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Many queries like these passed through our minds. They can only be solved by a thorough examination of the whole country. Could the waters be lowered ten feet, it would probably drain six hundred thousand acres; should this prove to be a rich soil, as would seem probable, what a field it would open for tropical productions! What facilities for commerce!


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Territorial representative David Levy proposed a resolution that was passed in Congress in "that the Secretary of War be directed to place before this House such information as can be obtained in relation to the practicability and probable expense of draining the everglades of Florida. Walker requested Thomas Buckingham Smith from St. Augustine to consult those with experience in the Everglades on the feasibility of draining them, saying that he had been told two or three canals to the Gulf of Mexico would be sufficient.

Smith asked officers who had served in the Seminole Wars to respond, and many favored the idea, promoting the land as a future agricultural asset to the South. A few disagreed, such as Captain John Sprague, who wrote he "never supposed the country would excite an inquiry, other than as a hiding place for Indians, and had it occurred to me that so great an undertaking, one so utterly impracticable, as draining the Ever Glades was to be discussed, I should not have destroyed the scratch of pen upon a subject so fruitful, and which cannot be understood but by those who have waded the water belly deep and examined carefully the western coast by land and by water.

The Ever Glades are now suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin or the resort of pestilent reptiles.


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The statesman whose exertions shall cause the millions of acres they contain, now worse than worthless, to teem with the products of agricultural industry; that man who thus adds to the resources of his country He will have created a State! Smith suggested cutting through the rim of the Everglades known today as the Atlantic Coastal Ridge , connecting the heads of rivers to the coastline so that 4 feet 1.

The result, Smith hoped, would yield farmland suitable for corn, sugar, rice, cotton, and tobacco. In Congress passed a law that gave several states wetlands within their state boundaries.

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The Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act ensured that the state would be responsible for funding the attempts at developing wetlands into farmlands. Not until after did attention return to the Everglades. After the Civil War, an agency named the Internal Improvement Fund IIF , charged with using grant money to improve Florida's infrastructure through canals, rail lines, and roads, was eager to be rid of the debt incurred by the Civil War. IIF trustees found a Pennsylvania real estate developer named Hamilton Disston who was interested in implementing plans to drain the land for agriculture.

Cloud to lower the basin of the Caloosahatchee and Kissimmee Rivers. His workers and engineers faced conditions similar to those of the soldiers during the Seminole Wars; it was harrowing, backbreaking labor in dangerous conditions. The canals seemed at first to work in lowering the water levels in the wetlands surrounding the rivers.

Another dredged waterway between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Okeechobee was built, opening the region to steamboat traffic. Disston's engineers focused on Lake Okeechobee as well. As one colleague put it, "Okeechobee is the point to attack"; the canals were to be "equal or greater than the inflow from the Kissimmee valley, which is the source of all the evil. Though the canals lowered the groundwater, their capacity was inadequate for the wet season.

A report that evaluated the failure of the project concluded: "The reduction of the waters is simply a question of sufficient capacity in the canals which may be dug for their relief". Though Disston's canals did not drain, his purchase primed the economy of Florida. It made news and attracted tourists and land buyers alike. Within four years property values doubled, and the population increased significantly. English tourists in particular were targeted and responded in large numbers. Due to Disston's purchase, the IIF was able to sponsor railroad projects, and the opportunity presented itself when oil tycoon Henry Flagler became enchanted with St.

Augustine during a vacation. He built the opulent Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine in , and began buying land and building rail lines along the east coast of Florida, first from Jacksonville to Daytona , then as far south as Palm Beach in Flagler's establishment of "the Styx", a settlement for hotel and rail line workers across the river from the barrier island containing Palm Beach, became West Palm Beach.

