Updated November 13, 2020
Each of Florida's 8 geographic regions has its own interesting history. These pages tell you about that history and also show you the registered historic and heritage sites in that region.
Northwest Florida heritage and history are all around you as you travel through miles of mainly rural country, pine woods, and some of the most beautiful sand beaches in the world.
This region includes 12 counties. Culturally, it is more like Alabama than it is like the rest of Florida.
Northwest Florida heritage and history is evident in the many small towns that played a key part in early Florida history. You will see many monuments and memorials to the Old South in the form of Confederate soldier statues in town squares and in front of courthouses.
"Becalmed In The Mullet Latitudes" is a wonderful book by the late Al Burt published in 1983. Al was a long time Miami Herald columnist who had a deep love for Florida and a melancholy for the "old Florida" that was disappearing. He celebrated the Northwest Florida heritage along with other parts of rural Florida.
He identified and chronicled the disappearing old places that he
called the Mullet Latitudes. His name for Northwest Florida and the Panhandle was "Florabama". If Al were still alive, I think he'd stick with the name even though there has been a fair amount of Yankee migration into the area since he wrote his book.
Pensacola was settled by the Spanish in 1559. It was the first European settlement in the United States. It was a rival to St. Augustine on the Atlantic settled in 1565 on the other side of the state.
Pensacola was the first capital of Florida. When Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821, the capital was moved shortly after to Tallahassee because it was about halfway between Pensacola and St. Augustine.
After the Spanish left and Florida became a U.S. territory, settlers from Alabama and Georgia began homesteading small farms. In in the years before the Civil War, northern Florida was the most populated region of Florida. These early settlers had a lot to do with establishing Northwest Florida heritage as part of the Old South.
This part of Florida remained largely rural and remote until after World War Two. Many houses and farms did not have electricity until after the war. The communities survived on farming and fishing. Turpentine, naval stores and other timber based chemicals were important businesses in the years immediately before and after World War Two. The pine woods also attracted lumber and paper mills.
The Congressman Bob Sikes Era Begins
The Florida panhandle had a U.S. Congressman named Bob Sikes from Crestview. He was an expert at bringing home the bacon. That's a good old American phrase that means he was good at getting Federal money for his Congressional District.
He had a lot to do with bringing many of the military installations to Florabama. He was in Congress from 1941 to 1979, with some time off during World War Two when he joined the military. He helped preserve and continue the military elements of Northwest Florida heritage.
Eglin Air Force Base was built just before World War Two near Fort Walton Beach. It pulled the remote backwoods panhandle into the modern world.
Eglin is the largest military installation in the United States. The base sprawls across three counties, and is about the same size as Rhode Island. I took my Navy pilot survival training course in the swamps and jungles of Eglin known as the boondocks.
The base is named for Fritz Eglin, an early Army aviator who died in a plane crash. I did not know until years later that my father is named Fritz in honor of the downed pilot. Eglin was my grandfather's classmate at Wabash College in Indiana. Read more about Fritz Eglin here.
Panama City is the unofficial capital of Florabama, with Pensacola running a close second. The Florabama beaches are known by Floridians as the "redneck riviera". They have traditionally attracted Alabama and Georgia tourists.
Star high school football players in Florabama do not typically go to the University of Florida or Florida State University. They are more likely to sign up with the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Auburn Tigers.
The Florida panhandle has fewer "Go Gator" bumper stickers than anywhere else in the State.
A notable exception is Emmitt Smith, Hall of Fame running back for the NFL Dallas Cowboys. Mr. Smith graduated from Escambia High School in Pensacola and went on to gridiron glory at the University of Florida. You non-football fans may remember him from "Dancing With The Stars".
North Central Florida heritage and history will be your constant companion as you travel from Monticello near the Georgia border, to Tallahassee, Gainesville and Cedar Key
This is a rural region with small southern towns and statues of Confederate soldiers in the town squares and ancient oak trees draped with Spanish moss.
This region has some of the best college football in the United States with the Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles and Florida A&M Rattlers.
North Central Florida hugs the Georgia border like a baby hangs onto its mother. In his book "Becalmed In The Mullet Latitudes", Al Burt named this part of the state Florgia. The name Florgia still fits after all of these years - half Florida, half Georgia.
Most of the Florida natives in these counties are descended from early settlers who came down from Georgia and South Carolina after the Civil War. They were confederate veterans and sympathizers. The modern descendants of these early settlers are known for their Southern Hospitality. It's common when your visit is over for your hostess to say "Y'all come see us again, y'hear?".
