2021-12-11 09:24:20 UTC
By Elena Sheppard, 12/3/21, New York Times
In the 1890s, the area where Biscayne Bay & the Miami River
meet — today considered the heart of Downtown Miami — was
desolate, swampy & isolated. But one of its few residents,
Julia Tuttle, saw great potential for the land.
“It may seem strange to you,” she wrote to a friend, “but
it's the dream of my life to see this wilderness turned
into a prosperous country. Where this tangled mass of vine,
brush, trees & rocks now are to see homes with modern
improvements surrounded by beautiful grassy lawns,
flowers, shrubs & shade trees.”
One way to make this a reality, she realized, was by
building a railroad that would give people access. The
oil tycoon & industrialist Henry Flagler had already built
hotels in other parts of Florida, as well as a railroad
that extended to West Palm Beach. Tuttle was sure that if the
tracks stretched to her sleepy outpost, a city would blossom.
She had spent years trying to get Flagler’s attention, but
her letters went unanswered, according to “Tequesta: The
Journal of the Historical Assn of Southern Florida” (1995).
“Some day somebody will build a railroad to Miami,” she
lamented to her friend James E. Ingraham, an engineer who
was working for Henry B. Plant to build a railroad on
Florida’s west coast. “And when they do,” she added,
“I'll be willing to divide my properties there & give 1/2
to the company for a town site.”
Then came the great freeze of 1894. Frigid temps badly
damaged the citrus groves that fueled Florida’s rapid
economic growth, yet somehow Tuttle’s slice of paradise was
spared. Six weeks later, the freezing temps returned, & the
results were just as devastating — except, once again, in
Biscayne Bay country.
As one story goes, Tuttle took the opportunity to try
reaching Flagler again. She sent him flowering orange
blossoms from her very own yard beside Biscayne Bay to show
that they were, as some called it, “freeze proof.” The land,
she made clear, was filled with warm weather possibilities
for agriculture & tourism.
In another version of the tale, it was Ingraham who finally
appealed to Flagler on Tuttle’s behalf. By this time he was
said to be working for Flagler, & he visited Biscayne Bay
to find that it was unscathed.
There were, he told the Miami Women’s Club in 1920, “orange
trees, lemon trees & lime trees blooming or about to bloom
without a leaf hurt, vegetables growing in a small way
untouched. There had been no frost there.”
“I gathered up a lot of blooms from these various trees,
put them in damp cotton & after an interview with Mrs.
Tuttle & Mr. & Mrs. Brickell of Miami, I hurried to St.
Augustine, where I called on Mr. Flagler & showed him the
orange blossoms,” he added, referring to William Brickell,
another prominent landowner who, with his wife, Mary,
wanted to see the area developed.
Ingraham also brought proposals from Tuttle & Brickell
offering Flagler portions of their land if the railway
were to be constructed.
Flagler finally decided to visit the fastest way he could:
He took a train to West Palm Beach & a boat to Fort Lauder-
dale, where he was picked up by Tuttle, who took him to
her home in a wagon. There, Tuttle, Brickell & Flagler
came to an agreement: Tuttle & Brickell would each donate
large portions of their land if Flagler would build a
railroad, provide waterworks & pay for a survey & the
clearing of the streets.
By April 1896, Flagler’s first train arrived in Miami, &
by July 1896 the city was incorporated. Tuttle, being a
woman, wasn't permitted to cast a vote, but today she is
widely recognized as the only woman to have founded a
major American city.
Julia DeForest Sturtevant was born on Jan. 22, 1849, in
Cleveland Ohio. She married the iron businessman Frederick
Tuttle on her 19th birthday, & the couple had two children,
Fannie and Henry. Tuttle spent considerable time in Florida
to visit her father, Ephraim Sturtevant, a homesteader in
Biscayne Bay. When her husband’s health began to fail from
TB, Tuttle managed his business responsibilities. After he
died, she decided to leave Ohio permanently & make Florida
Tuttle purchased 640 acres on the north side of the Miami
River in an area then known as Fort Dallas, a military
outpost that was established during the Seminole Wars,
which resulted in the ousting of the Native American tribes
that lived there, most notably the Tequesta.
“At this time the land surrounding old Fort Dallas was an
impenetrable thicket,” The Miami Herald wrote in 1925.
“Where the city of Miami now stands was a pathless forest.”
Tuttle got to work revitalizing the area. She became “known
far & wide, up & down the East Coast, as one of the most
energetic & progressive citizens of the Biscayne region,”
wrote Dr. Walter S. Graham, a newspaperman, in one of his
many articles about Tuttle. He referred to her as the
“Mother of Miami.”
After Miami was incorporated, Tuttle continued to work
tirelessly to develop the city. She's credited with opening
its first laundry, its first bakery & its first dairy, &
she helped establish the area’s first Episcopal church.
Even before Flagler opened his famed Royal Palm Hotel,
Tuttle had her own, the Hotel Miami. She was also elected
one of the first directors of the Bank of Bay Biscayne,
but resigned after residents expressed hesitance that a
woman was handling their finances.
“She has proven the Mascotte of the Bay,” The Miami
Metropolis wrote in 1896. “Since her coming it has taken
on a wonderful development & largely thru her well-directed
efforts & wonderful energy.”
Tuttle died on Sept. 14, 1898. She was 49. An obit in The
Metropolis listed the cause as a sudden violent headache,
an “inflammation of the brain,” though other reports said
that she had been sick & had wanted the matter to remain
private. She didn't live long enough to see the return
on her investments. She died in debt.
But a statue of Tuttle, unveiled in 2010 in Bayfront Park,
immortalizes her story in bronze: Her left arm holds a
basket of oranges, while her right extends a handful of blossoms.