Environmental perception and the historical geography of the great American wetland


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Environmental perception and the historical geography of the great American wetland Florida's Everglades, 1895 to 1930
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x, 257 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Meindl, Christopher F., 1961-
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Subjects / Keywords:
Wetlands -- History -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Swamp ecology -- Florida -- Everglades   ( lcsh )
History -- Everglades (Fla.)   ( lcsh )
Geography thesis, Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Geography -- UF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1996.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 238-256).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Christopher F. Meindl.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 002215599
oclc - 36716169
notis - ALF5748
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There are a host of people who deserve some expression of my thanks for their help

and support during the past four years. I am especially grateful to Mike Harrison, Ryan

Poehling, and Mark McLean for their technical assistance as I prepared maps and graphs for

this dissertation. Without them, I would have spent countless unproductive hours.

Professors Joann Mossa and Peter Waylen contributed to my understanding of

physical geography and offered much advice and encouragement throughout my program.

Dr. Ed Malecki expressed his faith in me early on by offering me a teaching assistantship; his

door too, was always open. Dr. Roy Carriker ensured that I would be mindful of the

connection between economics, policy, and legal issues as I explored wetlands. I am

particularly grateful to my advisor, Dr. Ary Lamme, for all of his encouragement and advice.

To him fell the unenviable task of getting me to channel my energy which has always been

abundant but sometimes almost hopelessly scattered. I have learned much from him about

writing and organization as well as cultural and historical geography. Indeed, in this era of

hyper-specialization, I applaud all of my supervisory committee members for their

encouragement as I explored a wide range of topics.

I am also thankful for the support and friendship of everybody in the Department of

Geography, especially that of Matt and Mary Zorn. We spent countless hours wondering what

it would be like to graduate and move on. Furthermore, my parents Gene and Kathy Meindl


have always been constant sources of love and support, and although MY name will appear

on the diploma, I hope they know that their encouragement made it possible. Finally, I want

to thank my wife, Kathleen Meindl, for her endless support and understanding. Like many

other doctoral students, I spent many nights working late at the office and she not only

patiently endured the lack of attention, she took a lively interest in my academic activities,

helped with many time-consuming tasks, and otherwise sat with me as I worked.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS............................................ i

LIST OF FIGURES ................................................ vi

AB STRA CT ...................................................... ix


1 INTRODUCTION ......................................... 1

2 LITERATURE REVIEW.................................... 10

History and Historical Geography............................... 10
Human-Environment Interaction................................ 13
Environmental Perception .................................... 19
Historical Geography of Wetlands ............................. 24
Human Habitation of the Great American Wetland Prior to the 1890s .... 27
Concepts and Methods ....................................... 36


The Kissimmee River-Lake Okeechobee-Everglades Watershed ........ 40
Geology and Topography..................................... 46
Soils ..................................................... 52
Vegetation ................................................ 58
Climate ................................................... 75
Summary ................................................. 95


1895 to 1909: Dreams of Development.......................... 99
1909 to 1912: Everglades Fever ................................ 125


1912 to 1919: The First Years of Settlement ..................... 157
The Early 1920s: Years of Floods ............................... 176
The Late 1920s: Years of Tragedy ............................. 195
Summary ................................................. 219

AMERICAN WETLAND ................................... 220

Theme #1: The Plains and The Glades as Strange Places .............. 222
Theme #2: Settlement Potential in the Plains and Glades .............. 223
Theme #3: Federal Government Land Policy in the Plains and Glades .... 226
Summary ................................................. 228

7 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS ........................... 231

LITERATURE CITED .......................................... 238

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ..................................... 257


Figur pMge

1 Maps of Florida, the South Florida Water Management
District, and the Everglades ............................... 2

2 Everglades National Park, and other administrative areas
in South Florida ........................................ 5

3 South Florida cities, towns, and weather stations ................ 29

4 Physiographic regions of South Florida ....................... 32

5 Major canals, creeks, rivers, and lakes of South Florida ........... 35

6 Photograph of the Kissimmee River near Fort Bassinger, May
1919 ................................................. 42

7 Photograph of the sand ridge on Lake Okeechobee's eastern shore,
ca. 1920 ............................................... 44

8 1890 map of southeast Florida showing several short rivers leading
from Lake Okeechobee into the Glades ....................... 45

9 1846 map of Florida showing several short rivers running through
both southeast and southwest coasts ............ .......... 48

10 Salt-water intrusion at Miami, 1904 to 1950 ................... 49

11 South Florida's Biscayne Aquifer............................ 51

12 Lower right hand corner of a 1915 soils map showing the contrast
between the soils of the Everglades and the diversity of soils
along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge around Davie and Ft. Lauderdale
Florida ................................................ 55

13 1914 map of South Florida vegetation ...................... 60


14 1943 map of South Florida vegetation ...................... 61

15 Photograph of the southern or "Lower" Everglades, May 1919 ..... 63

16 Photograph of moonvine covering vegetation along the Hillsboro
Canal near Lake Okeechobee, ca. 1920 ....................... 65

17 Photograph of dwarf cypress trees in South Florida, April 1925 .... 66

18 Photograph of vegetation typically found in South Florida's sandy
flatlands, February 1916 ................................. 67

19 Photograph of South Florida prairie, November 1916 ........... 69

20 Photograph of a slough in South Florida, January 1916 .......... 70

21 Southern portion of an 1853 map of Florida illustrating the
cartographer's view of southwest Florida's 10,000 islands area
and tree islands in the Everglades........................... 71

22 Photograph of vegetation inside a South Florida tree island,
January 1916 ......................................... 73

23 Photograph of a mangrove just off the southwest coast of Florida,
February 1916 ......................................... 74

24 Minimum temperatures, Belle Glade, Florida .................. 77

25 Month of minimum temperature occurrence, Belle Glade, Florida .. 79

26 Annual precipitation, Belle Glade, Florida .................... 81

27 Annual precipitation, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida .................. 82

28 Annual precipitation, Ft. Myers, Florida ...................... 83

29 Annual precipitation, Miami, Florida ....................... 84

30 Annual precipitation, Tamiami Trail at Forty Mile
Bend, Florida .......................................... 85

31 Annual precipitation, West Palm Beach, Florida ................ 86

32 Mean monthly precipitation, Belle Glade, Florida ............... 87

33 Mean monthly precipitation, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida ............ 88

34 Mean monthly precipitation, Ft. Myers, Florida ................ 89

35 Mean monthly precipitation, Miami, Florida .................. 90

36 Mean monthly precipitation, Tamiami Trail at Forty
Mile Bend, Florida ..................................... 91

37 Mean monthly precipitation, West Palm Beach, Florida .......... 92

38 1838 U.S. War Department map of Florida during the
Seminole Indian War.................................... 98

39 1891 Rand McNally road map of Florida ..................... 100

40 Photograph of the Miami River (left) and the Miami Canal (right),
January 1912 .......................................... 124

41 Total number of Everglades buyers at the 1912
convention in West Palm Beach ........................... 146

42 Choropleth map of the location quotients derived for each
state based on the number of Everglades buyers at the 1912
convention in West Palm Beach............................ 148

43 Historic towns of the Upper Everglades, many of which
no longer exist ......................................... 167

44 Photograph of dried organic soils in South Florida, March 1928 ... 177

45 Photograph of water hyacinth-choked tributary of the
Caloosahatchee River, ca. 1925 ............................ 196

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Christopher F. Meindl

December 1996

Chairman: Dr. Ary J. Lamme mI
Major Department: Geography

The debate regarding land use in Florida's Everglades is one of the leading issues on

the environmental agenda of the 1990s. Indeed, their size, proximity to a major population

concentration, and mystique justify the title "Great American Wetland." In spite of all the

technical literature on the "Glades," nobody fully understands this ecosystem. Unfortunately,

we know much less about humanity's historic relationship with the Everglades.

This study is an examination of people's perception of the Glades from the late 19th

century to 1930. Politicians engaged in a tremendous effort to drain South Florida's interior

wetlands during this period, and it is commonly assumed that most people of the time heartily

endorsed Everglades reclamation. Yet evidence presented in this study suggests that many

people questioned Florida's drainage program.

The physical geography of the late 19th and early 20th century Everglades is

reconstructed using climate data, soil surveys, topographic maps, historical photographs, and

literature from early 20th century botanists who explored the region. Next, archival materials

such as government documents, travel accounts, newspapers, and promotional material from

early 20th century Everglades real estate companies are used to piece together past

perceptions of the Glades. These sources of information are used in conjunction with

correspondence from the papers of Thomas Will, an early Everglades settler and promoter.

Will's large collection of papers is important because he communicated with a variety of

people: pioneers, government officials, residents of Florida's southeast coast, and northern

investors in Everglades property.

Finally, it is suggested that the Everglades and other wetlands are part of a larger

category of "flatlands" that have been vulnerable to over-development. On one hand,

mountainous areas are clearly vulnerable to development pressure because development can

cause severe soil erosion. On the other hand, the threat to wetlands and many other flatlands

is more subtle, and this causes people to overlook their vulnerability to development



Wetland protection and regulation is perhaps the most celebrated and ubiquitous

environmental issue of the 1990s. Unfortunately, it is among the most misunderstood.

Much of this misunderstanding stems from shifting perceptions of wetlands. Wetlands

have almost always been poorly understood by the public and have been almost universally

condemned throughout United States history. Indeed, malaria was previously thought to

be caused by bad air supposedly associated with such places (Thompson 1976). Many

people still attach negative connotations to the words swamp, marsh, and bog. Past

perceptions of wetlands as strange, exotic, and useless strongly influenced their settlement

and subsequent utilization.

There are no comprehensive historical geographies of American wetlands, nor of

that Great American Wetland, Florida's Everglades. Of all the famous wetland systems

across the United States--like the North Carolina-Virginia border's Dismal Swamp,

Georgia's Okeefenokee Swamp, or Louisiana's bayous--Florida's Everglades (or

"Glades") are perhaps most deserving of the label Great American Wetland. Size,

proximity to a major population concentration, and popular image certainly make the

Glades a contender for such a title. Furthermore, what happens to this extensive area of

wetlands next to a densely settled portion of the country's fourth most populous state is

likely to have a profound effect on similar areas throughout the nation (Figure 1).

South Florida



0 50 100


Figure 1. Maps of Florida, the South Florida Water Management District, and the Everglades.


Although there is a plethora of literature on the Everglades; much of it focuses on

technical issues such as water quality or hydroperiod management. While these issues are

important, such literature does not deal with shifting perceptions of the Glades during the

late 19th and early 20th century, a period of tremendous population growth and land use

change. These shifts in perceptions have significantly influenced both agricultural and

urban development in South Florida. Society's views of the Everglades are partially a

function of how much people know about them. Although our knowledge base of the

Glades has mounted steadily since the late 19th century, nobody fully understands all of

the subtleties of this complex ecosystem. People's perceptions of the Glades are also a

function of values. Accordingly, resolving controversies in the Great American Wetland,

such as pollution from agricultural runoff and urban expansion into the Everglades, are not

likely until we develop some sense of our historic relationship with this environment.