This land is still Georgia heritage country. Florgia is the home of the famous Florida Cracker. When I moved to Florida almost 50 years ago, this region along with Northwest and Northeast Florida, dominated state politics. A legislator from a lightly populated north Florida county had as much power as one representing millions of people in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
The entire state was controlled by these old-time southern segregationist Democrats. About 20 of these good ole boys always voted together. Florida history refers to these folks as "The Pork Chop Gang". The gang was good at bringing home the bacon to their small north Florida communities. North Central Florida heritage and history still honors the names of these old politicians.
By the 1970's enough Yankees had moved to south Florida that the old system crumbled. The Florida legislature passed laws that apportioned seats according to population. The old days of "one district-one vote" were gone forever. The balance of power shifted toward the population centers of south Florida. That's where the power remains today.
Tallahassee is the state capital and the home of the Florida State University Seminoles and the Florida A&M University Rattlers. Gainesville is the home of the University of Florida Gators. An important part of North Central Florida heritage is pride in their nationally ranked football teams.
Northeast Florida heritage and history is unique and will be on your mind as you drive the beautiful beaches and old towns.
In addition to tourism, the area also has a solid industrial base and a lot of insurance company jobs.
Jacksonville is sometimes known as "The Hartford of The South" because so many insurance companies are headquartered here.
This diverse economy means that tourism is not the only game in town.
Northeast Florida is divided from Georgia by the St. Marys River. There are 7 counties in northeast Florida. The western counties are rural, but the region is crowned by Jacksonville, one of Florida's major cities.
Jacksonville is called by some the "Capital of South Georgia" because so many of its residents come from the pineywoods farms and towns around Waycross, Baxley, Valdosta and other south Georgia communities. The resulting Northeast Florida heritage is southern. Jacksonville, for example, has a Confederate Park and many memorials around town to the "Lost Cause".
Fernandina Beach is on the north end of Amelia Island. This town is the northernmost in Florida. It was booming long before Jacksonville was even on the map. Senator David Yulee built a railroad from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key. This was years before Henry Flagler extended his railroad down the east coast changing St. Augustine history forever.
Fernandina and St. Marys across the river in Georgia each have thriving shrimping industries. Like the Floribama beaches, Fernandina Beach is also known as the "redneck riviera" for the multitudes of vacationing south Georgians. Summer is the tourist season in north Florida.
Amelia Island is one of the large barrier islands along the coast known as the Golden Isles. Cumberland Island and Jekyll Island to the north are in Georgia. They are part of this chain of isles noted for their beautiful beaches and forested sand dunes. State Road A1A is the main travel route from north to south on Amelia Island. You will get to take the car ferry from Ft. George Island across the St. Johns River to the fishing village of Mayport.
Amelia Island is unique in Florida history. It is the only place in the United States to have been under 8 different flags: French, Spanish, British, American Patriots, Green Cross of Florida, Mexican, Confederate and United States. Northeast Florida heritage includes touches of many of these cultures.
Amelia Island Plantation is a beautiful resort and residential community. It was one of the first modern developments to be designed in harmony with nature. Like many innovative projects, the original developer went broke.
The annual Florida-Georgia football game is played in Jacksonville each year. It was picked because it is about halfway between Athens, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida. It is one of the most important pageants in Florida history.
Jacksonville offers some locational neutrality. University of Florida and University of Georgia fans get very emotional about their teams. It's like the Civil War: cousins against cousins. The annual gathering of the fans for this event is known as "the world's largest outdoor cocktail party".
Gator and Bulldog fans still use this moniker even though alcohol has been banned from the stadium itself in recent years. Once you're in the stadium it's hard to tell which Cracker fan is who without the school colors.
Gators wear orange and blue, Dawgs wear red and black.
No trip to Northeast Florida is complete without a visit to St. Augustine. America's oldest continually occupied city, it is an unbelievable mixture of past and present. In one sense, it is as Southern as any small north Florida town. It has always been the center of commerce for the little farms in St. Johns, Flagler, and southern Duval Counties.
On the other hand, it is loaded with an eclectic combination of gaudy tourist attractions standing side by side with authentic old Spanish structures nearly 450 years old. It is a unique place. I first visited it in 1960 while on weekend liberty from my ship in Jacksonville. I stayed in a small boarding house. That same boarding house is still there in 2018, but is now a trendy bed and breakfast. The thing about Northeast Florida heritage is that although it changes, it stays the same in many respects.
