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Miami Beach America's First Tropical Resort

Miami Beach has been called the “American Riviera,” “America's Playground” and the “Billion Dollar Sandbar.” Rising along the Atlantic Ocean on a barrier island, Miami Beach is separated from the city of Miami by Biscayne Bay. The city of Miami Beach has been one of the country's pre-eminent beach resorts since its incorporation in 1915. The sun, surf and legendary party atmosphere has become part of the American diaspora.

History of Miami Beach

The Tequesta Indians were the first known settlers in this region and were able to fend off European settlers until the 1800's. Once settlers staked their claim, Miami Beach began as a 165-acre plot of land intended for the cultivation and harvest of coconuts. New Jersey Quakers, Henry and Charles Lum (the first snowbirds?) purchased the land from the federal government in 1870 for 25 cents an acre. Eventually, their coconut venture floundered and failed. The land was then sold to John S. Collins and Thomas Pancoast, who were also from New Jersey.

In 1913, John Collins and Carl Fisher became partners. Fisher had made his fortune from his invention and later sale of the Presto-o-Lite Corporation and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He embarked on an agriculture venture on the beachfront land but much of it was a marshy wasteland. He then envisioned how to develop the mangrove barrier island into an oceanfront jewel and, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, dredged the thick mangroves into a man-made island paradise, known today as Miami Beach.

The city of Miami across the Biscayne Bay was already bustling with life and many entrepreneurs recognized the potential of Miami Beach as a residential and hotel boom-town. Fisher had a developer’s vision and loaned Collins the money he needed to complete the first bridge from Miami to Miami Beach in 1913. The bridge was, at the time, the longest wooden wagon bridge in the world. This milestone would be the catalyst for the 1915 incorporation of Miami Beach as a city. Various restaurants and hotels opened its doors to customers, including the legendary “Joe’s Stone Crabs” restaurant and the first hotel—The W. J. Brown.

The great boom of the 1920’s would see enormous growth and mansions erected over a three-mile stretch of land known as the “Millionaire’s Row.” During the Depression, groups from the northeast would build many small hotels along lower Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive, which would help bring the area out of the Depression. During World War II, Miami Beach became a major training center for the U.S. Army.

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