Julia Tuttle: The Mother of Miami and Her Remarkable Legacy
Early Life and Moving to Southern Florida
Julia DeForest Sturtevant Tuttle, born on January 22, 1849, was the daughter of Florida planter and state senator Ephraim Sturtevant. After marrying Frederick Leonard Tuttle in 1867, the couple had two children, Frances Emeline and Henry Ethelbert. In 1875, Julia visited the Biscayne Bay region of southern Florida, where her father owned a 40-acre orange grove. Captivated by the area, she returned to Cleveland, Ohio, with her family.
Following the deaths of her husband and father in the late 1880s, Julia found herself in financial difficulty. Inheriting her father’s land in Florida, she sold her home in Cleveland and relocated to Biscayne Bay. Using her inheritance, she purchased 640 acres of land, which now makes up the city of Miami, and moved her family there in 1891.
The Birth of Miami and Julia Tuttle’s Vision
Julia recognized the potential of her new home, envisioning a prosperous city with modern amenities surrounded by lush gardens. To realize her dream, she knew that a railroad was crucial for attracting development. Julia tirelessly tried to persuade Henry Flagler, an oil tycoon and industrialist, to extend his railroad to Fort Dallas (Miami).
The Great Freeze and Julia’s Opportunity
In 1894, the Great Freeze struck central and northern Florida, devastating the region’s orange groves. However, Biscayne Bay remained untouched, and Julia seized the opportunity to showcase her land’s resilience. She sent a bouquet of flowers and foliage to Flagler, proving her land was “freeze proof” and ideal for agriculture and tourism.
The Deal that Shaped Miami’s Future
Flagler, impressed by the region’s potential, agreed to extend his Florida East Coast Railway to Miami. In return, Julia and another prominent landowner, William Brickell, donated portions of their land for the railroad and various other developments.
On April 22, 1896, Flagler’s first train arrived in Miami, and the city was incorporated on July 28, 1896. Although women were not allowed to vote at the time, Julia Tuttle is widely recognized as the only woman to have founded a major American city.
Julia Tuttle’s Lasting Impact on Miami
Throughout her life, Julia worked tirelessly to develop Miami, opening its first laundry, bakery, and dairy. She also helped establish the area’s first Episcopal church and owned the Hotel Miami, paving the way for Flagler’s famed Royal Palm Hotel. Despite her numerous contributions, Julia died in debt on September 14, 1898, at the age of 49.
Honoring the Mother of Miami
Today, Julia Tuttle’s legacy is immortalized through the Julia Tuttle Causeway and a bronze statue in Bayfront Park. As the “Mother of Miami,” her vision and determination transformed a once desolate, swampy land into the vibrant, thriving city that Miami is today.
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