Why are wetlands valuable? To begin with, many wetlands are excellent providers

of flood control. In the early 1970s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that it would

be less expensive to purchase wetlands outside Boston, Massachusetts, than to build

additional flood control structures along the Charles River (Doyle 1986). Coastal

wetlands, which used to ring much of South Florida, not only lessen the impact of storm

surges, they protect more inland locations from the impact of wave energy during storms

(Chabreck 1988). It is widely recognized that some wetlands recharge groundwater

aquifers that are tapped by municipal water systems (Stone and Stone 1994). Central

Florida's Green Swamp and parts of South Florida's Everglades are particularly

noteworthy in that regard (Brown 1984; Schroeder, Klein, and Hoy 1958). Furthermore,


wetlands are known for their ability to improve water quality. They help purify water by

allowing suspended sediments to settle and by converting some chemicals and nutrients

into organic matter (Phillips 1989). This attribute has attracted the attention of several

researchers who suggest that under the right conditions, wetlands can be used to provide

wastewater treatment (Best 1994; Fritz and Helle 1984). Indeed, scientists are conducting

experiments in the Everglades to determine the feasibility of constructing several "filter

marshes" to help clean agricultural runoff before it enters the water conservation areas,

Big Cypress Swamp or Everglades National Park (Figure 2). The Clinton administration

endorses this idea and has called for increased taxes upon sugar to pay for the purchase of

land to be used as a filtering marsh (Daytona Beach News-Journal 1996).

Wetlands are also rich in biological resources. The Everglades are widely regarded

as one of the nation's first biological national parks. Many wetlands serve as habitat for

commercially significant and endangered plants and animals (Boesch and Turner 1984;

Williams and Dodd 1979). For example, ecologists estimate that over 95% of this

country's commercially harvested fish and shellfish species are wetland dependent (Mitsch

and Gosselink 1993). In South Florida, there is speculation that the health of Florida Bay-

and the associated recreational and commercial fishing industries around the Florida

Keys- is linked to the quality of water flowing down from the Everglades (New York

Times 1995; Gainesville Sun 1994). Furthermore, wetland hunting and trapping activities

pump millions of dollars into the economy every year (Davis 1983 and 1978). A

substantial percentage of the nation's annual timber harvest comes from forested wetlands

(Johnson 1979).

* West Palm Beach

FtL Lauderdale

Miami N

0 20 40

Figure 2. Everglades National Park, and other administrative areas in South Florida


Finally, there is growing recognition of education, recreation, and aesthetic values

of wetlands (Williams 1991; Niering 1986; Bardecki 1984; Reimold and Hardisky 1979).

Because wetlands naturally retard the decomposition of organic matter and other artifacts,

even archaeologists have discovered their value (Coles 1990). For instance, Sears (1982)

found archeological evidence of habitation in the northern Glades at least as early as 3,000

years before the present. Smardon (1979 p.542) argues that "unless we look at the

regional landscape in context, we may slowly lose major ingredients in the character of the

landscape without even knowing it." All of this stands in marked contrast to traditional

perceptions of wetlands as mysterious, foul smelling, insect ridden, waste lands (Benhart

and Margin 1994). As this information disseminates further and improves perceptions of

wetlands, government agencies will probably face mounting pressure to protect these


Recent controversy surrounding the Everglades is linked to the nationwide

problem of wetland loss. The standard American response to wetlands has been drainage,

converting them into the more familiar landscape of mid-latitude agricultural lands.

Indeed, Dahl and Johnson (1991) confirm that a majority of wetland losses have been due

to drainage for agricultural purposes. In many cases, drained wetlands can be returned to

their original wetland condition. Conversely, coastal wetlands-particularly those in

southern Louisiana--can be lost to sea level rise, which can last for thousands of years.

Estimating the extent of wetland loss is extremely difficult. In order to determine how

much wetland acreage has been lost, one must first determine how much wetland acreage

once existed. There have been at least five attempts at the national level to estimate the


wetland base of the contiguous 48 states around the year 1780. Although each attempt

relied on a different methodology, all of the studies yielded an estimate between 211

million and 221 million acres (Dahl 1990).

Dahl (1990) concludes that the United States (excluding Alaska) had 104 million

acres of wetlands in the 1980s, a reduction of over 50% since colonial times. It should be

noted, however, that wetland losses have been unequally distributed across the country

(Dahl 1990). New Hampshire has lost only 9% of its original wetland base, while Georgia,

South Carolina, and Montana have lost just a quarter of their wetlands. On the other hand,

California, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio have each lost at least 85% of their wetlands. Florida

has more closely approached the national average with a 46% reduction of wetlands since

the 1780s. Further complicating matters is the fact that some states have larger

endowments of wetlands and many of these have lost significant wetland acreage (Dahl

1990). For example, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, and Louisiana have each lost between seven

and eight million acres of wetlands and Florida leads the nation with over nine million

acres of wetlands lost.

Like Louisiana, more than half of Florida's surface area was considered wetland in

the 18th century. Despite significant drainage activities in Florida over the past 100 years,

nearly 30% of Florida's surface area remains wetland (Dahl 1990). Heftier (1986)

estimated that not quite 13 of Florida's original 20 million acres of wetlands remained by

the mid 1950s, and Frayer and Hefner (1991) maintain that Florida had just over 11

million acres in the mid 1980s. Although Frayer and Hefner maintain that the average

annual wetland loss in Florida has been significantly reduced in recent years, a large


percentage of Florida's wetlands have been altered, especially in South Florida. These

authors contend that the Everglades have been reduced 65%. Indeed, Kushlan (1987)

argues that only six percent of the original marsh is in Everglades National Park.

The purpose of this dissertation is to detect and analyze past perceptions of

Florida's Everglades, and investigate their impact on settlement and land use in South

Florida during the years 1895 to 1930. During this time people made a tremendous effort

to change the Great American Wetland. The period begins in the late 19th century,

immediately after a severe cold spell induced Henry M. Flagler to extend his Florida East

Coast Railroad from West Palm Beach to Miami. It ends in 1930, in the aftermath of two

hurricanes-which killed nearly 2,200 people in the region-prompting Florida to beg the

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a protective levee around Lake Okeechobee.

Chapter 2 of this dissertation begins with a review of literature that provides a

foundation for the study. Although historical geography is one of the oldest branches of

geography, relatively few practitioners have ventured into wetlands. Even so, there are

some examples of wetland historical geography worth noting. Following this will be a

review of literature dealing with two closely related themes that frequently appear in

historical geographic work. First is the established tradition of human-environment

interaction. Geographers have long investigated humanity's use of natural resources. Even

historians have adopted this theme with significant work in environmental history. A

second, and closely related, theme is that of environmental perception. People's views of

their environment significantly influence how they use (or abuse) land. Obviously, human

modification of the Everglades has become a major issue. After reviewing literature on


these two themes, a section is devoted to summarizing human activity in the Everglades

from pre-Columbian times to the late 1800s. Finally, the last section of the literature

review provides a conceptual framework and methodology for the study.

Chapter 3 is a reconstruction of early 20th century Everglades physical geography:

climate, vegetation, soils, and geology. It is important to have some sense of what the

Glades were like before they were significantly altered. Chapters 4 and 5 contain

reconstructed images of the Everglades as maintained in the minds of late 19th and early

20th century people. This is an important time period because it is during this era that

some people began to look at the Glades as something other than a watery wasteland.

Chapter 6 is an attempt to produce an abstract model of people's view of flatlands-wet

and dry. Understanding this view, and how it came about, is crucial to understanding how

the Everglades have become what they are today. Chapter 7 consists of a summary, some

conclusions, and suggestions for future research.


Although an army of scientists has invaded the Glades in an effort to discover the

physical processes behind South Florida's environmental problems, many Everglades

authors make only cursory mention of the region's historical geography. In this chapter a

variety of literature is brought together in an effort to highlight some important themes in

the story of humanity's historic relationship with the Everglades. Major parts of this

chapter include (1) a discussion of differences between history and historical geography

(with special reference to Florida) including examples of the views of historical

geographers; (2) an examination of some ideas regarding human-environment interaction;

(3) tracing the development and use of environmental perception in geography--especially

as used by historical geographers; (4) a review of historical geographic literature on

wetlands; (5) brief overview of human habitation in the Glades from prehistoric times to

the late 19th century; and (6) a discussion of the study's conceptual framework,

methodology, and data sources.

History and Historical Geography

Perhaps the most important difference between historians and historical

geographers is the role of place in their studies. Many historians view place as the setting

in which history operates. After examining setting, however, historians have traditionally


given more attention to the activities of society's decision makers. Histories of Florida's

Everglades provide a case in point (Dovell 1947; Alfred and Kathryn Hanna 1948; Blake

1980). They provide excellent descriptions of explorers' accounts of the region,

government action regarding the Glades, and settlers' activities. Yet, the importance of

place and people's perceptions of place are usually beyond the scope of such work.

Historical geographer Donald Meinig contends that such studies, although valuable, are

somewhat incomplete. He maintains (1989 p.84) that places are important and that "an

understanding of places and regions requires historical understanding, not as a preface, not

as a bit of background, not as a few paragraphs sprinkled through a text, but as an integral

thoroughly researched and thoughtful study" of how places came to be what they are. In

short, places are important because each place provides a set of opportunities and

limitations for all forms of life. Furthermore, people's perceptions of places help

determine land use-an important issue in the Everglades.

Historical geographers Baker et al. (1969) contend that the past should be

reappraised in terms of present thinking, present problems, and present needs. They argue

that in order to develop the historical geography of any place, one must begin by

conducting a thorough search of the contemporary landscape. Only after exploring the

contemporary scene can one begin to understand the past. Baker et al. (1969 p.49) believe

that past situations should be examined "in light of the attitudes and objectives of past

societies and individuals and the extent to which those objectives were realized." Nowhere

is this more true than in Florida's Everglades, where hydrologic problems caused by

previous activities in the region have led to an overhaul of our thinking toward the Glades.


Relatively few geographers have studied U.S. history from a geographical

perspective. In his presidential address at the annual meeting of the Association of

American Geographers in 1940, Sauer complained that "a peculiarity of our American

geographical tradition has been its inherent lack of interest in historical processes and

sequences, even their outright rejection" (Sauer 1969, p.352). In 1948, Brown produced

the first comprehensive historical geography of the United States. This volume includes

relatively little material on Florida, the author's discussion of the state being limited to the

Spanish period. Mitchell and Groves (1987) edited a more recent volume on U.S.

historical geography and, like Brown's work, its focus is on activities in Florida prior to

the Civil War. Indeed, there is relatively little historical geographic literature on Florida,

and even less on South Florida, let alone the Everglades, as evidenced in Conzen et al.

(1993). This probably stems from the fact that Florida, particularly the southern half of the

state, remained an area of modest population until World War II. In addition, most

historical geographers are not accustomed to working on the recent past.

In many cases, historical geography focuses on the relationship between people

and their environment. This dissertation is an examination of past perceptions of the

Everglades; such a study sheds light on why and how people chose to transform their

environment. Meinig provided a good example of such work early in his career. In 1954

he wrote an article entitled "The Evolution of Understanding an Environment: Climate and

Wheat Culture in the Columbia Plateau," in which he examined an environment that

initially confounded middle 19th century settlers. He traced the evolution of environmental

understanding that took place in the region. Most turn of the century pioneers were


baffled by the Everglades, and scholars are still far from fully understanding this

environment. Meinig concludes that "reconstruction of climates of opinion and the

reconstruction of the material features and functional patterns of the past are

interdependent and must proceed together in the mature pursuit of historical geography"

(p.31). Because no one seems to have documented the evolution of our understanding of

Florida's Everglades, Meinig's work is a fine example of the kind of research that is

needed about the Glades.

