From the coral reefs to the Everglades the unique subtropical environment of South Florida makes this area unlike any other in the United States. Four hundred years ago the area was a center of international rivalry between the English and French to the north and the Spanish to the south. When the United States gained possession of Florida, the major industry was “wrecking” – living off the spoils from shipwrecks caused by sailing too close to the coral reefs. Early settlements were located near the Miami River and Biscayne Bay. In 1825 a lighthouse was built on Key Biscayne to warn passing ships of the dangerous reefs.
The modern era began with the arrival of Henry Flagler’s railroad in 1896. A system of drainage canals began to crisscross the area after the turn of the century. The destruction of mangroves and draining swampland created new land for settlers. In the 1920s a real estate boom changed the area as new subdivisions and tourist resorts were built. From one winter season to the next the City of Miami changed so rapidly that visitors remarked that it had “grown like magic” and Miami came to be know as the “Magic City.”
During World War II the military brought thousands of troops to the area for training. When the war ended many returned with their families to live here permanently. A growth surge in population followed the war and the number of tourists began a steady increase as advancements in transportation helped Miami-Dade become a year-round resort.
Today’s Miami International Airport helps make the county the North American gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the 1960s thousands of refugees from Cuba began coming into the area. In the 1990s Haitians fled their homeland to come here seeking a better life. Emigration helped the County’s population surpass one million in 1962. Today many different ethnic groups and cultures live in this modern metropolitan community.
When European ships first arrived on the South Florida coast Native American peoples called the Tequesta already inhabited the area.
The first people to live in the area, perhaps as long as 10,000 years ago, were nomads following herds of big game animals such as mammoth and bison. As these animals became extinct, the people turned to smaller game, along with fish and shellfish. Miami-Dade County’s archaeologist has uncovered evidence of these early peoples. The county is one of a very few to have its own archeologist on staff.
In 1998 archaeologists uncovered the “Miami Circle,” a series of holes cut into the oolitic limestone forming a 38-foot diameter circle located on the south side of the mouth of the Miami River. Radiocarbon testing of artifacts found at the site suggests that it is about 2,000 years old and that it served as a ceremonial site long after the arrival of the Europeans.
Juan Ponce de Leon visited the area in 1513. Two years after founding St. Augustine, Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles established the first European mission on the Miami River’s north bank in 1567. Hostile Indians and mosquitoes soon forced them to leave. The Spanish controlled Florida for the next 250 years, bringing with them modern weapons and diseases that eventually caused the Tequestas to vanish. In the early 1800s a few Bahamian families accepted Spain’s offer of land and began to settle and farm land along the Miami River.
Spain sold Florida to the United States for five million dollars in 1821. By 1830 the Bahamian lands along the river were purchased and became a slave plantation. A barracks built by the slaves was relocated to downtown’s Lummus Park in the 1920s.
A series of wars against the Seminoles kept the environment hostile to settlers. During the Second Seminole War army troops and navy sailors built Fort Dallas on the north bank of the mouth of the Miami River. At the end of the nineteenth century Henry Flagler built his elegant Royal Palm Hotel on the site so that travelers on his train would have a place to stay when they came to Miami.
When the county was created in 1836, it stretched from Indian Key to Jupiter inlet. By the late 1890s there were fewer than 1,000 residents in all of Dade County.
Indian Key was the first county seat, home to a new courthouse where the bounty from wrecked ships was awarded. The Key West courts were too busy and too far from the eastern keys, so locals persuaded the state to split Monroe and form a new county.
In 1844 the County seat was moved to Miami. Six years later a census reported 96 residents living the area.
Following the Civil War and the passing of the Homestead Act, determined homesteaders slowly began staking claims and farming the land.
Rapid development followed the arrival of the railroad 1896. The City of Miami was incorporated later that year with 344 voters.
The real estate boom of the 1920s was interrupted by a major hurricane and halted by the stock market crash and the Great Depression. On August 24, 1992 one of the country’s worst disasters caused more than $20 billion in damage when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami-Dade County.
Since that time communities have been rebuilt and today tourism and transportation continue to be the major local industries.
Miami-- The name comes from Mayaimi, which means "very large lake" and probably refers to Lake Okeechobee. The Miami River marked the beginning of a canoe trail through the Everglades to the big lake.
Dade – On February 4, 1836 the Florida legislature voted to name the new county for Major Francis Langhorne Dade who was massacred by Indians in north central Florida at the beginning of the Second Seminole War on December 28, 1835.