Central East Florida heritage and history is an intriguing blend of Old Florida and the high tech space age.
The area began to attract settlers in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War in 1865. Prior to that, it was pretty much a "no man's land".
The beginning of the space age was at Cape Canaveral in the early 1950's. The heritage is still being made with the space program in Brevard County and the racing legends at Daytona Speedway.This heritage is shared by all 5 counties in this region. Each county has its fair share of sites that are an important part of Florida heritage and history.
Early settlements were in Ormond, Titusville, Cocoa, EauGallie, Melbourne, Sebastian and Fort Pierce. In those early days, life revolved around the Indian River Lagoon. Fishing provided a livelihood, and the communities were tied together by riverboat transportation in the years before the railroad.
Henry Flagler began extending his railroad south from St. Augustine, and one by one most of these little towns were served by the railroad and began to grow.
The area includes a great diversity of towns and attractions. It starts in the north with Daytona Beach and its International Speedway and world famous beaches. It's center is anchored by Cape Kennedy. The Space Age exists contentedly among the old Florida towns of Titusville, Cocoa and Melbourne.
Central Florida heritage and history begins with the early native Americans who dwelled in the area 12,000 years ago.
Central Florida felt the impact of three separate wars between the United States and the Seminole Indians. These wars were:
First Seminole War: 1816-1819
Second Seminole War: 1835-1842
Third Seminole War: 1855-1858
The forts built during the Seminole wars gave their names to many of the settlements in Central Florida. Fort King is now Ocala, Fort Gatlin is now Orlando, Fort Pierce is still Fort Pierce. Fort Drum, Fort Christmas, Fort Ogden, Fort Meade and other old forts are now either small villages or just place names in Florida history. They are still a large part of Central Florida heritage.
Many of the early settlers in Central Florida were pioneers who came down from Georgia and the Carolinas after the Civil War. The next big wave of people came after World War Two. The first settlers began arriving in Central Florida in the years just after the final Seminole War in 1858 through the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction in 1877.
These early Florida residents were the ancestors of the Florida Cracker.
Many of the pioneers began to homestead and start ranches in the prairie lands around Kissimmee, St. Cloud, Orlando and Ocala. In later years, they and other settlers planted citrus. Central Florida was the citrus and cattle capital of the world during the "Golden Era" of 1875 to 1895. The area led the world in citrus production until several freezes and epidemics of citrus canker devastated the groves and pushed the operations further south.
At one time Kissimmee was connected to the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers by a navigable waterway.
Ships traveled along the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and west through the Caloosahatchee River. Kissimmee was a large port with many passenger and freight ships stopping by on a regular basis. Cattle and citrus were shipped out to ports around the world.
The Central Florida heritage of the cowboy is still very evident today in St. Cloud and Kissimmee. The annual Silver Spurs rodeo event is still a huge happening in these Central Florida Cracker towns.
The rural nature of Central Florida began to change when Martin Marietta built a huge defense plant in Orlando in the 1950's. The next big change was the development of Canaveral Air Station and Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County. These two projects had major impacts on Orlando's population. These huge endeavors are now part of Central Florida heritage.
The biggest changes of all came when Walt Disney World opened in October 1971.
The population boomed and so did the traffic problems. The success of Disney encouraged other competitors to join in the fun and profit. Central Florida is now the location of the largest theme parks in Florida. Florida travel for most tourists includes visits to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld.
Central Florida heritage and history takes place in 9 counties that sprawl along the high sand ridge that is Florida's spine. This ridge was the beach in ancient times, and its surface is made of old rolling sand dunes. This large region starts between Ocala and Gainesville in the north, and extends south to the citrus country around Lake Placid and Sebring.
Ocala's rolling hills and pastures are known for producing some of the finest thoroughbred horses in the world. A wonderful Central Florida travel experience is to drive among the horse farms that surround Ocala.
The center part of this region, around Orlando and Clermont, was the citrus capital of the state until a big freeze changed things forever. Devastating freezes in Central Florida in the early 1980's destroyed many thousands of acres of groves. These old grove lands have been replaced in many cases by modern subdivisions.
Florida history has abundant examples of towns that thrived until their underlying resources were gone. Citrus and cypress boom towns are two examples. Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and the other attractions transformed the area around Orlando into the sun and fun capital of the world.