The winter of — produced a bitter frost that killed citrus trees as far south as Palm Beach. Miami resident Julia Tuttle sent Flagler a pristine orange blossom and an invitation to visit Miami, to persuade him to build the railroad farther south. Although he had earlier turned her down several times, Flagler finally agreed, and by the rail line had been extended to Biscayne Bay. Flagler publicized Miami as a "Magic City" throughout the United States and it became a prime destination for the extremely wealthy after the Royal Palm Hotel was opened.

In gubernatorial campaigning, the strongest candidate, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward , made draining the Everglades a major plank. He called the future of south Florida the "Empire of the Everglades" and compared its potential to that of Holland and Egypt : "It would indeed be a commentary on the intelligence and energy of the State of Florida to confess that so simple an engineering feat as the drainage of a body of land above the sea was above their power", he wrote to voters.

They began by taxing counties that would be affected by the drainage attempts, at 5 cents an acre, and formed the Everglades Drainage District in Broward asked James O. Two dredges were built by , but had cut only 6 miles 9. The project quickly ran out of money, so Broward sold real estate developer Richard "Dicky" J. Different unofficial versions of the report circulated—some that had been altered by real estate interests—and a version hastily put together by Senator Duncan U.

Fletcher called U. Senate Document 89 included early unrevised statements, causing a frenzy of speculation. Wright's initial report concluded that drainage would not be difficult. Building canals would be more cost effective than constructing a dike around Lake Okeechobee.

The soil would be fertile after drainage, the climate would not be adversely affected, and the enormous lake would be able to irrigate farmland in the dry season. His calculations concentrated on the towns of Jupiter and Kissimmee. Since weather data had not been recorded for any area within the Everglades, none was included in the report.

Furthermore, the heaviest year of rain on record, Wright assumed, was atypical, and he urged that canals should not be constructed to bear that amount of water due to the expense. Though a few voices expressed skepticism of the report's conclusions—notably Frank Stoneman , the editor of the Miami News-Record the forerunner of The Miami Herald —the report was hailed as impeccable, coming from a branch of the U.

Bureau of Reclamation. House of Representatives investigated Wright since no report had officially been published despite the money paid for it.


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  6. Wright eventually retired when it was discovered that his colleagues disagreed with his conclusions and refused to approve the report's publication. One testified at the hearings: "I regard Mr. Wright as absolutely and completely incompetent for any engineering work". Governor Broward ran for the U. Senate in but lost. Broward and his predecessor, William Jennings , were paid by Richard Bolles to tour the state to promote drainage. Broward was elected to the Senate in , but died before he could take office. He was eulogized across Florida for his leadership and progressive inspiration. Rapidly growing Fort Lauderdale paid him tribute by naming Broward County after him the town's original plan had been to name it Everglades County.

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    News of the Panama Canal inspired him to connect his rail line to the closest deep water port. Biscayne Bay was too shallow, so Flagler sent railway scouts to explore the possibility of building the line through to the tip of mainland Florida. The scouts reported that not enough land was present to build through the Everglades, so Flagler instead changed the plan to build to Key West in Real estate companies continued to advertise and sell land along newly dug canals.

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    In April —the end of the dry season—reporters from all over the U. But as news about the Wright report continued to be negative, land values plummeted, and sales decreased. Developers were sued and arrested for mail fraud when people who had spent their life savings to buy land arrived in south Florida expecting to find a dry parcel of land to build upon and instead found it completely underwater. Some burned off the sawgrass or other vegetation only to discover that the underlying peat continued to burn. Animals and tractors used for plowing got mired in the muck and were useless.

    When the muck dried, it turned to a fine black powder and created dust storms.

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    Though at first crops sprouted quickly and lushly, they just as quickly wilted and died, seemingly without reason. Lauderdale responded by collecting all of the pamphlets and burning them. With the increasing population in towns near the Everglades came hunting opportunities. Even decades earlier, Harriet Beecher Stowe had been horrified at the hunting by visitors, and she wrote the first conservation publication for Florida in "[t]he decks of boats are crowded with men, whose only feeling amid our magnificent forests, seems to be a wild desire to shoot something and who fire at every living thing on shore.

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