During your Miami travel, it will be nearly impossible to imagine how difficult it was to transform what was considered one of Florida’s most inhospitable areas into the great international city that is there today. Often, throughout Miami’s history, it seems a bit of magic was necessary to continue its growth, and even the desire of anyone to live there. Those magical moments did occur, however, and today, for many, it is certainly the Magic City.
Native peoples saw the value of living along the Miami River, as many had for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the famous Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon during 1513. He was the first known European to sail into Biscayne Bay, but the historical evidence suggests that he never set foot on shore. When he did arrive, he found the Calusa Tribe inhabiting villages on the north side of the river. Stroll through downtown during your Miami travel and you are walking where the Calusas’ homes stood approximately 500 years ago. It was the word in their language, “Mayami,” defined as “Big Water,” that was the source of the city’s name.
The first bit of magic was the area’s balmy climate, a land rich with food, fresh water and what interested the Spanish conquistadors the most, the natives’ stories of gold. The magic must have been weak because the Spanish found it very difficult to establish, and maintain, a permanent settlement, primarily because the Calusas didn’t want them there. As was too often the result of the relations between Native Americans and early European explorers and settlers, diseases for which the natives had no immunity decimated the population.
It wasn’t until 1821 that the United States acquired Florida from Spain for $5 million. South Florida was now open to Americans looking for new lands to settle; and many came to the Miami area during the next two decades. They experienced conflicts with the Seminole Tribe, which had driven the Calusa from the land more than 100 years earlier. Now that Florida was a U.S. territory, the U.S. Army could be sent to help the settlers. The troops assumed command of Fort Dallas, an old naval post on the river. From there, they fought the Seminoles and forced them westward into the Everglades. During 1849, the first permanent building in what was to become Miami was built near Fort Dallas.
It may be difficult to believe during your Miami travel that by 1860, the conditions were so bad that few settlers remained and Miami was not officially recognized as a place. Following The Civil War, however, the magic returned in the form of investors and developers from the mid-western states. One of these was Julia Tuttle, widow of a wealthy Cleveland, Ohio businessman. She is known as the founder of Miami. She is credited with having the vision of Miami as a resort attraction for travelers from the north. Transportation infrastructure was critical to making the magic work, however; but she convinced Henry Flagler, the builder of the Florida East Coast Railroad, to lay tracks south of Palm Beach. The first train arrived during April 1896, and Flagler saw Tuttle’s vision too and became one of the city’s major developers. Miami was officially incorporated during the same year.
Throughout the early 20th century, Miami was either saturated with magic or it disappeared altogether. The first great building boom and population explosion occurred after the First World War, but the magic’s power expired and the city also experienced its first bust. Despite the downturn, it was clear that Miami was a major opportunity for future development. Since World War II, Miami has grown unabated, with the magic taking a firm hold on the people who live, vacation and retire there and creating a fantasy land of lifestyles and attractions for your Miami travel.
Today, it is truly an international city, first becoming so with the large influx of Cubans who fled to South Florida from Cuba during the 1960s. Now, Miami’s diversity has been enriched by all the cultures of the Caribbean and Central and South America. The Magic City may glitter the most at the luxurious resorts and the nightlife of South Beach, but your Miami travel will be more satisfying when you include visits to the many Latin communities and be touched by the magic they’ve brought to the city.
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