Sunday, October 28, 2012

Florida History: Mother of Miami Julia Tuttle envisions a great city

For more Miami and South Florida history, see:

By Jane Feehan

“Miami is going to be one of the greatest and most important cities, financially, commercially and residentially,” [sic] said Julia Tuttle in 1896. Thanks to this Florida pioneer, Henry M. Flagler was convinced to extend his Florida East Coast Railway from Palm Beach to Biscayne Bay.

A winter freeze swept Florida during the winter of 1894-95, destroying orange trees and other crops. Tuttle had written Flagler before the freeze, asking him to extend the railway south, but to no avail. Afterward, the story goes, she sent the rail magnate a bouquet of thriving orange blossoms. More likely Flagler’s right hand man, James E. Ingraham, returned with the blossoms Tuttle gave him when he was sent south to survey the area after the bad weather.   Whatever the real story, Flagler was convinced by and struck a bargain with Tuttle: for 363 of her acres, he would extend the rail to Biscayne Bay. And so, the first rail car pulled into the newly incorporated Miami (a moniker Flagler suggested, spurning the notion it be his own name) in 1896 and a hotel, the Royal Palm, was built.

Tuttle first saw Biscayne Bay in 1875 while visiting with her family. She returned to Cleveland,* Ohio where she lived with her husband Frederick Tuttle. Frederick died in 1886, leaving his iron works business to his widow. She returned to Fort Dallas, as Miami was known then, in 1891. Tuttle bought 640 acres on the north bank of the Miami River.  She set up house in the old officers’ quarters at Fort Dallas, which she renovated into the most elegant home of the area.

Tuttle grew orange trees, established a dairy and became known as a business woman among her neighbors. She also fought fires. When a fire struck the settlement Christmas Night 1896, pioneer Tuttle took part in the bucket brigade. (Twenty eight buildings were lost in the fledgling town without a fire company.)

Julia DeForest Sturtevant Tuttle died at age 49 in 1898 of meningitis. She is buried in the City of Miami Cemetery. That she is the Mother of Miami was lost on many for years after her death because she died in debt for her land transactions**, mostly with Flagler. But her name resurfaced and became a household one in Miami after the opening of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, the “Little Turnpike” Dec. 12, 1959. The $14 million causeway links the mainland via I-195 to mid-Miami Beach. A statue of Julia Tuttle sits in Bayfront Park. Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

*Flagler was also from Cleveland as was John D. Rockefeller. Tuttle and Rockefeller knew and corresponded with each other during the early 1880s.
** Tuttle also donated land to Trinity Church, founded in 1893 at NE 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street.

For more on the Royal Palm Hotel, see:

Standiford, Les. Last Train to Paradise. New York: Crown Publishers (2002).
Rockefeller-Tuttle correspondence :
Miami News, April 25, 1927
Miami News,  Sept. 20, 1978
Miami News, Dec. 13, 1959
Miami News, Jan. 2, 1963
Miami News, April 29, 1977

Tags: Miami history, Miami pioneer, Mother of Miami, Flagler in Miami, Florida film researcher, film research, pioneer women of Florida,  historical researcher

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