by Ray Allen
Part 1 - Mama and Papa
As kids, we figured everybody's grandmother had a really beautiful smile, and could tell personal stories of Indian massacres and the old log cabin. We must have thought everybody's grandfather was an inventor and sea captain who had boats to take kids out to fish, swim, and spend the night anchored off uninhabited islands.
"Miami's No.1 man about town." "The prettiest girl I ever saw." As the years went by, we learned that our grandparents were pretty special.
We would be their five grandchildren-me, my older sister, Jayne, and our cousins: Hal and George, two other boys close to my age. Plus Betty Anne, the "big kid", oldest of all of us, but just by a few years. We shared years and years of events, outings and overnights with our grandparents, and none of us have ever forgotten any of it.
It all really starts with their backgrounds. Both had moved to Miami from other parts of pioneer Florida; both of their families were in Florida before statehood. Fate brought both families to Miami for different reasons when the city's population was under 1,000, during the 1890's. It was a frontier town with dirt streets and lots of mosquitoes. But it was also located on now-famous Biscayne Bay, in those days as unspoiled and magnificent as any blue-green waters in the Bahamas or the Caribbean. When Mama and Papa arrived, Miami was a tropical paradise, and a city waiting to be born.
In the few photos from that period, unpaved Flagler Street, Miami's main drag, looks very much like a dusty cowboy town in a western movie-wooden one-story buildings with a few stores, a few bars, and a bank. Ships calling at the waterfront were tall and masted - big sailing vessels from Havana, Nassau in the Bahamas and Key West, which were all much larger cities than Miami in those days. From the beginning, the ships were important, since there really weren't any roads leading to what was soon to be called The Magic City. People from other, older parts of the country find it hard to believe, but Miami is so young that before 1900, you almost had to arrive by ship, or walk down the beach. Of course, the railroad did arrive in 1896, about the same time as my grandparents. One of them arrived by wagon. The other, by ship. They were not among the first well-dressed tourist couples who began arriving on the new trains from New York and Palm Beach. They surely had no idea what was beginning all around them.
Meanwhile down in Miami, there was an enterprising widow from Ohio named Julia Tuttle who had purchased hundreds of acres along a beautiful stream called The Miami River. She was somewhat of a blueblood herself, and knew most of Mr. Flagler's rich friends a few miles north. But she was different. She was a brilliant rebel, an innovator, an adventurer. She was a woman with a big dream. While other ladies chatted and served tea, Julia Tuttle had a grand plan.
Miami was a wildly remote, untouched place when she had arrived in 1891, and she loved the tropical intensity of the place. She realized it had everything required of a major resort. She enjoyed the exotic sights of the Seminoles coming into town in their dugout canoes and their colorful native dress. She loved the "sweet enormous nights" when the moon seemed to shine brighter than anywhere else, and tropical flowers scented the air. Where others saw oppressive heat and voracious mosquitoes, she saw the magic of the tropics. Where others saw nothing, she saw everything.
So she began campaigning to have Mr. Flagler extend the railroad down to the Miami. At first, he was simply not interested. Palm Beach was developing perfectly for his purposes, and he was building a now-famous mansion there himself. He was clearly enjoying the champagne, welcoming all his old friends from New York to his magnificent new hotels.
Then one winter, a very severe freeze reached down into South Florida. This one brought freezing temperatures all the way down to the newly-planted orange groves, now growing a few miles inland from Mr. Flagler's new home. But all the tropical flowers in Miami continued to bloom. The freeze did not reach that far south.
Of course, Julia Tuttle was more than a socialite; she understood money. She knew that on Flagler's trains, shipping citrus north was as important as shipping tourists south. The freezes that winter had been a disaster for him. But she communicated the thought elegantly, with flowers. After all, you can't have people's flowers freezing in the midst of a sparkling winter season!
That did it. He made plans, and on April 15, 1896, the first FEC locomotive steamed into Miami. The small local population, only about 400, had the poor little town fully decorated, and turned out to welcome the first train. They were excited, but they couldn't have possibly understood the enormous importance of the event. Official incorporation of Miami as a city with the required 300 votes being cast happened two months later. But for the city-to-be, the arrival of the railroad was the real beginning.