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A Special Moment In Time: 1896 Miami’s Most Crucial Year


By Seth H. Bramson

There are certain years in certain cities that can be defined as “crucible” years, meaning that those years were either the single most important in and to the history of that particular town or city or one of several that fit that definition. Chicago, for example, will always be defined by the great world’s fairs of 1893 and 1933-34 as well as the years of the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948-49. For New York it will be the great blizzard year of 1888, the world’s fairs of 1939-40 and 1964-65 and, of course 2001. Miami is another city that has had several crucible years including 1896, 1912, 1926 1941 and 1960, but, unquestionably, the single most important year for what would become one of the world’s greatest cities was 1896.

What happened in 1896 and why is and why should that year be considered the single most important year in the city’s history? The answer is simple: because in that year five important events would prove to be the most important in the formation and shaping of what would, just a few years after its founding, be called “The Magic City.”

The railroad construction crews of Henry Flagler’s re-named in September of 1895 as Florida East Coast Railway were pushing steadily toward Biscayne Bay as ’95 came to an end, the result of the agreement reached by Mr. Flagler, Julia Tuttle and Mary and William Brickell whereby Tuttle and Brickell would donate half of their holdings (the former’s north of the river, the latter’s to the south, plus fifty acres given by Tuttle for the railroads shops and yards) to Flagler in exchange for his extending the railroad to the north bank of the Miami River and building one of his great hotels upon said bank., with the hotel’s construction also underway in late ’95.

The year 1896 began quietly enough but on February 6th of that year a fellow by the name of Isidor Cohen would, for the first time, set foot in what would become Miami, a story of such important moment that an entire column will need to be—and will be devoted to that event.

Cohen’s arrival would prove to be a major asset to the yet-unborn city as in addition to his business acumen and his desire to see the city come to life, he was the first permanent Jewish settler and his story is told in detail in L’Chaim! The History of the Jewish Community of Greater Miami, published by The History Press of Charleston and available in local book stores, at amazon.com or from sethbramsonbooks.com.
The second major occurrence of 1896 was the arrival of the Florida East Coast Railway on April 15th. Interestingly, while there were well-wishers on hand, the crowd was surprisingly small. Among those in attendance were Mr. Flagler, his now famous in Florida history lieutenants, James E. Ingraham (for whom Miami’s Ingraham Building is named) and Joseph R. Parrott, Flagler’s railroad vice president, along with Mr. Cohen, who, in his 1923 self-published Memoirs and History of Miami, Florida describes Flagler, Ingraham and Parrott as “an odd lot.”
For a very short time, the station, a wooden building of extremely small proportions and looking somewhat like a shack, was opened on what would become Avenue E at what would become 12th Street, the names being changed in 1921 so that, under the Chaille-devised quadrant system of street numbering, Avenue D would become Miami Avenue, Avenue E Northwest First Avenue and 12th Street would be named Flagler Street.

After only a few months serving as the depot, the railroad moved the passenger and express operation to Sixth Street (the only street whose name or number remained the same after the 1921 renaming and re-numbering of streets and avenues in Myamuh under the Chaille Plan) just west of “Boulevard” as what would become Biscayne Boulevard was named at the time. The FEC’s trains would stop at the beautiful depot, then pull across the Boulevard and unload or load passengers, baggage and express at the Florida East Coast Steamship Company’s dock, approximately where the American Airlines Arena is today. That station served as Miami’s terminal until December of 1912, following the opening of the Key West Extension in January of that year.

The opening of the new station, on the through line to South Dade County and onward to Key West enabled trains to load and unload at the new facility on the mainline (enroute to and from South Dade and Key West) at what would become number 200 Northwest First Avenue.

Next: The three remaining events add to the importance of 1896 as Miami’s crucible year.

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