Human-Environment Interaction

American historical geographers have not contributed heavily to the literature on

environmental history (McQuillan 1995). The relatively recent development of

environmental history as a field of study prompted Williams (1994) to comment on the

close links between historical geography and environmental history. He suggests that

practitioners of each would do well to consider each other's work. Indeed, there are a

growing number of historians studying environmental history (White 1985). For instance,

Worster (1993) argues that some writers have correctly identified America's demographic

explosion, rapid advances in technology, and relatively recent development of energy

resources as keys to understanding the human transformation of the United States. But he

contends (p.8) that we should probe "the immigrant white man's culture, his and her ideas

or ways of seeing" in order to more fully understand the profound sources of

environmental change. These are certainly issues that historical geographers are

particularly well suited to tackle.


Exploring the relationship of people with their environment in 1925, Sauer

attacked environmental determinism-the notion that a region's physical geography

dictates the cultural geography of an environment. He forcefully argued that landscapes

are produced from the interrelationship between physical and cultural factors, insisting that

people "are the most important morphological factor" (p.341).

In 1983, Cronon analyzed changes in the colonial New England landscape,

ostensibly brought about by invading Europeans. Colonists to the region could not

imagine how a land that appeared so rich could be inhabited by people who appeared so

poor. Cronon maintains that "Indian communities had learned to exploit the seasonal

diversity of their environment by practicing mobility" (p.37). He also noticed that natives

endured relative scarcity during the winter. By consuming animals when they were most

plentiful, Indians never over-used any species.

Like Native Americans in many places, New England Indians viewed property as

something to use rather than to own and hold. When Indians "sold" lands, they probably

never intended to give up hunting and other land use rights. Also, English colonists

brought with them a desire for a more settled lifestyle, which required a more

concentrated use of their environment. Consequently, as Cronon maintains, "it was the

treatment of land and property as commodities traded at market that distinguished English

conceptions of ownership from Indian ones" (p.75). Furthermore, trade began to link

Indians with colonists and Europeans, and as Indians became increasingly involved with

European trade (by producing large numbers of animal skins and meat), this reduced the

Indians' ability to sustain themselves.


Colonial era deforestation, overgrazing, and plowing all led to soil exhaustion and

disastrous watershed problems throughout settled New England. Cronon observes that

"colonial farmers treated their land as a resource to be mined until it was exhausted, rather

than one to be conserved for less intense but more perennial use" (p. 152-3). Although

Cronon maintains from the outset that Indians modified their landscape (largely through

the use of fire) long before Europeans arrived, English concepts of land use brought

further, more devastating changes to New England.

Hirt (1989) examined the relationship between culture and ecological change,

noting radical transformation of the landscape as pioneers replaced Native Americans in

southeastern Arizona over a century ago. On one hand, the region's natives viewed plants

and animals as vitally important parts of their landscape. On the other hand, invading

Americans saw natural resources as raw material for the production of wealth. The

resulting transformation of southeastern Arizona, Hirt maintains, "can be described as an

ecological response to the particular institutions, ideologies, and modes of production of

the intruding Anglo-American society" (p. 168). He contends that these changes offer an

opportunity for social critique. Hirt concludes that "the Anglo-American value system,

powered by potent technologies, supported by an expanding capitalist economy,

buttressed by public policies endorsing unsustainable consumption of natural resources,

created an environmental crisis in the late nineteenth century, the legacy of which remains

today" (p. 183).

Sauer could easily have been discussing South Florida when he noted (1969 p.372)

that "the forms of dissipation of natural capital are many, their causes cultural, their results


are slow crises in the affected areas." American culture has traditionally insisted that land

be put to "productive use" and, until recently, productive use almost always meant

transforming available natural resources into goods and services for humankind. In South

Florida, pursuit of productive land use has come at the cost of substantially reducing entire

species of plants and animals and rapidly depleting peat soils; moreover, it is even

suggested that otherwise productive neighboring ecosystems like Florida Bay have

suffered as a result of fertilizers used in the name of making the Everglades "productive"

(Bodo 1995).

White (1967) suggests that religion plays a powerful role in guiding a society's

relationship with the land. He accuses Christianity of insisting that all creation exists for no

other purpose than to serve humankind, and blames this attitude for severe environmental

degradation. White asserts that "both our present science and our present technology are

so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature that no solution for our

ecologic crisis can be expected from them alone" (p. 1207). He concludes that most

Americans should either find a new religion or re-think their existing one.

Henry David Thoreau's transcendentalism of the mid 19th century appealed only

to a few, and most people ignored George Perkins Marsh who "disputed not the

desirability of conquering nature but the bungling way it was being done" (Lowenthal

1990 p. 129). Marsh used a combination of economic arguments and rudimentary science

in an attempt to demonstrate humanity's negative impact upon the landscape. Despite

humanity's assault on the landscape, however, plenty of wilderness remained-and

wilderness was the enemy. As Nash (1967 p.43) points out, "prejudice against wilderness


had the strength of centuries behind it and continued to influence American opinion long

after pioneering conditions disappeared." At the close of the 19th century, however-with

the frontier declared closed-some began to question long-held beliefs in "progress." John

Muir led an increasingly vocal group of conservationists who called for the preservation of

America's rapidly disappearing wilderness. Muir and his faction were opposed by Gifford

Pinchot and other advocates of a utilitarian definition of conservation that rejected

wilderness preservation in favor of more efficient use of all natural resources. Many early

20th century conservationists, especially those who favored "wise use of all resources,"

would not be considered "conservationists" today-because modern use of the term

usually implies a substantial element of preservation. Although a small part of Everglades

National Park eventually earned designation as a wilderness area, there is widespread

concern that agricultural use of part of the original Glades may cause problems not only

for the small remaining tract of wilderness, but also for neighboring environments and

urban populations.

The undeveloped Everglades of the early 20th century were frequently referred to

as a potential garden. Leo Marx (1964 p.43) contends that "to depict America as a garden

is to express aspirations still considered utopian--aspirations, that is, toward abundance,

leisure, freedom, and a greater harmony of existence." Everglades reclamation became

synonymous with progress. Yet it soon became difficult to identify where progress ended

and trouble began. Still, Marx contends that the garden metaphor "enabled the nation to

continue defining its purpose as the pursuit of rural happiness while devoting itself to

productivity, wealth, and power" (p.226).


In the 1950s, Sauer helped organize a multi-disciplinary symposium entitled

"Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth." He questioned the role of cities on

surrounding landscapes, noting that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, "food and

feed were cheap in and about the centers of industry, partly because the fertility of new

lands of the world was exported to them without reckoning the maintenance of resource"

(p.66). South Florida's sugar production, intended for markets across the nation, is

representative of his concern. Sauer was hardly consoled by the fact that in later years,

society shifted to "easy confidence in the capacities of technological advance" (p.66). He

concluded that "our output has been secured at unconsidered costs and risks by the

objective of immediate profit, which has replaced the older attitudes of living with the

land" (p.67). Yet the symposium featured few other pessimists. Lowenthal (1990 p. 125)

asserts that "to most of those at Man's Role environmental impact seemed a matter of

major concern only to scientific ignoramuses or crackpots."

Lowenthal (1990) contends that many American pioneers sincerely believed that

the more profoundly they manipulated nature, the more fertile and productive it seemed to

become. But even if people become aware of their impacts on the environment, awareness

does not always translate into lifestyle adjustments or political agendas. Furthermore,

many people still argue that private property rights reign supreme over collective concern

for the environment. Lowenthal concludes that, often, only disaster achieves immediate

remedial action.

Finally, Sack (1990 p.659) asserts that "an understanding of human transformation

of nature involves understanding not only what we are doing to affect nature, but also why


we are doing it." He suggests that as mass consumption becomes more and more

accepted, our daily lives become more powerful agents in the transformation of nature.

This is because mass produced products require the extraction of tremendous amounts of

raw materials, development of much infrastructure, and disposal of large amounts of waste

products. Continuing, Sack argues that advertising disguises the resulting environmental

transformation by allowing people to disassociate themselves from the consequences of

their actions. Bennet and Dahlberg (1990) add that we must find ways to exclude various

life-supporting systems from the economic calculus. They would argue, for example, that

since wetlands provide many life-support functions-like food, lumber, and water

purification--they should be not be treated like other commodities.

Environmental Perception

The relationship between people's perception of their environment and their

behavior is of fundamental importance in this study. It is crucial in developing an

understanding of why people systematically altered the Everglades. It is worthless to

assume that environmental problems in South Florida are solely the responsibility of a few

corporate farmers who believe they have a right to make money from their land. A more

complete analysis requires a thorough examination of the perceptions of late 19th and 20th

century people-the people who began the process of change in the Glades.

Environmental perception is a relatively recent addition to the geographical milieu.

In 1925, Wright asked how geographers could avoid considering society's thoughts

regarding the environment. He recognized that studying geographical perception is much


more difficult than mere geographical description. Yet Wright maintained (p. 198) that "it

is the human mind itself and not the geographical feature which creates the idea within the

mind." Therefore, understanding what people think of their environment is a key to

understanding why people modify their environment. He compared the mind's image of

the earth to a mirror. "These images have been distorted and discolored by the quality of

minds in which they have been lodged; they have been blurred by accumulations of

extraneous lore in these minds and confused by other thoughts" (p.201). Unfortunately

Wright was ignored. He issued his call again in late 1946 as president of the Association of

American Geographers with an address entitled "Terrae Incognitae: The Place of the

Imagination in Geography" (Wright 1947). Again, no response.

In 1961, Lowenthal (Wright's protege) renewed the call for an understanding of

the relationship between the outside world and the pictures in our heads. His article marks

the beginning of the modem era in environmental perception. Indeed, Progress in Human

Geography (1994) lauded Lowenthal's 1961 study as a "classic in human geography."

Like his mentor Wright, he insists that "the surface of the earth is shaped for each person

by refraction through cultural and personal lenses of custom and fancy" (Lowenthal 1961,

p.260). Moreover, in reaction to the developing quantitative revolution in geography and

its emphasis on "describing things as they are," Lowenthal contends that what people

believe is equally important. Geographers suddenly began exploring the connection

between people's beliefs and their behavior.

The 1960s witnessed a burst of scholarship focusing on environmental perception.

Some began to examine relationships between hazardous environments and behavior (as

summarized by the work of Burton, Kates and White 1993); others delved into

psychology to explore mental maps and cognition (Downs 1981; Golledge 1987); still

others have studied the sources of the bond between people and places (Tuan 1974).

Rather than become a focused subdiscipline of geography, however, a wide variety of

geographers began to engage in perception studies. In terms of this dissertation, the most

important perception studies are those that use environmental perception in historical

geography. Accordingly, what follows is a review of some historical geographies that use

environmental perception.

In an analysis of images and image makers in colonial South Carolina, Merrens

(1969) examined five different types of source material. Although certainly not exhaustive,

this list is a good place to begin putting together past perceptions of any environment. To

begin with, early promotional material provides a crude glimpse of society's image of a

landscape as settlement begins. It is likely to contain much exaggeration but provides can

some clue as to an incoming people's hopes and desires for a place. Second, official

reports may also provide information. Depending on the official's stake in the settlement,

one might find various degrees of selective reporting. In any case, such reports are likely

to contain more data than promotional material. Next, accounts of travelers may exist.

