“On February 6th 1895, Florida was visited by the most devastating freeze in the state’s history. Virtually all of the state’s citrus groves were wiped out. Coconut palms as far south as Palm Beach were killed. The freezing temperatures did not reach Miami, however, and Mrs. Tuttle, who lived at Fort Dallas, site of onetime fort on the Miami River during the Seminole Indian wars, was quick to seize the advantage. Snapping a twig of green leaves and fragrant, white blossoms from an orange tree in her garden, she sent it to Flagler, then in St Augustine, together with a renewal of the offer she had made earlier.” – Nixon Smiley, Yesterday’s Miami
In 1893, Julia Tuttle asked Henry Flagler to extend his railway down to Miami from Palm Beach. He declined at the time, as there wasn’t much in Miami aside from primitive landscapes and wilderness. But Mrs. Tuttle had a vision for Miami that was far greater than an old fort.
Luckily for us, Mother Nature intervened in 1895. Even though she had already heard the word ‘no’ from Henry Flagler years earlier, Julia Tuttle persisted. The simple act of sending Mr. Flagler clippings from her garden in Dallas Park (photographed below) was the birth of the Magic City. It wasn’t as simple as that, though.
As part of their deal, Mrs. Tuttle gave Flagler part of her land on the north bank of the Miami river so that he could bring his railroad and the Royal Palm Hotel into the budding city. She died just a couple years later in 1898, so she wasn’t able to see her vision for the city come to fruition.
Even though she was friends with the famous Rockefellers and a true visionary, most of the credit of Miami’s founding is given to the men that she had to convince of its potential. The city was almost named after Henry Flagler, but the name Miami won by a slim margin when put to a vote.
Why was there never a vote to name Miami after Julia Tuttle? Probably because she was a woman. After all, she didn’t even have the right to vote at the time.
Miami is the only major American city founded by a woman. Many of our would-be historic sites have been lost to industrialization and development, so we seem to overlook our own history. However, if there’s any color that represents our city, it’s green. After all, it was the green clippings from Julia Tuttle’s garden that convinced Henry Flagler that Miami was a gem hidden behind the mangroves between Palm Beach and Key West.
If you think about it, taking a selfie on Miami Beach in the middle of winter has some historical significance. Is it really that different from what Mrs. Tuttle did in 1896 to show the advantages of living in an American city with a tropical climate?
It’s important for us to remember that Mother Nature played a role in the birth of the City of Miami, because she can just as easily play a part in the city’s demise if we’re not careful. This city wouldn’t be recognizable to the mother that gave birth to it. What was once a crystal clear river with an old fort on its banks is now a murky waterway filled with plastic and human waste.
Miami is still a beautiful place that we are lucky to call home. But we have to bring the city back to nature, as it was before steam engines, cocaine cowboys and high rises took over the landscape.
Every Miamian owes Julia Tuttle a debt of gratitude for seeing the potential of our city before anyone else. More importantly, though, for seizing the opportunity that Mother Nature presented her to make her persistent vision a reality.
You can pay your respects to the Mother of Miami at her final resting place in the Miami City Cemetery at 1800 Southeast Second Avenue. She might appreciate some fresh clippings from your garden or a shout out as you drive over the Julia Tuttle Causeway on your way to Miami Beach.