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The Birth of the City of Miami
Just over one hundred years ago, in 1895, three stubborn visionaries came together to create
Miami and, in doing so, open all of then-pristine South Florida to development. The Tuttle and
Brickell families possessed land. Henry M. Flagler owned a railroad and possessed the capital
to transform the land from a wilderness into a city. The partnership between them was at times
adversarial, the consequences sometimes disappointing, but the resulting Magic City would, over
the next century, grow into something greater than they could have ever imagined.
The Brickell family, consisting of William, his wife Mary, and eight adult children ranging in
age from 18 to 38, lived on the south bank of the mouth of the Miami River where they operated
a trading post and post office. They arrived in 1871 from Cleveland and purchased a vast stretch
of land that extended from the banks of the river south to near today's Coconut Grove. They also
owned property on the north side of the New River in today's Fort Lauderdale.
Julia Tuttle and her children, Harry and Fanny, lived across the river from the Brickells.
Tuttle, who came to Miami in 1891 after purchasing a tract of 640 acres of land on the north
bank of the Miami River, was also from Cleveland. Tuttle's husband, Frederick, died in 1886,
and she decided to move to South Florida due to what was described as the "delicate health" of
her children. Tuttle had seen the area in 1875, at the age of twenty-six, when she visited her
father, Ephraim Sturtevant, who homesteaded in the area of today's Miami Shores. Sturtevant had
been a friend of Brickell in Cleveland until a disagreement brought the friendship to a halt.
The Miami area, in the years leading up to the railroad's arrival, was better known as "Biscayne
Bay Country." The only overland transportation to the area was by a hack (or stagecoach) line
that ran from Lantana on the southern end of Lake Worth to Lemon City on Biscayne Bay. The few
published accounts from that period describe the area as a wilderness that held much promise.
Lying five miles north of the Miami River, Lemon City could boast of only fifteen buildings
in 1893. However, many homesteaders had settled on land up to five miles away from the core
of the settlements. One of these buildings was a new hotel that could accommodate twenty-five
to thirty guests. Two miles south were several people living in Buena Vista. "Cocoanut Grove"
(as it was spelled then) sat ... south of the Miami River; it contained twenty-eight buildings
"of a very neat and tasteful character," two large stores doing an "immense business," and a
hotel run by Charles and Isabella Peacock. Cutler, eight miles south of Cocoanut Grove, also
contained a few settlers.
But the jewel on Biscayne Bay was Miami. The site where the Miami River emptied into the bay
was described as the cream of the property in the area. There was rich, heavy hammock growth,
and to the south, on the Brickell lands, a high, rocky bluff, which was characterized as "one
of the finest building sites in Florida." (5) The Tuttles lived in a large home that had been
in use when Fort Dallas occupied the spot at the time of the Indian wars of the mid-nineteenth
century. Julia Tuttle repaired and converted the home into one of the show places in the area.
It possessed a wide porch on the second story that provided a sweeping view of the river and
the bay. The bay itself was a favorite resort for wealthy yachtsmen who came to the area in the
winter for fishing and cruising.