Inasmuch as authors of these are not likely to be very familiar with the places they visit,

they might be more superficial accounts. On the other hand, visitors may also "see" things

that natives do not. Fourth, natural historians may be important sources of environmental

data if not keen observers of economic and social conditions. Finally, settlers may provide

excellent descriptions of conditions. Unfortunately in many cases, they are also the least


likely to write of their experiences and observations. To this list might be added (among

others) editorials and newspaper articles, periodicals and schoolbooks of the era.

Bowden (1976, 1975, 1971, 1969) also made extensive use of environmental

perception in his historical geographic work. He argues that popular perceptions of the

American Great Plains have shifted periodically since the 19th Century, but the notion of

the Plains as Great American Desert was never as widespread as many have assumed.

According to Bowden, these shifts have been as much the result of a highly variable

climate as to changing preconceptions (and misconceptions) of prominent historians. Of

turn of the century historians, Bowden (1976 p. 126) insists "it was they who authenticated

the desert as history and made it into a contemporary myth."

Bowden later argued (1992) that the Great American Desert was one of many

traditions invented by people who wanted to prove that their conquest of a pristine

wilderness marked their success as a nation. Moreover, myths about the Great Plains

served the same purpose as a host of other myths regarding American's struggle with their

environment. Pioneers throughout United States history, Bowden maintains, have

produced a "succession of imagined environments which have been conceived as far more

difficult for the settlers to conquer than they ever were in reality" (1992 p.20).

Watson (1969) argues that society's view of an environment's potential leads

people to discover positive aspects about the place and to ignore negative aspects. "What

happens," he contends, "is that we create a pattern of culture which defines what we want

from and see in the country, and then we try to develop the country of our wants" (p. 15).

Early Everglades boomers boasted of the region's fertile soil while they ignored the


complexity and consequences of draining the Great American Wetland. Several years later,

Watson (1976) noted that the apparent agricultural potential of many places across North

America (including the Everglades) led many to a swift and thoughtless attack upon the

land. The consequences of such an onslaught in South Florida threaten the very source of

opportunity and quality of life that drew people to the region in the first place.

Also interested in people's view of resources, Sonnenfeld has made more extensive

use of psychology in his work on environmental perception. In 1978, he examined the

relationship between perception of resources and subsistence security. He found that

people's faith in technology along with constantly improving mobility have combined to

reduce society's understanding of ecological relationships. "But even when resources are

obviously being depleted and there are no more places to go," he argues, "there is often

still lacking the sense of an option to conserve resources if this means reduction in

standard of living or social well being" (p.21). He could just as easily have been discussing

the attitude of those whose livelihoods are today directly or indirectly tied to agriculture in

the Everglades. Current advertisements sponsored by large South Florida sugar producers

ask consumers to remember that many people in the region depend on agricultural

employment. Moreover, Sonnenfeld makes clear that "aesthetics and obligations to nature

can be compromised when the security of subsistence is at stake" (p.23).

William Riebsame (1986) discussed the role of the Dust Bowl as a psychological

anchor in the minds of those concerned with the Great Plains. He maintains that the Dust

Bowl image led politicians to flood the region with financial aid. This assistance allowed

farmers to continue making bad decisions in the region, setting the stage for swift

ecological punishment during the next severe drought. Reibsame's work can easily be

applied to the Everglades. South Florida promoters used flooding and hurricane disasters

during the 1920s to secure federal funding for more extensive drainage and flood control

works. These structural "solutions" may have set the stage for future environmental crises

in the region.

Historical Geography of Wetlands

Although historical geographers have not devoted much attention to the

Everglades, they have explored selected aspects of other wetland environments. Darby

produced one of the first such studies when he examined eastern England's fenland.

Originally published in 1940 under the title The Draining of the Fens, he wrote an updated

version in 1983 entitled The Changing Fenland. Darby notes that organized drainage of

large parts of the fenland began in the middle 1600s, and that both political and physical

problems soon appeared. "What seemed a promising enterprise in 1652," Darby asserts,

"had, by 1700, become a tragedy" (1983, p. 107). One of the most significant problems

was that of soil subsidence. Interested parties began to measure soil loss in 1848 by

driving a long metal post (later called Holm Post) through the peat soil down to into clay.

Although the top of the post was flush with the ground in 1848, by 1932 the top of the

post stood nearly 13 feet above ground. Darby concludes that although England's fens

became rich agricultural areas after drainage, flooding and soil subsidence became ever-

increasing problems.


Veteran historical geographer Robin Butlin has also begun to take an active

interest in the historical geography of wetlands. In a paper presented at the 9th

International Conference of Historical Geographers in 1995, he examined environmental

and ideological contexts of British, French, and Dutch wetland drainage schemes during

the 17th and 18th centuries. Certain monarchs, aristocrats, Church leaders and other

wealthy individuals proposed drainage and were opposed by many of those who

livelihoods depended upon the rich natural resources of these ecosystems. Moreover,

although Williams is perhaps best known for his work on the historical geography of

American Forests, he edited a volume (1990) entitled Wetlands: A Threatened Landscape.

His book makes use of wetland examples from around the world. Sweeping in scope, it

covers a wide range of topics including wetland morphology, soils and ecology,

archaeology, and agricultural impacts.

In the United States, Meyer (1935) studied the Kankakee Marsh of northern

Indiana and Illinois and chronicled the clash between conservationists and those interested

in reclaiming the marsh for agriculture. He concludes that "the Kankakee trucking areas

may yet become the 'Garden of Chicago'" (p.395). Kaatz (1955) analyzed the impact of

northwestern Ohio's former Black Swamp upon the region's settlement. He discovered

that pioneers avoided the swamp until drainage in the late 19th century paved the way for

extensive agricultural operations. Also in the 1950s, Hewes (1951) studied the wet prairie

of the American Midwest. He looked at the nature, extent, and sources of information

pertaining to the northern wet prairie. In 1952, Hewes and Frandson explored the role of

drainage in the settlement of Story County, Iowa. As these two authors point out,


geographers of the 1950s were usually fascinated with areal differentiation. This meant

that their attention was more likely to be focused on differences in landscapes rather than

on how draining wetlands reduced local differences in landscapes by making swamps look

more like surrounding land uses. In 1988, Winberry looked at the historic use of South

Carolina's freshwater wetlands. He notes that rice fields, managed forests, and

hydroelectric developments have replaced many wetlands throughout the state.

A few geographers have investigated past perceptions of different wetland areas.

Thompson (1969) discussed the linkage in people's minds between wetlands in

California's Central Valley and malaria in the late 19th century. LeBlanc (1973) examined

the differential perception of salt marshes by the folk and the elite in 19th century New

England. He found that the folk were content to use marshes as pasture or as source of

hay, while elites insisted upon trying to increase the agricultural productivity of their

marshland through drainage. Winsor (1987) explained the origins of negative perceptions

of the northern wet prairie. Nineteenth century settlers to east central Illinois cursed the

excess water which severely hampered farming and transportation, served as a refuge for

birds which ate their crops, and provided a haven for mosquitoes.

Finally, Prince (1995) chronicles the activities of successive occupants in

modifying wetlands in central Wisconsin and suggests reasons for the failure of settlement.

"Draining could only have succeeded," Prince maintains, "if the peat had not eroded and

demand for hay and oats increased" (p.18). Yet as machines replaced horses shortly after

the turn of the century, the demand and prices paid for feed grains plummeted--along with

the hopes of those who invested in draining Wisconsin wetlands. After privately financed


drainage enterprises in central Wisconsin went bankrupt during the 1920s and 1930s, state

and local governments did not ask the federal government for help in conquering that

environment. Instead, they reacquired wetlands in an effort to promote reforestation,

improve wildlife habitat, better manage water resources, and improve recreational


Over the past several decades, historical geographers have pursued a handful of

themes regarding people's perceptions of wetlands, two of which have implications for

similar research on the Everglades. First, LeBlanc maintains that New Englanders in upper

and lower economic classes held sharply different views of salt marsh use. Economic class

may have played a role in determining which people were more likely to support

Everglades reclamation. Second, Prince reveals that privately financed drainage schemes

were not always successful-some failed. His work raises an important question: under

what circumstances will the tremendous resources of the federal government be called

upon to support land transformation projects that might otherwise fail due to lack of

support from the private sector? This dissertation will shed some light on these issues.

Human Habitation of the Great American Wetland Prior to the 1890s

There appears to be ample evidence that human beings inhabited South Florida

long before the creation of the Everglades. Milanich (1992) suggests that prehistoric

people arrived in southern Florida 13,000 years ago. Carr (1984 p.1) maintains that "the

Paleo-Indian lived in southern Florida in association with mammoths, bison, and other

types of megafauna." As a result of much lower sea levels at this time, Florida's land mass

extended beyond its current configuration to the continental shelf.


With the disappearance of megafauna and the creation of wetlands in southern

Florida, native people adapted and became increasingly dependent upon wetland and

marine resources, especially shellfish (Milanich 1992). Milanich (1994 p.299) notes of

South Florida that "at one time nearly every bit of higher land adjacent to the coastal salt

marshes and estuaries probably had archaeological sites on it. Sites are largest where

rivers, even small ones, drain interior wetlands." He adds that lack of information

regarding South Florida's cultural assemblages led to the erroneous view that there was

little prehistoric settlement in the Glades. It is clear that ancient people occupied both

coastal and inland locations (Milanich 1994). What is not yet clear is whether coastal and

inland sites were used by the same people.

Several archaeologists have determined that Native Americans altered their

environment long before the dawn of the 20th century. Sears (1982) found substantial

evidence of landscape alteration in the form of ditches and embankments at Fort Center,

near Lake Okeechobee's western shore (Figure 3). He contends that people inhabited Fort

Center as early as 3,000 years ago and that ditches were used until 600 to 800 A.D. Luer

(1989) suggests that a series of relatively short canals in southern Florida, nearly 1,000

years old, may have been the beginning of a more integrated pre-Columbian society.

Milanich (1994 p.279) summarizes that at many sites, pre-Columbian people "constructed

earthworks, including mounds, ponds, borrows, ditches, canals, and linear and annular

embankments, some in peculiar shapes."

It is estimated that by the time Juan Ponce de Leon arrived in 1513, at least several

hundred thousand people probably lived in Florida (Milanich 1994). Some of these


West Palm Beach

Ft. Lauderdale

Figure 3. South Florida cities, towns, and weather stations.


inhabited South Florida which supported a handful of distinct cultural groups, the most

powerful of which were the Calusa. Calusa people dominated southwest Florida until long

after contact with the Spanish. Tequesta Indians lived in Dade County, and Boca Ratones

ranged north of them. All of these people lived by fishing, gathering shellfish, and

collecting plants and other animals (Milanich 1992). South Florida's Indians and swampy

landscape prevented the Spanish from setting up a mission network similar to that which

prevailed in north Florida until the early 1700s. Unfortunately, disease and warfare

decimated native populations so that by 1750--according to Milanich (1994 p.xvi)-"no

descendants of the native American Indians who had lived here since people first migrated

into the land we now call Florida survived the European conquest."

