Monday, June 27, 2011

Florida History: Fort Lauderdale's first mayor, greatest booster, William Marshall

 By Jane Feehan   (Use search box at right to find more "Florida history")

After William H. Marshall (1876-1956) served in the Spanish-American War, he stopped by Fort Lauderdale to visit family. The town wasn’t much more than a settlement on New River at the time, but he stayed and established himself as a farmer.

The City of Fort Lauderdale was chartered in 1911 and Marshall, a native of Georgia, was tapped to be its first mayor. The pioneer farmer worked tirelessly to promote the budding town, seeking to attract businesses and trade; he gained the reputation as the “greatest booster of them all” (Miami Metropolis, Sept. 1, 1911).

Farmer was one side of Marshall, businessman the other. Draining the Everglades to cultivate crops in its rich muck appealed to both sides of the man. He pushed for the construction of North New River Canal locks big enough to accommodate large boats travelling on Lake Okeechobee to Fort Myers.  “When all the Everglades land between Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers is under cultivation, the shipments of produce will be tremendous,” said Marshall. (Miami News, Oct. 15, 1911)

But Marshall was also concerned about how the Everglades drainage project was to be funded. He feared the state would sell its lands to pay for draining, “leaving no money or land for the people.” Marshall called for a convention of businessmen to devise a plan to raise money. “We must have cooperation and if we have it we will eventually have the greatest spot of all.”   The money was eventually raised with bonds but the drainage project was abandoned years later.

A more successful endeavor was Marshall’s push to deepen the city’s harbor. He and pioneer Frank Stranahan formed the Fort Lauderdale Harbor Company and cut a waterway between Lake Mabel, now Port Everglades, Florida’s deepest harbor, and the New River.

Marshall served in Florida’s legislature from 1915-1921 and continued to keep one hand in farming. In 1913, he grew a 23-pound sweet potato in his backyard for a contest.

A bridge over New River bears the name of William H. Marshall, Fort Lauderdale’s first mayor and booster extraordinaire. Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.


Miami Metropolis, Aug. 16, 1912, p.1.
Miami Metropolis, Sept. 1, 1911, p. 7.
Miami News, Oct. 5, 1911, p. 1.
Miami Metropolis, Apr. 11, 1913, p. 3.

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Fort Lauderdale's first mayor, Florida history, Port Everglades history

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