote Stephen T. Mather, director of the National Park Service, with a draft proposal for the new park. A subsequent meeting took place. Soon thereafter, Senator Duncan B. Fletcher of Florida introduced legislation to create Everglades National Park: An Act To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to investigate and report to Congress on the advisability and practicability of establishing a national park to be known as the Tropic Everglades National Park in the State of Florida, and for other purposes(45 Stat.1443). In spite of considerable resistance by legislators who failed to see the merits of the proposed park, and by local landowners who feared lost profits, Coe prevailed. President Roosevelt signed the enabling act for Everglades National Park on May 30, 1934. It took another thirteen years to acquire the land and define the boundaries of the new park.

When Everglades National Park was dedicated in December 1947 the "father of the Everglades" found little satisfaction in the achievement. He was gravely disappointed that the final boundaries of the park comprised a smaller area than originally proposed. Coe had fought, without success, for inclusion of the upper part of Key Largo, the reef, and part of the Big Cypress. He insisted that, without these outer areas, the park wouldn't have the water supply it needed to survive. In the years after Coe's death, his arguments were found to have merit. Everglades National Park was expanded with additional acreage; the reef tract gained protection with the creation of Biscayne National Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; and Big Cypress was designated as a national preserve.

Ernest Coe died on January 1, 1951 at age 84. Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman said, "Ernest Coe's many years of effective and unselfish efforts to save the Everglades earned him a place among the immortals of the National Park movement." On December 6, 1996, the National Park Service opened the "Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center" near the entrance of the park, in honor of "the father of Everglades National Park."

Biography prepared by Gail Clement, Florida International University


Photo courtesy of History Miami (formerly Historical Museum of Southern Florida).

Excerpts of essay by Ernest F. Coe, Tropic Everglades National Park of Florida, October 25, 1928. Model Land Company Records, University of Miami.

"The State of Florida and particularly South Florida is to be congratulated in possessing within its confines an area so distinctive in its unique physical interests and from the standpoint of human attractiveness as to type up fully with Uncle Sam's rigid specifications as a National Park candidate...

From an economic standpoint it is quite obvious that Florida is very fortunate in possessing this Cape-Sable area. It places Florida on the map from many substantial angles. Once the Tropic Everglades National Park of South Florida becomes a reality such a flow of our great country's people as well as those from other countries will come into and through the State to visit it that Florida will profit immeasurably in many ways...

From this angle of approach it is quite evident that the State of Florida can very well afford to do its part toward making available such funds and other considerations as is her share. Individual interests in Florida can be depended upon to contribute its share and any necessary balance in a required total can reasonably be expected to be forthcoming from the general public, whose present appreciation of what our National Parks stand for and a Tropic National Park especially, produce many individuals so situated that liberal cash contributions and personal influences will be freely contributed as not only a duty but a privilege.

Far transcending any economic consideration as a reason for or means of acquiring this area stands out the Nation wide importance of preserving this Cape-Sable section of South Florida as a National Park for all time: -- truly a wonderland supreme and one of our Nation's choicest jewels."

This site is designed and maintained by the Digital Collections Center -
Everglades Information Network & Digital Library at Florida International University Libraries
Copyright © Florida International University Libraries. All rights reserved.