Everglades Timeline

South Florida Boom and Bust (1920-1929)


everglades timeline

Postcard showing land prospectors in the Everglades. From a private collection, Miami, Florida.

" ...where the United States Army and a hundred years of persuasion failed, a highway has succeeded. The Seminole Indians surrendered to the Tamiami Trail. From the Everglades the remnants of this race emerged, soon after the trail was built, to set up their palm-thatched villages along the road and to hoist tribal flags as a lure to passing motorists."

For the State of Florida, U.S. public relief program (1935-1943). Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (The WPA Guide to Florida) , p. 5, in Contemporary Scene,” Oxford University Press (1939).


Partial drainage of the Everglades spurred dramatic growth in South Florida; newcomers were lured by cheap land, luxurious new railroad hotels, and favorable reports by northern newsman touting the region's glamour and financial promise. The July 30 headline in the Fort Lauderdale Sentinel declared "Building Boom Started And Will Continue". Glamorous resorts and new cities sprung up across the southern end of the State: Miami Beach, Coral Gables, and Boca Raton on the east coast; Naples and Marco Island on the west.


The population of the Lake Okeechobee area was estimated to be around 2000 persons scattered in 16 settlements. To protect these settlements from flooding, the state's Everglades Drainage District constructed a small levee along the southern shore of the lake. The structure, composed largely of muck and sand, rose 5-9 feet in height and extended some 47 miles long.


Commercial agricultural activity around Lake Okeechobee flourished and the area's population grew to 2000. The first crops grown commercially included sugar cane, tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers and potatoes.


Wealthy entrepreneur Barron Collier amassed 1.2 million acres of land in southwest Florida, making him the largest landowner in the State.


The Miami Herald was the heaviest newspaper in the nation due to its extensive land advertisement section.


Rapid subsidence of the peat soils around Lake Okeechobee, caused by their drainage, drying, and oxidation, led to repeated flooding of the area's croplands. Consequently, many agricultural pioneers abandoned their south Florida farms and move away. The Internal Improvement Fund struggled to secure funding for the canals recommended in the Randolph Report of 1913.


When the Tamiami Trail project encountered delays due to financial problems, Trail supporters took matters into their own hands. The "Tamiami Trail Blazers" led a caravan of Fords, tractors and wagons across the incomplete roadway to demonstrate its feasibility and desirability. The trip took ten laborious days.


Barron Collier committed his millions to complete the Tamiami Trail, in exchange for the creation of Collier County in southwestern Florida.


The new Director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather, proposed that the Florida Everglades be considered for national park status. The idea was largely ignored.


Minnie Moore Willson submitted to numerous newspapers a proposal to create a wildlife refuge and reservation for the Seminoles in the Florida Everglades.


Refused a university by the Florida Legislature, Coral Gables' founder George Merrick established the largest private university in the south. The new University of Miami appointed Bowman Ashe as its first President.


Though only 75 million cubic yards of canals had been excavated in South Florida in accordance with the plans of the Randolph Report, state officials abandoned the scheme in favor of a newly devised master plan. Engineers deepened existing canals and constructed water control structures (locks and dams) in the major canals.


A hurricane on September 16 hit Palm Beach County with winds in excess of 125 miles per hour. Stormwaters spilled over the dike, destroying 13,000 homes and farms and killing over 400 people. Marjory Stoneman Douglas reported mild damage to her home in Coconut Grove and received an insurance payment of $250.


A Seminole Reservation opened in southern Broward County.


Completion of the Tamiami Trail was celebrated with a 500-car motorcade that journeyed from Ft. Meyers to Miami. Florida's two tropical coasts were connected for the first time.


With increased access provided by the Tamiami Trail, collapse of the frontier Seminole economy threatened the Florida Indians with assimilation and extinction. Economic desperation drove the Seminoles to pursue nontraditional activities such as alligator wrestling in the many small tourist attractions that sprouted up.


A devastating hurricane struck Belle Glade with winds of 135 miles per hour. A wall of water from Lake Okeechobee drowned nearly 2000 people in one hour.


The Federal Government recognized the need for water control around Lake Okeechobee to ensure the region's agricultural future. New engineering plans featured the construction of Hoover Dike, a massive levee, around the lake's southern rim.


Landscape architect Ernest Coe formed the Tropical Everglades Park Association and prepared a proposal for a national park to be located within the Everglades of southern Florida.


Due to the depression all drainage activity in South Florida was halted.


The Okeechobee Flood Control District was established.


Ernest Coe presented hs plan to the federal government recommending the Everglades be placed in the National Park Service.


Botanist John K. Small published "From Eden to Sahara: Florida's Tragedy" chronicling the "fast and furious" destruction of the Everglades. Small's advice that "it is not too late to act" gave weight to the fledgling National Park movement.

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

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