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Debunking the Henry Flagler Orange Blossom Myth

The most shameful of the numerous myths plaguing South Florida’s history is “the orange blossom myth,” wherein, supposedly, Julia Tuttle sent Mr. Flagler some orange blossoms to induce him to extend his railroad to the shores of Biscayne Bay. Simply put, it never happened, and when you read the truth and facts about what really did happen, authored by America’s foremost authority on the histories of both the FEC Railway and Greater Miami, you will realize that what has come to be thought of as gospel is, in reality, a bunch of fol-de-rol and, in truth and fact, that it never happened.

It is high time that the orange blossom myth is debunked once and for all, for the truth and fact is that Julia Tuttle did not send Mr. Flagler orange blossoms, a bouquet of flowers or anything else to get him to extend the railroad to the shores of Biscayne Bay. Or, as I like to say at the talks that I give and in what I have written previously, “how did she send them? By FedEx? By Postal Service overnight?” Again, the facts are and the truth is that she and Mary and William Brickell sent Mr. Flagler letters, not floral arrangements.

The story is pure, unadulterated nonsense. A fable, a fairy tale, a myth, or, as we would say in French, a COMPLETE and total bubbemisseh as well as being utter hokum and it is well past the time that those who should know better stop bandying about that silliness as if it was fact, which it is not.

The myth was first debunked as early as 1913 when the then-incorporated village of Coconut Grove published a beautiful promotional booklet in which they clearly stated that no such thing happened and that it was a lovely and romantic story, but completely untrue. The facts are found in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of Rail:  Florida East Coast Railway” (P. 9), and, more completely, in Arcadia’s “Images of America: Miami the Magic City” (P. 7) wherein the true story is told regarding how and why Henry Flagler made the decision to extend the railroad the 66 miles south from West Palm Beach to what was then not yet the City of Miami.

THE FACTS: Following the great and terrible freezes of December, 1894 and January and February, 1895, Mrs. Tuttle wrote or wired Mr. Flagler that the region around the shores of Biscayne Bay was untouched by the bitter cold. She asked him to come south to take a “look-see,” but contrary to the fallacious and made-up tales, he did not, instead sending his now famous in Florida history lieutenants, James Ingraham, his land commissioner, for whom the Ingraham Building on Southeast Second Avenue just south of Flagler Street is named, and Joseph R. Parrott, his railroad vice president. Upon making the trip south they were amazed when they found the area lush and verdant and green. They took boxes of truck (produce) and citrus back to Mr. Flagler, along with two citrus tree limbs wrapped in wet cotton. (There was no record made of which variety of citrus the tree limbs were, whether orange, tangerine, lemon, lime or grapefruit) Upon their return to St. Augustine they presented the variety of vegetation which they brought back and explained to Mr. Flagler that the treeze line appeared to be somewhere in the vicinity of one to two miles north or south of today’s Broward Boulevard in today’s Broward County, which at that time, as was all of Palm Beach County and Martin County (Stuart) part of Dade County.

Mr. Flagler, after examining the produce said, “gentlemen, are you sure? Are you certain?” And after being assured that the conditions south of the freeze line were as Messrs. Ingraham and Parrot described, he then wired Mrs. Tuttle: “Madam,” he asked, “What is it that you propose?”

Mary and William Brickell had previously offered Mr. Flagler half of their land south of the river but Mrs. Tuttle’s offer was the icing on the cake: “If you will extend your railroad to the shores of Biscayne Bay and build one of your great hotels” she told him, “then in addition to what has already been promised you by Mr. and Mrs. Brickell, I will give you half of my holdings north of the river plus fifty acres for shops and yards.”

As a further note, perhaps in the next submission we will explain that Julia Tuttle was NOT “the mother of Miami” and that, again in truth and fact, there were at least four “mothers of Miami,” and we will clarify that next time.

With that, the deal was finalized, contracts were drawn up and signed by the appropriate parties. The first train, a construction train, arrived on April 15, 1896, the first passenger train arriving one week later, on April 22, 1896, with the first excursion from north Florida arriving on May 11th. On May 15th the first edition of “The Miami Metropolis,” Miami’s first newspaper, was published and on July 28, 1896 Miami, without ever having been a village or a town or an incorporated entity of any kind sprang into existence as a city. The great and fabled Royal Palm Hotel opened on the north bank of the Miami River on December 31, 1896, NOT in 1897 as some faux historians have stated.

That is how it happened, not because “she sent him some orange blossoms!”

With a short “P. S.” as “the icing on the cake:” The Brickells signed their agreement with Mr. Flagler on June 12, 1895; Mrs. Tuttle did not sign her agreement until October 24 of that year, four months later, but, and unfortunately and unhappily, several organizations and individuals (“no names, please, we’re British”) came up with the orange blossom fol-de-rol and falsely named Julia Tuttle as “the mother of Miami,” of which she is not only not the sole person involved in the formation of the city on July 28, 1896, but, rather, and as noted above, is one of at least four “mothers of Miami.”

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