Although Central Florida thrives on tourism, it is also the agricultural center of Florida. Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, celery and watercress are all grown in this area along the ridge and in the adjacent flatlands and valleys. Not so far south of Orlando you can still see cowboys at work in the vast pastures that range all the way down to Holopaw, Yeehaw Junction and beyond. These cowboys are a living reminder of Central Florida heritage.
Even with the population explosion around Orlando, the rural regions south of Kissimmee and St. Cloud still enjoy some of the quietest places in Florida. Orlando straddles I-4 and is the central anchor to the fast growing I-4 corridor. It is the major city in Central Florida. Since it is near the center of the State, many Floridians think it should be the state capital instead of Tallahassee.
US-27 is a major north-south four lane highway that meanders along the ridge part of the region. This is where some of the major citrus groves are located. The major tourist attractions in Orlando put a tremendous traffic load on I-4 and US-27. There are plenty of back roads in Orange County and surrounding counties that will help you avoid the traffic. Don't be afraid to explore and learn more about Central Florida heritage.
Central West Florida heritage and history begins with the early native Americans who dwelled in the area 12,000 years ago.
Most of these ancient tribes disappeared after the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500's.
Florida history is full of articles about Henry Flagler and his extension of the Florida East Coast Railway from St. Augustine all the way down to Key West. Henry Plant is not as well known to Florida history, but he had a similar impact on the development in this other coast of Florida and he is an important part of Central West Florida heritage and history.
Tampa was a small fishing village on the Hillsborough River when Plant's railroad came to town in the 1880's. He built the Tampa Bay Hotel between 1888 and 1891. The hotel was designed to surpass all other grand winter resorts. At a cost of $3 million, the 511-room giant rose to a flamboyant height of five stories, surrounded by ornate Victorian gingerbread and topped by Moorish minarets, domes and cupolas.
During the Spanish American War, the U.S. Army used the facilities as a staging area for the invasion of Cuba. Among the soldiers who stayed there was future American president Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. Florida history and American history quite often intersect like this.
The Tampa Bay Hotel is now the home of the University of Tampa and the visible centerpiece of Central West Florida heritage .
In addition to Tampa, Central West Florida heritage and history includes the populated areas of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Sarasota. This region of Florida has 8 counties, ranging from rural Desoto County to Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. Some of these are the most rural and culturally southern areas remaining in the state.
It is also known as the western part of the I-4 Corridor. Tampa, Orlando and Daytona Beach are all growing toward each other along this corridor. Some day it will probably all resemble one big city just as south Florida does along I-95 from West Palm Beach to south of Miami.
Central West Florida is a very urban region with large populations in Tampa and St. Petersburg. With Busch Gardens in Tampa and with Orlando only an hour or less away, this area is also a rival to Miami and Orlando in the Florida tourism industry. Like Central Florida, the region also has vast agricultural operations. Groves and farms predominate in the eastern part of the region away from the coast.
Central West Florida heritage is culturally diverse. The northern and eastern counties are rural and more southern. Brooksville has a statue of a confederate soldier in front of the City Hall. Cowboys with Stetson hats and hand rolled cigarettes can still be found around town in Arcadia.
Central West Florida heritage in Tampa includes the Cuban cigar industry that flourished here more than 100 years ago. Ybor City, named after Cuban cigar king Vicente Martinez Ybor, is a working neighborhood with fine lodging and restaurants.
The southern part of Central West Florida -Sarasota, Bradenton and Venice - is culturally more like the American midwest than the rest of Florida. Cattle and farm fields sprawl across the landscape.
Before the interstate highways, US-41 fed transplants into west coast Florida from Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota. Their New England counterparts took US-1 down the east coast to Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
My grandparents retired to Venice in 1962. They drove down from Indiana in their beat up 1953 Chevy BelAir. US-41 was the way they came. I guess my Hoosier grandparents were part of Florida history. I guess we all are because the State has changed so fast and most of us Floridians are from someplace else.
Until recent years, it was rare to hear a New York or Boston brogue in Central West or Southwest Florida. That all changed after the completion of I-75 and I-95. The completion of those major interstate highways made it easier for people up north to escape the snow and drive to either coast.
The New England brogue is now showing up in Central West Florida. The Midwestern twang is also now more common in East Central and Southeast Florida than before the new interstate highways. Florida has always been the melting pot of the United States. That is the Central West Florida heritage as well.
Fishing is a Central West Florida heritage that binds people together from all parts of the world. Each region of Florida has its own best fishing spots, both fresh and salt water. The beach communities west of St. Pete are staging points for a lot of great charter fishing.
