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Travel, Tourism, and Urban Growth in Greater Miami: A Digital Archive
Created and maintained by the Otto G. Richter Library, University of Miami.
Reviewed Feb.-April 2007.

In dramatic bursts of bravado and ballyhoo, Miami and Miami Beach burst upon the national consciousness during the land boom of the 1920s, magnifying values that would define south Florida for almost a century: leisure and luxury, velocity and volume. Not even land busts, hurricanes, or violence could sour Americans' love affair with Miami and Miami Beach.

Postcard of Coral Gables Country Club, Florida.

Miami and Miami Beach were simply the most dramatic storylines of the remarkable story of southeast Florida. Native Americans have inhabited Biscayne Bay and the hinterland for thousands of years. In his 1513 voyage, Juan Ponce de Leon noted in his diary that he had “reached Chequescha,” the first recorded name of Miami. Spanish Jesuits established a mission to convert the Tequesta Indians. But the story line accelerated in the late nineteenth century, with the coming of Henry Flagler’s railroad and the incorporation of Miami.

If the twentieth century was America’s century, it was also Miami’s time in the sun. The trajectory of the city’s growth almost defies believability. In 1900, census takers counted 4,955 residents in Dade County (then encompassing the future “gold coast” of Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade counties). By the end of the century, Miami-Dade County had become a demographic wonder, the Queens of Florida, home to 2.25 million inhabitants, over half of whom were Hispanic.

Photographers and writers were quick to realize the exotic qualities of South Florida’s lush landscape and cityscapes. Precious artifacts reveal places so tropical, so wondrous, that photographs and letters amplify the images.

Travel, Tourism, and Urban Growth in Greater Miami provides students, researchers, and the public a most welcome Web site. A fifteen-minute or two-hour browse is pure delight, a tribute to University of Miami librarians and archivists. A treasure trove of photographs, postcards, maps, and rare and mundane documents awaits the adventuresome. An excellent timeline and bibliography are also provided, organized around themes of advertising, architecture, environment, land use, migration, tourism, and transportation.

If one is interested in the decade of the 1930s, with its art moderne/art deco hotels, the trolleys navigating Flagler Street, or the appalling slums that were home to the city’s African American residents, the site provides myriad choices.

The historical equivalent of finding rare sea shells awaits the Webcomber. A letter from the nature writer Ralph M. Munroe to Vincent Gilpin is as fascinating today as it must have been in July 1918. When Munroe first sailed into Biscayne Bay in 1877, a handful of tubercular Yankees and traders resided in the area. Forty years later, Miami was on the threshold of one of the greatest land booms in American history. Locally, the Dinner Key Naval Air Station and the Glen Curtiss Flying School were training American pilots. “Have received almost positive assurance that the Aviation School will not be maintained after the war,” Munroe observed, adding,“Would now like to stop ... ceaseless dredging going on around Dinner Key.” Military profiteering, destructive dredging, and moral outrage persisted long after Munroe and the Great War—but so did Miami’s reputation as an aviation center. More gems await the Web traveler.

Gary R. Mormino
University of South Florida
St. Petersburg, Florida