Happy Birthday Miami
Most of the original city of Miami — the current downtown, the historic district along Flagler Street — was built on Julia Tuttle’s land.
Julia Tuttle bought the famous 640 acres north of the Miami River in 1891. She lured tycoon Henry Flagler to accept half her domain for extending his railway from Palm Beach. Another condition was to plat out a city.
Flagler sent black laborers to clear the wilderness, and these laborers made it possible for Miami to incorporate as a city, an act that required 300 signatories minimum. The Miami Metropolis reported that 163 of the 344 signatories were registered as “colored.”
1896, What a Year!
April, the train arrived. May, the first newspaper, The Metropolis, was published. And on July 28, the City of Miami was officially incorporated.
The Metropolis passed on to future generations a detailed chronicle of the City’s birth. Here is how it reported the events unfolding at The Lobby, a poolhall, near the river on Avenue D (the current Miami Ave.):
“The meeting for the purpose of incorporating the City of Miami was remarkable in many respects, for the large number of votes polled, for its unruffled harmony, and for the expeditious manner in which all business was handled. What other city in the State of Florida ever sprung into existence with a list of 400 registered voters, and at its meeting for the purpose of incorporating polled 344 votes?”
“That is what we did in Miami. It’s worth remembering that the site of the present city was a tract of wild land less than six months beforehand, and that the railroad only reached here four months prior, on April 15th.”
Residents wanted the name Flagler for the new City, but the tycoon suggested Miami — sweet water in the Calusa language.
Another important event took place that hot humid Wednesday, July 28, 1896, as reported by The Miami Metropolis: Residents elected Miami’s first mayor, John Reilly. Reilly was head of the Fort Dallas Land Company, owned by Flagler, the Father of Miami.
Julia Tuttle, the Mother of Miami, was present but couldn’t vote. Women were not allowed to vote in 1896. She did not have a vote, but she certainly had a voice. She willed into law a ban on alcohol in her city, excepting, of course, Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel.
As for the “colored” laborers, Florida, Deep South, observed the laws of segregation, and relegated them to Colored Town, behind the cemetery, today’s Overtown.
The Original City of Miami
Most of the original city of Miami — the current downtown, the historic district along Flagler Street — was built on Julia Tuttle’s land. The appellation Magic City arises from the fact that a perfect wilderness became a city overnight, as if by magic. Not magic, it was the persistence and vision of Julia Tuttle that made it happen.
A woman of great foresight, Julia Tuttle prophesied that “a great city would someday arise in the area, one that would become a center of trade with South America and a gateway to the Americas.”