From Canals to Conservation: An Exhibit of the Historical Everglades

Exhibit Navigation Overview Timeline Exploration Dredging Development COnservation


The drainage work started by Governors Jennings and Broward was of great interest nationally and internationally, and soon real estate dealers and settlers from around the world rushed in to profit from the project. The land sales boom in South Florida at the start of the 1920s was almost unprecedented in the history of the world. So was the rapidity with which it had collapsed by the end of the decade. Two catastrophic hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 effectively ended the boom, but many people had already declared the drainage program a bust. By the time the depression began in 1929, sales had ceased and the state was forced to halt drainage and dredging activities.

Thomas E. Will was a passionate advocate for developing reclaimed land in the Florida Everglades. In 1910, Will visited the Everglades for the first time and he became so excited about the prospects for development there that he quit his career in forestry to dedicate himself to the Everglades. Between 1910 and 1914, he spent most of his time working in Washington, D.C., promoting drainage and development of the Everglades, and primarily working as a real estate agent associated with the Everglades Land Sales Company and the Florida Everglades Homebuilders Association. He also spent a great deal of time writing articles and making speeches in order to promote further land purchases. Between 1912 and 1914, Will purchased several tracts of land near Lake Okeechobee and began the development and settlement of the region's first planned town, Okeelanta. The Will Papers (1893-1938) include his writings about the Everglades and correspondence relating to his land development work in the Everglades, particularly the settlement and eventual failure of Okeelanta.

Arthur Ernest Morgan was a civil engineer specializing in flood control engineering, and was the first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority.  The Morgan Papers primarily relate to a controversy that occurred in 1912 when Morgan was employed in the office of Drainage Investigations in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.s. House of Representatives opened hearings to investigate the USDA's involvement in promoting land sales in the Everglades. In 1909, a preliminary report on the feasibility of draining and reclaiming land in the Everglades had been prepared by USDA employee, James Wright, who concluded that the Everglades could be drained fairly easily and inexpensively. The facts and conclusions presented in the Wright report were extremely unsound, but the USDA officially approved the report anyhow.  The land companies in Florida were able to use the USDA report as propaganda to spur real estate sales in South Florida. As part of the 1912 investigation Morgan analyzed the Wright report and testified before a Congressional committee that the report was seriously flawed and that the USDA had acted inappropriately by approving it. Morgan's expert testimony during the investigation refuted the claims that draining the Everglades would be easy, thereby causing the boom in land sales to slow down temporarily.




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