Saturday, April 16, 2011

Florida History: Napoleon Bonaparte Broward and the Empire of the Everglades

Courtesy Broward County Historical Commission

 For more Fort Lauderdale and Miami history,

By Jane Feehan

Few governors of Florida can claim the notoriety and impact of its 19th governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward (b. 1857-d. 1910).

Born in the Jacksonville area, Broward drew national attention for smuggling weapons aboard his steamship, The Three Friends, to aid Cubans in their war for independence from Spain. He ran arms for three years until President McKinley declared war against Spain in 1898.

Broward’s political career included a stint as Duval County Sheriff and one term in the Florida House of Representatives (Democrat) before he became governor.

He ran for governor with a platform that included a plan to drain the Everglades. Thus evolved the notion “Empire of the Everglades,” an idea that reverberated throughout the country, and especially in South Florida. He said canals used for draining could also be used for transportation.  “Look at Egypt and the Nile,” he said, or “Look at Holland.” It wasn’t a new idea, but appealed to many with dreams of farming - or land speculation. Broward took office in January, 1905 and served until 1909.

Under his administration, the Florida legislature established a Board of Drainage Commissioners to take charge of the Everglades project. To move forward on the plan, they created drainage districts, issued millions of dollars in bonds and levied taxes. Broward also managed to secure federal funds. By the time he left office, many claimed that Broward had drained the Everglades, when in fact, he had just begun.

The drainage project spawned a Fort Lauderdale land boom in 1910, but by the 1920s, its feasibility was in doubt. During the 1928 hurricane, a muck dyke at Lake Okeechobee, part of the drainage plan, broke; more than 2,000 died.

Everglades champion Marjorie Stoneman Douglas denounced the drainage project in her book, The Everglades: River of Grass. She claimed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, while building the muck dyke, failed to note rivers that used to flow naturally from Lake Okeechobee, some “100 feet wide and 10 or more feet deep” that drained the lake for a mile or two. Broward’s project, she wrote, left a legacy of damage, destroying wild life, natural habitats, and covering Indian burial mounds.

Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, nevertheless, captured the imagination of those who helped transform Florida into today’s reality. Broward County was established in 1915; the use of his name was an affirmation of his vision for the area. Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

For the first attempt to drain the Everglades in 1881, see: 
Douglas, Marjorie Stoneman. The Everglades: River of Grass. Miami: Banyan Books, 1978.
Weidling, Philip, and Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1966

Tags: Florida history, Everglades drainage, Broward County history, Everglades history, Fort Lauderdale history, Florida Everglades, Florida in the early 1900s

No comments: