Everglades Timeline

Reconstruction Era Comes to the Everglades

everglades timeline

Page from Kissimmee Land Company's brochure "200,000 acres best land in Florida: Kissimmee City town lots for sale", 1884?.

"As early as 1769 the English writer, William Stork, called the soil of the lower part of Florida "as rich as dung itself," and later the American generals and soldiers who had lost their artillery in the fertile mucklands during the Seminole Wars, carried home the great dream of an agricultural empire in the south Florida interior. The dream caught fire. A railroad and tourist domain was established by Henry Plant down the West Coast and on a larger scale by Hamilton Disston and Henry Flagler on the lower Atlantic."

William Roy Shelton,
Land of the Everglades
, 1957.


Following the Civil War, the railroad and canal companies faced financial ruin with the devaluation of confederate currency. Florida's Internal Improvement Fund, which was obligated to bondholders of these companies, faced bankruptcy.The agency's funds were placed in the custody of a federally-appointed receiver. To raise cash to pay off creditors, Florida was forced to sell lands for significantly less than their value.


Chokoloskee, on the western edge of the Everglades, was settled. The former home of the Calusa Indians became the primary trade center for homesteaders scattered across southwest Florida.


Dr. J. B. Holder, writing for Harper's New Monthly Magazine, described his travels from Fort Dallas (Miami) to Fort Myers in a series of articles that ran from March to July, 1871. In "Along the Florida Reef", the author prosaically described the wonders of Florida's Everglades and mangrove coast, recalling the words of an earlier (unnamed writer):

There is a great deal of truthfulness and poetry in the name that has been given to the beautiful openings which occur in the swampy scenery of the peninsula of Florida. Formed in a low, yet not absolutely level country, these magnificent examples of semi-tropical richness strike the beholder with surprise; and it seems a waste of nature's grandest exhibition to have these carnivals of splendid vegetation occurring in isolated places, where it is but seldom they are seen by the appreciative eye of cultrivated and intellectual observers.

The population of Dade County reached 257.


Philadelphia millionaire Hamilton Disston negotiated with Florida Governor Bloxham and the Internal Improvement Fund to drain all of the lands overflowed by Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River in exchange for one-half the reclaimed land. Disston also purchased outright from the State four million acres of overflowed lands at 25 cents an acre. This transaction temporarily returned the IIF to solvency, and the agency resumed its practice of making generous land grants to the railroads.


Missionary James Willson and his wife Minnie Moore-Willson settled in Kissimmee, Florida and took up the cause of the Seminole Indians.


Hamilton Disston's companies, the Okeechobee Land Company and Atlantic and the Gulf Coast Canal Company, undertook the first attempt to drain the Everglades. They excavated 11 miles (17.7 km) of canal south of Lake Okeechobee in the direction of Miami. Additionally, Disston dredged a navigable waterway from Lake Okeechobee north to Kissimmee and west to the Gulf of Mexico, thereby opening the region to steamboat traffic.


25-30 Seminole families were reported to be living in Pine Island, Broward County.


The newspaper New Orleans Times Democrat sponsored an expedition from Lake Okeechobee to the Shark River, led by Major Archie P. Williams. The journey took 26 days. At the end of the trip, Williams discouraged his readers as to the agricultural possibilities of the Everglades, advising "drainage is utterly impracticable." Subsequent newspaper articles provided the most comprehensive account of a north-south journey through the pre-drainage Everglades.


William Harney, writing in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, proposed an elaborate system of canals and dikes to harness the flow of water out of Lake Okeechobee.


Henry Morrison Flagler purchased his first Florida railroad, initiating the first rail service between St. Augustine and New York.


Field and Stream editor George Grinnell formed the Audubon Society to counter the unrestricted slaughter of wilds birds for recreation and profit.


Yachtbuilder, naturalist and photographer Ralph Munroe settled along Biscayne Bay in the growing suburb of Coconut Grove, Florida.


Lee County was formed with an area encompassing 2 million acres in the Caloosahatchee watershed in southwest Florida.


The American Ornithologists' Union, a professional society dedicated to bird protection, was founded in New York City.

late 1880's

The North American feather trade was in its heyday. Florida was the prime hunting ground for poachers, hired by the millinery hunters to provide plumes for ladies hats and gowns. In one year alone, 130,00 snowy egrets were slaughtered for their feathers.


The Internal Improvement Fund remained under the control of railroad interests while Florida faced financial failures in the railroad, bank and other industries. Economic depression culminated in the general panic of 1893.


The Women's National Indian Association proposed to establish a permanent home for the Seminoles in Florida, and bought four hundred acres toward that end. They also succeeded in getting the Florida Legislature to set aside 5000 acres for the Seminoles; however, the government failed to authorize any appropriations to secure the land.


James E. Ingraham surveyed the Everglades for a possible railroad route for Henry B. Plant's railroad system.


Frank and Ivy Stranahan arrived at Fort Lauderdale to operate a ferry at New River. He established a trading post to deal with the Indians living along the river and in the Everglades.


Settlers arrived in Flamingo, at the tip of peninsula; the Flamingo post office was established.


Severe winter freezes destroyed crops as far south as Palm Beach, convincing railroad magnate Henry Flagler that the future of America's winter crops lay further down the peninsula. Encouraged by favorable dealings with Miami landowners, Flagler decided to extend his Florida East Coast Railroad to Biscayne Bay.


Mismanagement, litigation and debts continued to mire the IIF. Facing financial ruin, drainage pioneer Hamilton Disston took his own life in Philadelphia. He had succeeded in draining about 50,000 acres in total. His agricultural experiments proved that land in the Kissimmee River valley were quite productive for sugarcane and rice.


Florida East Coast Railway was completed from Palm Beach to Miami. The first train entered Miami on April 13, 1896.


On July 28, 1896, 344 registered voters, a sizable percentage of whom were black laborers, met to incorporate the city of Miami. They elected John B. Reilly as Mayor.


Professor and naturalist Charles B. Cory published Hunting and Fishing in Florida, detailing the life of the Seminole Indians, the wildlife resources of the state, and its unique water fowl. He was the first naturalist to recognize the Florida panther as a subspecies.


Henry Flagler, founder and president of the Florida East Coast Railroad, created the Model Land Company (MLC) in 1896 to manage his rapidly expanding real estate holdings in the state of Florida. James Ingraham was named president of the new company. Well-known Miami real estate agent and city council member Frederick S. Morse began serving as agent for the MLC lands.


Fifty Danish families were brought to south Florida to settle the rich muck and high lands around Modelo, and the town was renamed Dania. A comparable number of Swedes were brought to the nearby colony of Hallandale.


"Friends of the Florida Seminoles" was organized to secure for the Seminoles a permanent home in Florida.


The bimonthly magazine Bird Lore (eventually renamed Audubon Magazine) was launched by ornithologist Frank M. Chapman.


U.S. Congress passed the Lacey Act, banning the interstate shipment of any wild animals or birds killed in violation of state laws. This gave the new bird protection movement its first effect weapon against the plume and market hunters.


Florida Audubon Society was founded with the rallying cry "Save the Wild Birds of Florida". Founding members and patrons included President Theodore Roosevelt, railroad magnate Henry Flagler, future Florida Governor William S. Jennings, and inventor Thomas A Edison.

Timeline prepared by Gail Clement, University Librarian, Florida International University

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