Southwest Florida heritage and history begins with the early native Americans, the Calusa, who lived in the area 12,000 years ago.
Many of the early settlers in this area were cattlemen, ranchers, farmers and fishermen who came here from other parts of Florida.
Thomas Edison put southwest Florida on the map.
Southwest Florida history certainly began before Edison and his cronies took up residence in Fort Myers. And there was a little bit of action down in Naples and Everglades City before Barron Collier came along. But not much. The history of Southwest Florida is one of transformation because these men came to the area.
Thomas Edison loved Southwest Florida, and spent 40 winters at his home in Fort Myers. His buddies Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone also had places in Fort Myers, and the three of them collaborated on many business ventures. Edison worked on many of his major inventions in Fort Myers.
In the early days of Fort Myers, Edison offered the city free electricity for all of the streetlights if the city would pay for the lights. The city council turned down Edison's offers because they were afraid the streetlights would keep the cows awake at night.
Southwest Florida heritage and history has been impacted simply by the fact that these three famous men chose to winter here. It gave the area tremendous national publicity.
Southwest Florida history covers some pretty diverse ground. You will find old Florida country towns with a cattle heritage, and some fantastically rich towns.
Back in the 1920's Naples was reported to have 26 millionaires and 22 rum runners. Those were the days of Prohibition, and fast boats made the run from Cuban and the Bahamas to Naples.
Barron Collier came along and changed Southwest Florida history and his family is still part of Southwest Florida heritage.
He was not as famous as Edison, Ford and Firestone, but he was a man of action and a self-made advertising millionaire. The State of Florida had been wanting to build a road connecting Naples to Miami, but didn't have the money to pull it off. Collier became the solution to the problem.
He had purchased huge tracts of land in Southwest Florida. His first major purchase was in 1906, when he bought Useppa Island south of Boca Grande pass. The Collier Inn on Useppa is still an Old Florida masterpiece.
Collier saw the value of connecting Southwest Florida with the east coast of Florida. He worked a deal where he would finance the construction of a road from Naples to Miami. It wasn't until 1923 that he was able to start construction on the Naples to Miami section. In return for Collier's road building efforts, the State created Collier County out of the southern part of Lee County in 1923.
It was the location of most of his vast land holdings. The descendants of Barron Collier still are the largest private land owners in Collier County.
Collier's road was named Tamiami Trail. It is that segment of US-41 that connects Tampa to Miami. It is the highway that finally opened southwest Florida travel to the rest of the state. It led to the discovery of southwest Florida by the people moving to Florida.
Of the 8 rest areas with lodging and restaurants that Collier built along the Trail, only one survived into modern times. It was a dilapidated old wooden building at Monroe Station, a lonely outpost many miles east of Naples. A fire took it down in 2016.
According to Wikipedia, the Tamiami Trail took 13 years to build.It cost $8 million and used 2.6 million sticks of dynamite in its construction.The Tamiami Trail officially opened on April 25, 1928.
Unlike the east coast of Florida, and even Tampa, Southwest Florida did not participate in a big way in the 1920's real estate boom that finally collapsed in the aftermath of the two killer hurricanes. The 1926 Miami hurricane, and the one that followed in 1928, put a crashing stop to the frenzied land boom on the east coast.
In the years that followed, Southwest Florida remained one of the quietest and least known areas of the state. Southwest Florida heritage and history - at least in the twentieth century - reflect the American mid-western culture more than any other area of the state. Although many mid-westerners stopped in Tampa and Sarasota, it seems more of them kept pressing southward to Fort Myers and Naples.
Today, Southwest Florida is a vast region of beaches, high rise condominiums and wealthy golf course communities. It stretches from the white sand beaches of Englewood in the north to the marshy fishing villages of Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island in the south.
There are more golf courses in Southwest Florida than you can shake a putter at. The area also has great fishing and boating.
Southeast Florida history has been shaped by many cultures and characters. Thousands of years ago, the Tequesta tribe of Indians lived on Biscayne Bay in what are now Miami-Dade County and south Broward County.
A few of the original Tequesta Indians were in Southeast Florida including some populations along the Florida Keys. Most of these ancient tribes disappeared by the middle of the 1700's. After that, Bahamians were among the earliest settlers in Southeast Florida. Many of them became the first citizens of what is now Coconut Grove in Miami. The Indians and Bahamians contributed to what is now Southeast Florida heritage.