Since the Spanish of the late 18th century were anxious to maintain their foothold

in Florida, they invited Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama to settle their vacant

domain (Blackard 1992). These people eventually became known as "Seminoles." William

Bartram found many Seminole settlements when he traveled through north Florida in the

1770s (Van Doren 1928). Runaway African slaves often sought refuge in Spanish Florida

and frequent disputes along the border between Seminoles and Southerners led Spain to

cede Florida to the United States in 1821. At this time, Florida Seminoles numbered about

between five and six thousand; but there were only three small towns in South Florida-

one on Florida's southwest coast and two near West Palm Beach (Fairbanks 1978;

Blackard 1992). The Everglades seem not to have been occupied at this time. In 1823 the

treaty of Moultrie Creek provided for the cession of all Seminole lands in Florida in

exchange for a huge reservation in what was thought to be a useless portion of central



Mounting pressure from expansionist minded whites, overzealous slave catchers

pursuing both free people and runaway slaves in Indian territory, and other problems led

to President Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy in 1830. Florida Seminoles resisted

and fought United States troops from 1835 to 1842 (Mahon 1967). Most Seminoles were

either killed or sent to Oklahoma. Yet a small band, probably less than 500 people,

remained in the Big Cypress Swamp and Everglades (Figure 4), a virtually unknown and

inaccessible portion of Florida in the 19th century (Fairbanks 1978).

Florida attained statehood in 1845 and despite substantial wartime activity south of

Lake Okeechobee, South Florida (especially the interior) remained terra incognita

throughout the 19th century. Wetlands comprised more than half the state, and almost all

of South Florida. Accordingly, state officials begged the federal government to study the

Glades and determine the practicability of reclaiming southern Florida's swamps. In 1847,

the federal government authorized Buckingham Smith to prepare such a report, which he

submitted a year later (U.S. Senate 1911). In his report, Smith combined personal

observations of the territory with testimony from military officers who operated in the

Glades during the Seminole War.

Smith explained that nobody lived in the interior of the Everglades, and that

Seminoles inhabited the region between the Glades and the Gulf. He asserted (U.S. Senate

1911 p.52) that for anybody of "practical, utilitarian thought, the first and abiding

impression is the utter worthlessness to civilized man, in its present condition, for any

useful or practical object, of the entire region." He could not think of a solitary

inducement to offer any prospective South Florida settler. In Smith's opinion (p.54), "the

Atlantic Coastal Ridge

0 20 40

Ft Myers

West Palm Beach

I Ft Lauderdale

Figure 4. Physiographic regions of South Florida.


Everglades are now suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilent


Smith believed that the Everglades rest "entirely below the region of frost," a claim

highlighted by later boosters. In addition to rice, corn, and tobacco, he thought the region

would eventually produce tropical fruits and therefore free the nation of dependence upon

the West Indies for these products. Further indication of Smith's thought regarding land

use rests in this comment (p.53): "he who causes two sheaves of wheat to grow where

only one grew before, better deserves the thanks of his race than the author, the legislator,

or the victorious general." It is hard to overstate the idea in the heads of upper class white

males during the 19th century, that land must be made to produce tangible products for

people to be of any value. Following an implicit cost-benefit analysis, Smith concluded

that the Glades should be drained: "I do not hesitate to state my conviction that the

increased value of the lands thus reclaimed would equal the cost of the undertaking." He

suggested digging canals across South Florida in order to reclaim the Everglades.

The federal government offered Florida land for sale just like it did in every other

state during the middle 1800s. Settlers bought land in North Florida, but there was little

interest in wetland dominated South Florida. In 1850, Congress tried to help by passing

the Swamp Land Act, which granted to Florida and other states all of the swamp and

overflow lands within their borders. The act stipulated that proceeds from the sale of these

lands were to be used only for the construction of levees and drains needed to reclaim

these wetlands. Florida created an Internal Improvement Fund to sell wetlands and spend

the revenue on drainage, but there remained precious little cash with which to carry out

Buckingham Smith's recommendation.


Railroad companies were granted wetlands in exchange constructing lines in

Florida, but the limited construction between 1850 and 1865 was destroyed during the

Civil War. Florida then engaged in a protracted legal battle to maintain possession of its

remaining wetlands in the face of war debts it could not repay. Philadelphia businessman

Hamilton Disston single-handedly rescued the state in 1881 by purchasing four million

acres of swampland in central and southern Florida for one million dollars (Dovell 1947).

This gave Florida the money necessary to satisfy creditors and to eventually engage in

drainage operations. According to Hanna and Hanna (1948), "transforming a portion of

the earth's surface stirred his imagination, and among the sections of the earth NEEDING

REMODELING, the boggy wilderness around Lake Okeechobee held high place."

Disston and his engineer James Kreamer soon realized that they must lower Lake

Okeechobee if they wanted to reclaim wetlands along the Kissimmee River and

surrounding Lake Okeechobee. Accordingly, they dug a canal from the western end of the

big lake, through Lake Hicpochee, to the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee River as well

as a 13 mile canal from the southern edge of the lake into the Glades (later used as the

beginning of the Miami Canal--Figure 5). Settlers along the Caloosahatchee River valley

from Ft. Myers to Ft. Thompson (Figure 3) eventually questioned the wisdom of these

canals. After a tremendous storm in September 1894 flooded almost all South Florida,

Caloosahatchee Valley farmers complained that Disston's canals were responsible. They

petitioned the state to fill the canals. In a 4 June 1895 letter to Disston, Kreamer insisted

that "neither our company nor any known mortal agency will be found potent against the

abnormal opening of the flood gates of heaven" (William S. Jennings, personal and public



0 20 40


West Palm Beach

Ft. Lauderdale


Figure 5. Major canals, creeks, rivers, and lakes of South Florida.

The Panic of 1893 dealt a crippling blow to this enterprise. Swamped with

financial difficulties, Disston died in 1896, ending his company's reclamation efforts in

South Florida. Although there was much controversy over how much land Disston

actually reclaimed, he accomplished several things. His St. Cloud (Figure 3) plantation

suggested potential in sugar production. His engineers dug canals linking Lake

Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River; they dug canals linking several central Florida

lakes with the Kissimmee River; and they even dug a canal from the south shore of Lake

Okeechobee 13 miles into the Everglades.

Meanwhile, as Carter (1974 p.58) points out: "half the nation was a newly opened

frontier made up of states vying to attract people and money; in bidding for Florida's

share, state officials knew that the only major negotiable assets at their command were the

public lands, and these they gave away recklessly." Ostensibly, Florida granted land to

corporations in return for railroad construction. Yet less than half of the 564 railroads

chartered ever laid track (Vance 1985). Practically all of the land granted was in north and

central Florida--South Florida remained a wilderness. At least, this was the case until 1896

when Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad reached Miami.

Concepts and Methods

Prince (1971) outlined three principal realms of historical geographic research.

First, scholars in the field have traditionally focused on reconstructing past geographies of

particular places or regions, based on factual or "real world" data. Accordingly, Chapter 3

is devoted to portraying the Everglades as they existed in the mid 1890s, immediately


prior to Anglo-American settlement. This chapter is an examination of key elements of the

region's physical geography. The chief data sources include historic climatological data,

soil surveys, topographic and geologic maps, historical photographs, as well as literature

from early 20th century botanists who explored the region. Some of the data will be used

to produce maps and graphs. All of this will be used in conjunction with field observations

to produce a narrative reconstructing the geography of the Everglades.

Second, in an effort to explain why places and regions change over time, some

practitioners examine past perceptions of places, or "imagined" worlds. Prince argues

(1971 p.24) that "a fresh understanding of how other people in other times have perceived

reality enables us to gain a fuller knowledge of the world." Accordingly, the bulk of the

dissertation (Chapters 4 and 5) focuses on past perceptions of the Glades because herein

lie the roots the environmental crisis and land use debate in South Florida. Land use in

South Florida has become the subject of acrimonious debate. Environmentalists accuse

farmers of polluting the Everglades with chemicals and nutrients from agricultural runoff

and therefore, demand that South Florida's farmers pay to "clean and restore" the Glades.

The region's farmers insist that they have a right to continue their operations and that they

are responsible for only a "small share" of the cost of Everglades restoration.

Consequently, it is unlikely that technically-oriented scientific studies alone will be

sufficient to diffuse the situation. As Prince (1971 p.24) suggests, "a study of past

behavioral environments provides a key to understanding past actions, explaining why

changes were made in the landscape."


Archival materials have been used as a way of piecing together past perceptions of

the Glades. The P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History at the University of Florida is a

rich source of materials. It contains a substantial collection of manuscripts as well as

personal and public papers of early 20th century pioneers and politicians. The library also

maintains a host of relevant government documents, reports of special commissions, and

promotional material produced by Everglades real estate companies. Travel accounts and

articles from periodicals provide further insight. Newspapers are also rich sources of

information on landscape perceptions, and the University of Florida houses several

microfilmed copies of such papers as the Miami Metropolis and Jacksonville Times-

Union. In most cases, quotations from all of these sources appear exactly as they do in the

original documents. There were a few instances, however, where it was deemed

appropriate to make minor editorial corrections.

Reconstructing past geographies, real or imagined, is an important step in

explaining how places became what they are. Yet the most powerful historical geography

comes from models that explain patterns of activity in a variety of places. Accordingly,

some historical geographers delve into a third realm: that of constructing theoretical

frameworks or models to shed light on geographic patterns in a variety of locations,

Prince's "abstract" realm. In this chapter (Chapter 6), it is argued that the Everglades and

other wetlands are part of a larger category of "flatlands" that are vulnerable to over-

development. No model is a perfect representation of reality, but viewing the Glades and

other wetlands as part of a larger class of land called flatlands may help explain their

vulnerability to development.


It is commonly assumed that most people at the turn of the century (and shortly

thereafter) supported efforts to drain the Everglades. While it is fair to assume that most

people of the time encouraged wetland drainage generally, it appears that only middle

class and wealthy people could afford to buy land in the Glades and actively support

reclamation. This dissertation suggests that the many problems, disappointments, and

calamities endured by Glades pioneers fueled a steadily growing opposition to the State's

Everglades reclamation program from 1906 to 1930. By the late 1920s, it appears that

only segments of society's elite continued to support Everglades drainage. Despite these

problems, Glades boosters eventually convinced the federal government to invest

hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to reshape the region. Uncovering these

perceptions of the Glades during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and combining

them with subsequent massive federal investment in the region, has led to the following

suggestion. Perhaps the Great American Wetland, and all other wetlands, are part of a

category of lands called flatlands-and these lands are particularly vulnerable to

development pressure because of the perception that it takes little effort to reshape them.


Before examining early 20th century perceptions of the Great American Wetland,

it is necessary to assess the Everglades landscape that confronted people at the turn of the

century. Scientists have generally described the "Everglades" as a 40-mile wide freshwater

marsh that used to extend from the south shore of Lake Okeechobee more than a hundred

miles to the extreme southern and southwest Florida coasts (Figure 4). Yet the Glades are

intimately connected to the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee, and they are part of

several distinct different environments south of Lake Okeechobee. Moreover, many late

19th and early 20th century people viewed most of inland South Florida's wetlands as the

"Everglades." For these reasons, the discussion on physical geography will include topics

beyond the Glades themselves.

