Devin Leigh


In 1865, George Franklin Thompson, a representative of the Freedman's Bureau, wrote that southeast Florida could become the "garden of the United States," but only if the water levels of Lake Okeechobee could be lowered by at least six feet.2 In this assessment, Thompson epitomized the nineteenth-century, triumphalist belief that settlement in the region of present-day Miami would depend upon a severe manipulation of the natural environment. According to the Miami metropolitan narrative, this manipulation came in the year 1896, when a widowed heiress and "plucky" pioneer from Cleveland named Julia Tuttle capitalized on the Great Freeze of 1894-1895, and convinced the cofounder of Standard Oil and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to extend the tracks of his Florida East Coast Railway soutn from present-day West Palm Beach to the "wilderness" of the Miami River.3 In this singular moment, the natural landscape of southeast Florida was finally conquered by industrialism. Three months later, on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 28, the modern American city of Miami was officially incorporated through the ballots of 344 voters from the greater Dade County.4