If the north Florida regions are also known as Florabama and Florgia, then Southeast Florida could be called lower New York or northern Havana or Floracuba. Modern immigrants from the New England states and Latin and Central America give the region its diverse flavor. You can enjoy a New York Pizza, an Argentinian steak, and a Jamaican beef patty and never leave your friendly neighborhood shopping center. This makes Southeast Florida heritage among the most diverse in the country.
Without the Standard Oil Company, Southeast Florida heritage and history would be entirely different. Henry Morrison Flaglerwas John D. Rockefeller's partner in that giant firm. Flagler sold out to Rockefeller and moved to Florida in 1885. He was rich, but like Colonel Sanders he wasn't the kind of man who considered retirement.
His first Florida venture was to build the giant 540 room Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine. This magnificent building is now the home of Flagler College. The hotel opened in 1888 and was a huge success. Flagler saw the potential in developing the entire Florida coast south of St. Augustine. He went to work creating what he would refer to as the "American Riviera".
The development of Southeast Florida began in earnest when Flagler began to push his Florida East Coast Railway to the south from St. Augustine. His railroad created Florida history town by town as it marched south. Each town has its share of Southeast Florida heritage brought to it by Henry Flagler.
Before the railroad pushed southward, Southeast Florida was as remote as any place in the United States. Transportation between the coastal communities was by shallow draft boats and paddle wheel steamers. Flagler's destination was Palm Beach. That's where he planned to end his railroad.
When the railroad made it to Palm Beach in 1894, he built the 1100 room Royal Poinciana Hotel and a couple of years later the Breakers Hotel. The Royal Poinciana was the largest hotel in Florida history at the time. At the same time, he developed West Palm Beach as a community where the hotel workers could live.
Flagler might have been content to stop the railroad in West Palm Beach. He didn't have a high opinion of Florida south of Palm Beach. An unusual weather event made him change his mind. In 1894 and 1895 the Palm Beach area suffered severe freezes. The area down south that now includes Miami did not get the freeze. Julia Tuttle owned a trading post on the Miami River. The town of Miami didn't even exist yet.
Tuttle had been trying to convince Flagler to run the railroad south to her area. An old Florida history book says that Julia sent Henry an orange blossom to show him that Miami did not suffer a freeze. Whether the story is true or not, something convinced Mr. Flagler to extend his railroad to Miami. And the rest is Southeast Florida heritage and history.
Later, when he was in his eighties, he pushed on across the Florida Keys and terminated his venture in Key West. Development followed the railroad, and Southeast Florida history was transformed.
Palm Beach became the playground of the rich and famous. Fort Lauderdale and Miami expanded west and created some of the first large planned communities. Miami grew from Julia Tuttle's trading post at the mouth of the Miami River to become the virtual business center for Latin America.
Northerners from New England followed US-1 down the east coast of Florida. Many fell in love with the palm studded coast and decided to stay. During World War Two, Miami Beach hotels were converted to military barracks. Many of the soldiers and sailors who trained in Miami Beach came back to paradise after the war ended.
Fidel Castro and his communist revolution succeeded in Cuba, and huge waves of Cuban refugees escaped to Miami in the early 1960's. They transformed Miami into a great Latin City. Castro's loss is Miami's gain. The Latin flair is evident today in the music, festivals and cuisine that are Miami's trademarks.
The people in the Florida Keys march to their own drummer. Maybe that's because it was a series of isolated islands until Henry Flagler changed it all. Flagler's Florida Overseas Railroad road had been an engineering marvel. The railroad tied the Keys to the mainland for the first time when it was completed in 1912.
Flagler did not live long enough to see his masterpiece completely destroyed by the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. After the hurricane, the old railroad bridges and track beds became US-1, known in the Keys as the Overseas Highway. Key West still remained, literally, the end of the road.
Early natives of the Florida Keys were originally descended from the Loyalist pioneers of the Bahamas. Many of the family names in Key West and Monroe County are the same as the ones in Abaco, Bahamas.
Before the railroad, keys residents made their livings fishing and "wrecking". Wrecking involved salvaging ships and materials that grounded on the rocky waters around the Keys.
The natives of the lower Keys were always known as conchs, named after the mollusk that was abundant in the waters of Florida and The Bahamas. That's pronounced "konk", like a konk in the head. Not "conch" like a fat man's paunch.
The Conchs tried to secede from the United States in 1982. They did not succeed in seceding. Many Conchs in recent years have migrated north to Ocala, Gainesville and other rural Florida areas.
There are many back roads in Southeast Florida that are worth traveling. Although most of them are in urban areas, some of them haven't changed much in the past century.