The Kissimmee River-Lake Okeechobee-Everglades Watershed

The Everglades occupy a region at the end of a much larger watershed extending

from central Florida. Indeed, many authors refer to a "Kissimmee River-Lake

Okeechobee-Everglades" watershed (Bottcher and Izuno 1994). Figure 4 illustrates the

hydrologic connection between the river, lake, and Glades. The watershed's northern-

most extension is in the center of the peninsula, just south of Orlando (Figure 3). Prior to

the 1880s, a loose association of lakes, creeks, and wetlands conveyed water in a


southerly direction toward Lake Kissimmee. During the 1880s, many of these lakes were

connected by canals in an effort to drain wetlands and improve transportation. The

southern end of Lake Kissimmee marks the beginning of the Kissimmee River, which

empties into the north end of Lake Okeechobee. Although only 50 miles separate Lakes

Kissimmee and Okeechobee, the Kissimmee River originally meandered approximately

100 miles in its tortuous course to the big lake (Perrin 1986). One observer remarked that

it was the crookedest river he had ever seen, flowing in every direction except north

(Blatchley 1932).

The Kissimmee River was quite shallow (averaging six to seven feet deep). Since

rainfall fluctuates seasonally in the basin, the river had extremely low and unnavigable

water levels for several months during the dry season (U.S. House of Representatives

1902). During the wet season, however, the shallow river frequently flooded the

surrounding floodplain marsh (Figure 6). Although it was not ideal for human occupation,

the Kissimmee River valley was a haven for fish, birds, and other wildlife (Toth 1993).

Settlers to the region eventually called for drainage and the federal government responded

by authorizing substantial modification of the river during the 1960s. By the 1970s, the

Kissimmee River had been transformed into a 30-foot deep canal (C-38) approximately 50

miles long, complete with water control structures. Efforts to restore portions of the river

to its original condition are currently under way (Cohn 1994).

Lake Okeechobee occupies a shallow basin, roughly 35 miles in diameter, between

the Kissimmee River and the Everglades proper (Figure 4). Its deepest points are only a

foot or two below sea level and because it is a broad, shallow depression in the

'ii I




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landscape, shifting water levels have caused the lake's total area to vary between 560 and

730 square miles (Brooks 1984). Historically, Okeechobee's level fluctuated significantly,

but most early observers claim that Okeechobee usually stood at roughly 20 feet above

mean sea level (Will 1956; Wright 1912). Higher levels caused overflows. Today, lake

levels are closely regulated, generally between 15.5 and 17 feet above mean sea level

(Bottcher and Izuno 1994).

In addition to the Kissimmee River, with its drainage area of 2,950 square miles-

Okeechobee's tributaries include Fisheating Creek (311 square mile watershed) entering

the lake's west side, Taylor Creek (with a drainage area of almost 100 square miles)

entering on the north end, plus many smaller creeks and sloughs on the lake's north, east,

and west sides (Figure 5). One of the region's first settlers, Lawrence Will (1964 p.8),

records that although the lake's shores were flat and consisted largely of black muck, there

were patches of sandy beaches to the east and south. John K. Small photographed one

such beach on the eastern shore in 1916 (Figure 7). During the 1930s, engineers

constructed a 30-foot high dike around much of the lake.

Historically, Lake Okeechobee never had a significant outlet for excess water.

Even the Caloosahatchee River, whose headwaters are found in neighboring Lake

Hicpochee, was not originally connected to Okeechobee. Yet there were more than a

dozen relatively short "rivers," between 100 and 150 feet wide, leading from the lake's

south shore into the sawgrass country a couple of miles further south (Figure 8).

Lawrence Will drafted a sketch of these rivers in 1923 (Lawrence E. Will, personal and

public papers), complete with names for each, and discussed them in several of his later




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Okeechobee into the Everglades. Source: Norton 1890

books (Will 1968, 1964, and 1961). Apparently these streams carried water to the

Everglades. Will (1964 p.38) contends that the rivers usually had a sluggish current, but

during times of high water in Lake Okeechobee, water gushed through them into the

sawgrass. These rivers have since been completely filled in and converted to agricultural

land. As flood water spilled over or through the lake's south shore into the sawgrass

country, it then moved through the Glades into extreme southern Florida--partially as

sheet flow and partially in ill-defined channels. Clearly, the Everglades are closely related

to Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River.

Geology and Topography

Geologically, Florida's Everglades are quite young. Practically all of southern

Florida's surface or near-surface geology is composed of shallow marine carbonate

sediments all of which were deposited during the Pliocene and Pleistocene ages (Davis

1943a). Missimer (1984 p.385) contends that "no two geologists seem to share the same

opinion regarding the stratigraphic terminology or formation ages of the south Florida

stratigraphic section." Yet a brief survey of the region's major geologic features is in


Although all of South Florida is extremely flat, the bedrock south of Lake

Okeechobee can be viewed as a shallow trough. The eastern rim is formed by the Atlantic

Coastal Ridge, an approximately five mile wide strip of limestone, coquina, sand and shell

extending from north of West Palm Beach to south of Miami (Missimer 1984; Figure 4).

This Pleistocene-age ridge is from two to seven meters above sea level and separates the


Atlantic Ocean from the Everglades. Closely related are the South Florida rocklands, an

extension of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge (with much thinner soils) which extend from

Miami beyond Homestead into the Everglades. Being slightly higher than the Glades, the

ridge frequently (but not always) avoided inundation and thus became the focus of

settlement in southeast Florida. Norton (1890 p.239) characterized walking on the ridge

that separated the Glades from the sea as "indescribably difficult and even dangerous,

owing to the disintegrating rock that covers the surface."

Until the early 20th century, about a dozen relatively short rivers (less than ten

miles long) flowed across low spots along this ridge (Figure 9). These rivers, including the

Miami, Hillsboro, and New rivers, drained only a small percentage of surface water from

the Glades. Charles Norton (1890 p.237) left the following description of the Miami River

near the turn of the century.

It divides into the north and south forks about three miles from the mouth, both of
them swift, clear streams. The north fork has impassable rapids, but the south fork can be
ascended in small boats to its outlet from the everglades ... The grasses and other aquatic
plants that cover the bottom of the stream are wonderfully beautiful in their varied color
and graceful movements as they are swayed to and fro by the clear rushing water.

During the early 20th century, practically all of these rivers were dredged and

converted into drainage canals, some extending across the Everglades (Figure 5). As

water levels in the Glades plummeted, these rivers/canals became conduits for salt water

which penetrated inland along the surface and then moved down through porous bedrock

(Figure 10). Water management officials eventually placed several water-control

structures across the canals in an effort to minimize salt water intrusion (Leach and

Grantham 1966).

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Figure 9. 1846 map of Florida showing several short rivers running through both
southeast and southwest coasts. Source: University of Florida Map Library.



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Figure 10. Salt-water intrusion at Miami, 1904 to 1950.
Source: Parker et al. 1955.


On the western side of the Everglades, the edge of the trough is less well defined.

This broad area, much of it known as the Big Cypress Swamp, is only slightly more

elevated than the Everglades. Southwest Florida also has several short creeks and streams

which conduct water from the Glades to the sea (Figure 9). The Everglades occupy a

limestone trough between the Big Cypress Swamp and sandy flatwoods to the west and

the Atlantic Coastal Ridge to the east, and extend to mangrove fringes along Florida's

southern coast (Figure 4). Stephens (1969) points out that the northern potion of the

Everglades (or Upper Glades), are underlain mostly by hard, relatively impermeable

limestone. The southern, or Lower Glades, are underlain mostly by very permeable


This distinction is worthy of additional comment. South Florida's Biscayne Aquifer

underlies most of Dade and Broward Counties plus parts of Palm Beach and Monroe

Counties (Figure 11). Kreitman and Wedderburn (1984) suggest that the Biscayne might

be the most permeable water table aquifer in the world. It is up to 240 feet thick along the

coast between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, gradually becoming thinner toward the west

across the Glades (Miller 1990). Up to the beginning of the 20th century, tremendous

volumes of water in the Glades generated sufficient head or pressure to keep sea water

from moving inland. Indeed, subterranean flows in the aquifer commonly emerged as

springs along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge and even out in Biscayne Bay (Willoughby 1898).

The Biscayne Aquifer is still South Florida's chief source of drinking water, but constant

increases in the lower east coast's population since 1895, plus Everglades drainage, have

altered the region's hydrogeology. Not only have the region's springs ceased to flow,


0 20 40

West Palm Beach

FLt Lauderdale


Figure 11. South Florida's Biscayne Aquifer.


reduced freshwater head has induced underground salt water intrusion, forcing public

water supply officials to move their wells inland (Leach and Grantham 1966).


Gleason and Stone (1994) contend that the lack of glacial age sediments in the

Everglades trough indicates that during the last period of low sea level, South Florida did

not have its present abundant rainfall or widespread wetlands. Consequently, they maintain

that large-scale peat deposition in southern Florida probably did not begin until rainfall

increased, sometime between 5700 and 4800 years ago. Stephens (1969) contends that

rising sea level obstructed freshwater drainage from the Glades and promoted conditions

conducive to the accumulation of wetlands and organic soils. McDowell et al. (1969)

believe that peat formation began between 5000 and 4400 years ago. These authors assert

that "water table fluctuations were such that the balance between accumulation and

destruction of the organic soil required about 500 to 1000 years to build up the 7.6 cm of

basal mucky peat" (p.745). After this period, plant growth exploded and continued to

build between seven and eight cm of peat per century until drainage operations began in

the early 1900s. Bedrock topography and hydrology substantially influenced the

distribution of early plant communities which became the basis of the region's peat soils.

The distribution of peats across south Florida--both vertically and horizontally--is also

related to long-term changes in the Everglades environment like hydroperiod, drought,

fire, floods, and animal activity (Gleason and Stone 1994).


Much of the Everglades trough is filled with histosols, soils containing at least

78% (by volume) organic matter (Brady 1990). Histosols are common in wetland

environments, because frequent flooding retards decomposition of plant remains. Soil

scientists at the turn of the century identified organic soils as either relatively

undecomposed peat or well decomposed muck (occasionally using "peaty muck" as an

intermediate term). Modem soil scientists distinguish three agriculturally significant

suborders of histosols based on the degree of organic decay (Brady 1990). Fibrists are the

least decayed, saprists the most decayed, and hemists are moderately decayed. Snyder

(1994) maintains that most of the soils in the northern half of the Everglades are heavily-

decayed saprists. Early 20th century Everglades boosters claimed (or implied) that most of

South Florida was covered with a uniformly thick, fertile layer of muck. Yet organic soils

can be highly variable in terms of depth, chemistry, and bulk density, much of which is a

function of the different plants that form the basis of the soil.

In 1915, the United States Department of Agriculture authorized its Soils Bureau

to conduct a soil survey in South Florida (Baldwin et al. 1915). Inasmuch as there were no

roads through the Glades at that time, soil scientists followed the course of the North New

River Canal, taking samples from a four to six mile swath along the course of the canal

from Ft. Lauderdale to Lake Okeechobee (Figure 5). In contrast to Snyder (1994),

Baldwin and his colleagues found that most of the Glades were covered with what they

called "brown fibrous peat," or what is today referred to as a moderately decayed hemist

soil. Although they confirmed promoters" contentions of a large area of brown fibrous

peat from 9 to 11 feet deep, they also discovered that only the soil within a few miles of


Lake Okeechobee could be classified as muck or peaty muck. Although the Natural

Resource Conservation Service now uses different terminology, it seems possible that

nearly a century of drainage and reclamation has transformed much of the soil in the

Everglades from an undecomposed fibrist to a well-decomposed saprist.

