Escape from the frost
Dr. Marvin Dunn goes into detail about how the Great Freeze in the late 19th century affected South Florida’s development.
The great freeze launches a great city
Snow in the sunshine state?
In the winters of 1894 and 1895, right before Miami became a city, most of Florida was hit with some of the coldest weather ever recorded. Temperatures had dropped below 20* across the state once in December, and again in February. The result: a monumental loss to citrus crops and the devastation of many farmers’ livelihoods.
These back-to-back temperature drops would be come to known as The Great Freeze. Before 1895, Florida’s citrus industry was thriving, and the state was producing six million boxes of fruit per year. After the freeze, the state was only producing 100,000 boxes per year.
According to the legend, this event is what caused Miami’s founder and visionary Julia Tuttle, to send fragrant orange blossoms to railroad magnate Henry Flagler to demonstrate that the freeze did not affect South Florida. He was so impressed, he was persuaded to expand his railroad to the fishing village that would become Miami.
This decision resulted in the influx of population looking for work and warmer weather. In 1896, the city became incorporated with a little more than 300 residents. Today, Miami is home to over 470,000 people. Florida’s citrus industry has completely bounced back and leads the United States in production of the crop.
“…during one of Flagler’s early visits, when the Royal Palm was under construction, he was surprised that people were not buying lots and building homes but instead living in tents. When he was told most could not afford to buy a lot or build a home because they had been wiped out by the 1894-95 freeze in north Florida, Flagler replied, “We must have homes for these people, and we must build them.”
“The Great Freeze which struck the southeastern United States in the winter of 1894-1895 propelled ruined farmers and farm workers, white and black, to settle in warmer south Florida. Ultimately, this led to the arrival of the Florida East Coast Railroad at Biscayne bay in 1896 and the founding of the city of Miami in that year.”