Cover Story

Miami’s First Newspaper

On May 15, 1896, three months before the City of Miami was incorporated, the first issue of The Miami Metropolis was published.

First Issue of the Miami Metropolis. It appeared 123 years ago, on May 15. The Miami Metropolis was a weekly publication until 1903 when it started publishing daily (8-pages.)

The bloody Seminole wars and inaccessibility held the Biscayne Bay population to a handful of families for most of the 19th century. Julia Tuttle changed that in 1891. She bought 640 acres north of the Miami River, the current Downtown. “I envision a great city,” she said in a rare interview for Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway newsletter, “a center of trade for the United State with South America.”

The vision depended on the railway reaching her adopted home, which depended on her persuading tycoon Henry Flagler. Not easy. She tried and tried and the tycoon persisted in his disinterest. But if anything softened the heart of a shrewd businessman, she knew, it had to be free land. She also knew that timing was of the essence. When The Great Freeze of 1894–1895 destroyed the old orange belt of central and northern Florida, ruining groves and wiping out fortunes overnight, Julia Tuttle promptly offered Flagler not only half her kingdom for the train and platting a new city but also assurances that her Miami River tropical paradise was immune to the freeze.

A Newspaper Is Born

On May 15, a Friday, 1896, three months before the City of Miami was incorporated, the first issue of The Miami Metropolis was published. One question arises: not Miami yet, nor, obviously, a metropolis, why Miami Metropolis? Howard Kleinberg, historian and longtime editor of the Miami News (the Metropolis became Miami News in 1923,) offered an answer in a recent Downtown Arts + Science Salon (DASS): “It was Flagler’s idea, and what Flagler wanted, Flagler usually got it.”

Howard Kleinberg, to the left, is the long-time Editor of The Miami News, historian, and author of numerous articles and books on the social and cultural history of Miami and South Florida. On June 4, 1923, former Ohio governor James M. Cox bought the Metropolis and renamed it the Miami Daily News-Metropolis. Cox had a new building erected for the newspaper, and the Miami News Tower opened on July 25, 1925. This building later became the famous Freedom Tower.

The Miami 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 pool hall, 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 a large number of votes polled, for its unruffled harmony, and for the expeditious manner in which all business was handled. What another 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?”

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.”

“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 — separate-but-equal — and relegated them to Colored Town, behind the cemetery, today’s Overtown.

And the rest, as the saying goes, is magical history!