Mucks and peaty mucks along the south shore of Lake Okeechobee were primarily

organic but had a comparatively high percentage of sand, silt and clay, probably deposited

when the lake overflowed its banks (Stephens 1969). Baldwin et al. (1915) correctly

recognized this soil's value for agricultural production. This band of soils was later

discovered to almost surround Lake Okeechobee. From nearly three miles south of the

lake for about 30 miles along the canal, however, they recorded the presence of brown

fibrous peat. This soil was not as well decomposed as it is today; it underlies today's

Everglades Agricultural Area (Figure 2). From the 30 mile post (30 miles southeast Lake

Okeechobee) to the outskirts of Ft. Lauderdale, they found peat soils with higher

percentages of sand. Maximum soil depths of 9 to 11 feet were found a few miles south of

Lake Okeechobee, and it later became clear that this soil type becomes progressively more

shallow in every direction from the south shore of the lake. More recent soil surveys have

distinguished several different types of peats and mucks, but even these agree that the

most productive soils lie within a few miles of Lake Okeechobee.

The Atlantic Coastal Ridge from West Palm Beach to Miami is dominated by a

variety of sandy soils. The soil map of the ridge produced by Baldwin et al. (Figure 12) is

a virtual jigsaw puzzle of different soils. The coarse sands are excessively drained, while

fine sands or those with some clay or silt retain some moisture. Along the ridge south of


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Miami, relatively well-drained rocky soils prevail (Leighty and Henderson 1958).

Rocklands southwest of Miami frequently have little or no soil except in cavities or

solution holes in rocky outcrops (Leighty and Henderson 1958).

Eastern Everglades soils, underlying what are now the water conservation areas

(Figure 2), are dominated by Loxahatchee and Everglades peat. These soils have a higher

percentage of sand mixed with peat and are generally less than four feet above bedrock.

According to the Leighty and Henderson (1958 p.22), "when drained, the organic matter

shrinks rapidly, and the low water holding capacity of the soil material and the porosity of

the underlying rock cause the soil to be droughty" Stephens (1969) suggests that this

organic matter shrinks rapidly because it is based on the remains of succulent aquatic

vegetation rather than sawgrass. So useless for traditional agriculture are these soils that

recent soil surveys do not bother to map them (Pendleton et al. 1976; McCollum et al.


Immediately southwest of Lake Okeechobee and west of the Everglades proper are

the sandy flatlands or flatwoods (Figure 4); south of the flatwoods is the Big Cypress

Swamp. As the titles of these regions imply, they have soils different from those found in

the Everglades. Both of these areas are slightly more elevated than the Glades (the Big

Cypress a little less so), therefore inundation and deposition are less extensive. Sloughs

and freshwater marshes, however, are sprinkled throughout this region. Soils of the Big

Cypress area generally consist of a thin (less than two feet) layer of marl, sand or

combination of the two (McPherson 1982). The flatwoods of Hendry County (just north

of Big Cypress; Figure 1) are sandy in nature. According to Belz et al. (1990 p. 11), "some


have a dark sandy subsoil, some are sandy throughout, some have a loamy subsoil, and

some have a loamy surface layer." Toward the eastern end of the county, as one

approaches the Everglades, one may encounter thin layers of muck.

There is one aspect of some South Florida soils that has changed dramatically since

1895: soil depth. Peat soils accumulate because they are inundated many months per year,

prohibiting thorough decomposition of organic matter. If peat soils are drained, as in the

Everglades, they begin to decompose rapidly. Indeed, soil subsidence has been a persistent

problem in the Everglades since the early 1900s.

Herman Gunter (1913) of the Florida Geological Survey compiled a long list of

elevations for points all over Florida. According to his report, the Everglades-near the

south shore of Lake Okeechobee--were 21 feet above sea level. Stephens and Johnson

engaged in an extensive study of soil subsidence in South Florida in 1951. Although they

erroneously predicted that soils would become too shallow to farm throughout most of the

Glades by the year 2000, soil subsidence is still a serious problem (Stephens 1984).

Topographic maps prepared in 1970 by the USGS reveal that elevations in the same area

were only between 12 and 13 feet above sea level. Inasmuch as most experts believe that

Everglades soils subside at a rate of approximately one inch per year, it seems safe to

assume that elevations south of the lake are even lower today (George Snyder, personal


Early 20th century Everglades promoters recognized that peat and muck soil

shrunk somewhat after drainage. Yet Stephens and Johnson (1951) contend that "in

making plans for the original drainage of the Everglades, apparently the main causes of


subsidence were misunderstood." Organic soils subside for several reasons (Stephens

1984). Soon after drainage, peats and mucks shrink due to desiccation. Organic material in

the soil contains water within partially decomposed plant tissues. Upon drainage, this

water evaporates. Even after reflooding, organic soils hold only a fraction of the water

previously held. Moreover, as drainage lowers the water table, organic soils consolidate

because they lose the buoyant force of groundwater. With the appearance of heavy farm

machinery at the dawn of the 20th century, the first five to ten years of cultivation with

such equipment caused organic soils to shrink due to compaction. Furthermore, if dried

sufficiently, soils dominated by organic matter will burn. Although selected places in the

Glades suffered considerable fire damage as reclamation progressed, such damage was

generally local.

The most significant cause of soil loss in the Everglades is biochemical oxidation.

As peat and muck soils are drained, oxygen "breathing" bacteria colonize and consume the

organic matter. Cold climates reduce biological activity generally; but South Florida's

warmer climate is a haven for microscopic organisms that consume organic material in

soils. The relatively slow rate of peatland subsidence in both Europe and the northern

United States prevented scholars in these areas from recognizing this important factor.


Although southern Florida has been radically transformed since 1895, we know

some things about early 20th century vegetation patterns in South Florida. Among the

more important pieces of evidence are two monographs and accompanying maps by John


W. Harshberger (1914) and John H. Davis (1943a). Both men based their maps and

corresponding discussion on extensive field work. Harshberger's map portrays Everglades

vegetation as it existed when people began to alter South Florida's surface hydrology. He

correctly pointed out that topographic differences of a few inches can create sufficient soil

moisture differences to cause radical changes in vegetation. Inasmuch as canal

construction virtually ceased between the late 1920s and the late 1940s, Davis's map

probably reflects vegetation patterns in the Everglades near the end of the study period

(1930). As Davis maintained (1943b), any classification of vegetation groups is greatly

generalized and lines drawn on maps are to a large extent arbitrary. What follows is a

summary of the two maps, especially portions dealing with the Everglades proper,

supported by other published observations.

Both maps make clear that South Florida has much variety in vegetation (Figures

13 and 14). Nevertheless, Harshberger shows the Everglades trough as a nearly

uniform sea of sawgrass which ranges from just below Lake Okeechobee to just above the

southern tip of the peninsula. After traversing the region, Harshberger satisfied himself

that "the saw-grass is everywhere, the common and typic plant with an admixture of less

prominent species, with lagoons and channels filled with aquatic plants" (p. 122). He also

described "arms" of the Glades nearly surrounding Okeechobee, and several others

penetrating the Atlantic Coastal Ridge. Sawgrass is not a grass but a sedge, and derives its

common name from the jagged edges of its leaves. Loveless (1959) observed that

sawgrass attains its greatest density on sites covered with surface water for most of the

year. On relatively dry sites, it occurs in much thinner stands. Indeed, Harshberger (1914)


V ti
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Source: Harshberger 1914,
'''. '., ri l : .<. ,_.'"; .,..'-.,tj..o "--" ': .'.,. r '. .:- l ',,,I

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Figure 14. 1943 map of South Florida vegetation.
Source: Davis 1943a.


contended that South Floridians were well aware that the northern half of the Glades, or

"Upper Glades," consisted of much taller and thicker stands of sawgrass than the more

southerly or "Lower Glades." He speculates that this difference was due to the relatively

thick and wet peat soils of the Upper Glades. Figure 15 shows the thin and patchy nature

of sawgrass in the Lower Glades.

On the other hand, Davis's map is a more heterogeneous portrayal of the Glades

(Figure 14) and he explained it thus: "most of this unbroken marsh was once densely

covered with tall saw-grass, but drainage, consequent subsidence of the peat soil, and fires

have thinned out the natural plant cover and promoted the growth of weeds, bushes, and

other plants, until many areas now have only medium to very sparse growth" (1943b

p. 108). Indeed, most of the tall, dense, and almost impenetrable stands of sawgrass in the

northern half of the Glades have been replaced by sugar cane fields. Also sprinkled

throughout the Everglades are freshwater marshes dominated by other plants such as

cat-tails, ferns, spike rushes, water lilies or other aquatic plants. Yet, sawgrass was and

still is found mixed with other plants throughout South Florida.

According to Harshberger (Figure 13), Lake Okeechobee's south shore had a one-

half to three mile thick band of custard-apple trees. Davis believed this area once consisted

of two separate bands of vegetation, each extending away from the lake a couple of miles

(Figure 14). According to Davis, the band closer to the lake was dominated by custard-

apple trees. The band further away from the lake was dominated by willow and elderberry.

Now virtually erased from Florida, custard-apple trees were particularly interesting for

they gave Okeechobee's south shore an enchanting appearance. Drawing upon notes taken









during a trip to Lake Okeechobee in 1911, Blatchley (1932) later wrote that the trees were

from 6 to 40 feet tall, with fruit that was edible but not very tasty. He observed that these

plants were common in the West Indies and Florida Keys; that they form dense thickets

and are frequently covered with moonflower or moonvine, which created a mysterious,

jungle-like appearance (Figure 16). Blatchley noted that this "is one of the most common

vines of southern Florida and has the same range and habitat as the custard-apple"

(p. 102). Since custard-apple trees had crooked trunks and brittle wood, they could not be

used for lumber, and their fruit could not be eaten, Lawrence Will (1977 p.34) added "I

reckon it was near about the ugliest, most useless tree the good Lord ever made." Will

claims that by the late 1920s, most of the land within a few miles of the lakeshore had

been cleared of custard-apple trees and converted to cropland.

Immediately west of the southern half of the Everglades lies the Big Cypress

Swamp. The dominant vegetation, cypress trees, are notoriously tolerant of high water

levels and relatively large trees usually found crowding the banks of waterways within the

swamp; dense, circular clusters called cypress domes or cypress heads usually indicate

depressions in the landscape that can be covered with water most of the year. Yet the

region's name derives from the expanse of dwarf cypress that are scattered across the

landscape (Figure 17). Mixed throughout Big Cypress country, and especially north of it,

is a mixture of sandy flatlands (or pine flatwoods) and wet prairies. The pine trees in this

region are frequently surrounded by palmetto bushes (Figure 18). Stewart (1907 p.28)

observed that the more vigorous the growth of palmetto, the drier the land. Davis (1943a

p. 155) noted in the early 1940s that pine forests "have nearly all been so thoroughly












.- o0









logged, burned or otherwise depleted that it is probably the only about 10 percent contain

mature uncut timber." He added that many of those areas are becoming pastures, prairies,

and marshes (Figure 19).

