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The 1910s: A time of commerce, pioneer farmers and wild boat parties

This was the decade when the frontier town of Fort Lauderdale became the center of the region's burgeoning commerce. Its early and naive efforts at mercantilism involved the exploitation and destruction of what is now recognized as a vital environmental asset: the Everglades.

For several years, Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, whose name later graced the county, had been draining the Everglades to expose its rich muck to farming. At the same time, workers were scouring out the North New River Canal, opening a route to Fort Myers via Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River.

In 1912, that cross-Florida route was completed, as was the Florida East Coast Canal, later the Intracoastal Waterway, which offered a north-south route from Jacksonville to Miami. Fort Lauderdale, along with the trading post that pioneer Frank Stranahan had operated for nearly 20 years, found itself in the economically beneficial intersection of transportation and agriculture.

Thousands of prospective farmers flocked to Fort Lauderdale to participate in a lottery for the drained Everglades land. They established primitive homesteads and, known as Sawgrass Savages, grew citrus and winter vegetables such as tomatoes, beans and peppers. That bounty was barged down the New River, crated and loaded on trains at the Andrews Avenue station for a journey to northern markets.

Fish houses, too, sprang up along the New River, polluting its once crystal waters.

Steamboating was at its peak. Tourists made the trip from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers in three days on a $12 fare. And the first in the city's long tradition of party boats was the Wanderer, a 90-foot, lavishly appointed stern paddler. It was owned by the burly and rich New Englander Charles Cory, who presided over shipboard parties that lasted for days and featured a steady supply of women described by townsfolk as "wild young actresses."

Cory also organized 10-day-long hunting parties. President Grover Cleveland and Admiral George Dewey were among participants.

Rendered obsolete by new rail lines and shoaling channels, the steamboat era ended in 1921, when the last passenger vessel, the Passing Thru, made the voyage from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Lauderdale on Christmas Day. The Wanderer sank in the brutal hurricane of 1926.

Other advances during the decade included a fire department, formed shortly after a blaze leveled most of downtown in 1912. The city's new high school graduated its first class three years later.

Telephone lines came to town in 1914, and Dixie Highway was completed a year later. In 1919 Hollywood director D.W. Griffith, of "Birth of a Nation" fame, spent months along the New River filming "Idol Dancer," a South Seas drama.

Another frontier opened up to the east, a harbinger of the development that would come: a causeway to the beach from Las Olas Boulevard.

The decade started with a census count of 143 white residents — blacks and American Indians weren't tallied. It ended with a population of 2,000.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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