The southern and northeastern portions of the trough, as well as the Big Cypress

Swamp, are dominated by sloughs, open water, and hammocks or tree islands. A slough is

a low lying area, frequently choked with aquatic vegetation, that occasionally contains

water even when surrounding places are dry (Loveless 1959; Figure 20). Sloughs are

generally relatively narrow (perhaps as narrow as several hundred feet)-although they can

be many miles wide--and they frequently have water moving from one end to the other.

While traveling through the Big Cypress Swamp shortly after the turn of the century,

Stewart (1907 p.17) reported the presence of many sloughs, some dry and others with

water in them: "when the sloughs become deep enough, the cypress timber grows and they

are called cypress heads or strands."

Craighead (1984) argued for the use of the term "tree islands" to describe

relatively small, thickly forested areas surrounded by much shorter vegetation (Figure 21).

Since these communities are slightly elevated above the surrounding landscape, many of

them have been used by Native Americans as well as by exploring Anglo-Americans as

camp sites. Loveless (1959) notes that tree islands can be as small as a quarter of an acre

and as large as several hundred acres. In the Everglades proper, drainage of water from

north to south gives these islands a tadpole shape with a relatively blunt "head" and thin

tail. In other places, tree islands can be circular (Craighead 1984).




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Figure 21. Southern portion of an 1853 map of Florida illustrating the cartographer's
view of southwest Florida's 10,000 islands area and tree islands in the Everglades.
Source: University of Florida Map Library

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Tree islands are noted for the diversity of plant species that occupy them. As noted

by terms such as tropical hardwood hammock, bay head, willow head, royal palm

hammock (among others), tree islands can be dominated by different plant associations,

many of them tropical. Shrubs, vines, ferns, and epiphytes are also commonly found in tree

islands (Figure 22). Unfortunately, some rare ferns and orchids were collectors items and

are no longer found in South Florida (Craighead 1984).

The Atlantic Coastal Ridge, more southerly rocklands, and territory a few miles

immediately west of these more elevated areas, were dominated by pine flatwoods forests,

scrub oaks, and wet prairies. Harshberger's map (Figure 13) illustrates the variety of

vegetational associations that once inhabited the eastern rim of the Glades. Pine species in

this area vary with slight changes in soil, topography, and water table. Wet prairies are

distinguished from marshes by having less water and shorter herbage (Davis 1943a). Much

of this vegetation on and near the Atlantic Coastal Ridge has been replaced by urban


Closer to Florida's southwest coast, freshwater marshes and cypress trees give

way to mangrove swamps and salt water marshes (Figure 4). Salty and brackish water

eliminates plant species which are not able to exclude or excrete salt. Salt marshes are

dominated by black tipped rushes or different species of spartina grasses or a combination

of both. Mangroves are among the few trees that thrive in brackish to salty water (Figure

23). They are tropical trees with little tolerance for cold weather, and once lined the

southern coasts of Florida from Fort Myers to Miami, extending in scattered fashion along

central Florida's east and west coasts. Immediately off the southwestern coast are



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the 10,000 Islands-so named because of the myriad of mangrove dominated islands

offshore (Figures 4 and 21). Many of these mangrove forests have also fallen victim to

South Florida's rampant urban development.

The nature of South Florida's wetlands is related to changes in sea level (Wanless

et al. 1994). After the development of the east and west coasts, storm deposits and

mangrove peats formed a low coastal dam along Florida's southernmost shore. In 1900,

this dam separated the landward freshwater environments from the sea. As Wanless et al.

note (1994), however, tide gauge records from southern Florida document a dramatic

increase in the rate of relative sea level rise beginning around 1930. The present rapid rise

in sea level sets the stage for damaging hurricanes which erode relatively low lying coastal

areas that can not be recolonized as mangrove swamp, but turn into deepening, expanding

bays. As sea level rises, salt tolerant plants colonize what used to be more inland

freshwater wetlands.


Of all the factors that contributed to South Florida's modern development, climate

played a leading role. Yet few elements of southern Florida's physical geography have

been as misunderstood. The area south of Lake Okeechobee is still occasionally referred

to as "tropical." In fact, the region is a transition zone between the more southerly tropics

and more northerly temperate zone. Moreover, although southern Florida's climate is not

as variable as that of the Great Plains, there is significant seasonal, annual, and spatial

variability in the region's precipitation and, to a lesser extent, its temperature.


Duever et al. (1994) maintain that average daily temperatures show relatively little

seasonal change. South Florida summers are warm and winters are only slightly cooler.

Average daily maximum temperatures at Belle Glade are consistently above 81 degrees F

from April to October. Stations further south maintain the same average maximum

temperature from March through November. Average minimum temperatures at Belle

Glade from November through March are at least 50 degrees F.

The presence of tropical vegetation in the region has led many observers to believe

that cold weather never visits South Florida. Yet it should not be assumed, as it was by

many people during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that freezes never occur in

South Florida. During some winters, relatively few cold fronts push south of Lake

Okeechobee--and frequently, even these bring cool but not freezing temperatures. In other

winters, however, several cold fronts may bring frost.

Minimum temperatures for Belle Glade from 1925 through 1994 have been

examined in an effort to illustrate the nature of South Florida's cold weather. Belle Glade

was chosen for closer scrutiny because it lies in the heart of South Florida's agricultural

community, it has 70 years of record, and it is a few miles from the influence of Lake

Okeechobee. Figure 24 shows that Belle Glade is likely to have at least one episode of

freezing temperature during any given year. The coldest temperature recorded at Belle

Glade for the period of record was 21 degrees F on 12 Jan 1982. Furthermore, Figure 24

also demonstrates that 29 of 70 years had at least one day when the minimum temperature

dipped into the 20s F. Finally, Belle Glade's freezing weather is not limited to late

December or early January. The earliest freeze during the period of record occurred on 28


<30 30-32 >32

Minimum Temp (deg F)

Figure 24. Minimum temperatures, Belle Glade, Florida
1924 1994








78 1

November; the latest occurred on 14 March. Figure 25 shows that the minimum

temperature in any given year is most likely to occur in January, but the years's coldest

weather can occur as early as November and as late as March.

Waylen (1988) performed a more comprehensive examination of freezing weather

in Florida. He acquired data from stations all over the state including many in South

Florida. He shows that coastal locations are less likely to experience freezing

temperatures. For example, Ft. Myers had only nine frosts in 42 years of record. On the

east coast, the Miami airport had only one frost in 28 years of record; yet Homestead-20

miles south of Miami, but a few miles further inland-experienced 25 frosts in 50 years.

Clearly, coastal locations are buffered (to a certain extent) from freezing weather.

Although early South Florida pioneers did not have access to such data, there were

warning signs. For instance, the experiment station at Miami had abandoned many tropical

fruits by 1907 due to cold weather (Stewart 1907). Some of this cold weather came in

December 1906. Stewart (1907) reported that this freeze caused substantial damage to

young citrus trees along the Caloosahatchee River. Moreover, the Miami Metropolis

reported on 28 February 1908 that although there was no apparent freeze damage in

Miami, overnight temperatures had dipped to 28 degrees F at Ft. Lauderdale.

Unfortunately, many early Glades settlers neglected the ocean's influence and assumed

that the Everglades were equally unlikely as the coast to experience frost. Those who

settled along the Bolles Canal-five to six miles south of Lake Okeechobee

(Figure 5)-discovered that their farms were more vulnerable to frost damage than were

lakeshore farms.





E 15



0 N


Figure 25. Month of minimum temperature occurrence, Belle Glade, Florida
1924- 1994


For tropical vegetation in South Florida, occasional freezing temperature is only

one impediment to survival. Also of consequence is the duration of sub-freezing

temperature, the frequency of freezes within a single winter, and the condition of the

vegetation at the time of a freeze. Periodic episodes of cold weather in South Florida kill

many species and stunt the growth of others. According to Duever et al. (1994 p.238),

"this mix of factors is at least part of the reason for the occurrence of spatially different

effects of a single freeze event in South Florida, as well as different effects of different

freeze events at the same site."

In addition to temperature, precipitation in South Florida shares characteristics

typical of many tropical areas. Mean annual precipitation at most South Florida stations is

between 53 and 61 inches; some years may receive less than 40 inches of rainfall while

other years occasionally have 80 inches or more (Figures 26 through 31; stations identified

in Figure 3). Stations along Florida's southeast coast (West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale,

and Miami) usually receive slightly more rainfall than inland stations (Tamiami Trail at

Forty-Mile Bend and Belle Glade). This is due to the Bermuda high pressure cell which

generates warm and humid southeasterly winds which first reach stations along Florida's

lower east coast. Despite its coastal location, even Ft. Myers falls in the "rain shadow" of

Florida's southeast coast.

Precipitation in South Florida is seasonal. Duever et al. (1994) found that 60% of

the region's rainfall occurs from June through September, the "wet" season. Precipitation

during the wet season at these stations averages between six and nine inches per month.

This can be seen in Figures 32 through 37 which show mean monthly precipitation in

- Annual Precipitation
-- Mean Annual Precipitation
--- +/- 1 Standard Deviation





80 -


60 -

50 -



-- --- 4 --- -- ------------

1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990


Figure 26. Annual Precipitation, Belle Glade, Florida
1924 1993


-- Annual Precipitation
110 Mean Annual Precipitation
-- +/- 1 Standard Deviation

90 4

c 80-

0 -70

30 III i i I I i

1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990

Figure 27. Annual precipitation, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
1913- 1993


110 -
*- Annual Precipitation
100 Mean Annual Precipitation
-- +/- 1 Standard Deviation

90 -

80 -





30 1I I I I
1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990

Figure 28. Annual precipitation, Ft. Myers, Florida
1891 1993












1860 1880 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980

Figure 29. Annual precipitation, Miami, Florida
1855- 1993


-*- Annual Precipitation
100 Mean Annual Precipitation
+/- 1 Standard Deviation
90 -

| 70

S 60
-o -



20 I I I I
1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990

Figure 30. Annual precipitation, Tamiami Trail at Forty Mile Bend, Florida
1943 1993


110 Annual Precipitation
Mean Annual Precipitation

100 ---+/-1 Standard Deviation


c 80-

:t 70 -



30 I- I I I I
1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990


Figure 31. Annual precipitation, West Palm Beach, Florida
1929 1993



(Error bars equal +/- 1 standard deviation from mean)


m 10


0 01 1> 0
'U- 0
Month O z 0

Figure 32. Mean monthly precipitation, Belle Glade, Florida
1924 1993







I 1

Month Co

.0 .0 z-
o E E
.) a) )
0 > )
Z0 0
Z a

Figure 33. Mean monthly precipitation, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
1913- 1993

(Error bars equal +/- 1 standard deviation from mean)





3 3



(Error bars equal +/- 1 standard deviation from mean)


m 10


o -- --- ^--------!

Month w z o

Figure 34. Mean monthly precipitation, Ft. Myers, Florida
1891 1993


(Error bars equal +/- 1 standard deviation from mean)



O --
m 10 -



S1855- 1993

0 Q) 0 Q)
Month i z

Figure 35. Mean monthly precipitation, Miami, Florida
1855 1993

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