In 1915 a group of Fort Myers businessmen began a plan to build a Tampa to Miami highway along the curving coastline of Southwest Florida and then across ninety miles of the most famous swamp in America, the Everglades.
Their efforts were made expedient for a group of inland political leaders were proposing a Cross State Highway from Tampa to Arcadia then to LaBelle and Immokalee and across the interior on a horizontal line to Miami. This latter road would avoid the west to east route across the Everglades, a feat considered impossible to many engineers in 1915.
In the political conflict between the inlanders and the coastal developers and city folk, the latter gained state approval. It helped that urban counties like Hillsborough, Manatee, and Sarasota contributed money to the development of their area of “the Tamiami Trail“, known to most tourists today as US41.
It was in Southwest Florida where the two lane highway faced financial obstacles until a New York developer named Barron Collier (Collier County) donated the outrageous sum of one million dollars in private funds. Collier was also a marketing genius promoting the project during the Florida Land Boom as a crusade to conquer the Everglades.
Marksman at top of dredge is looking for alligators.
Despite these efforts, construction stalled by 1921 when builders tried to build a roadbed into the Everglades. By April of 1923, many residents thought the project was doomed, until a group of 23 daring West Coast civilians with two Seminole guides decided to cross the swamps in a motorcade of one commissary truck, seven Model T Fords, and an Elcar.
These Tamiami Trailblazers reached Miami and affirmed the possibility of completing the roadway. The next year the Florida State Road Department incorporated the Tamiami Trail into the Florida Highway System.
The Tamiami Trailblazers Prepare for the Everglades
The Tamiami Trail was completed in 1928, a task that took 13 years of hardship. Besides the swamp and alligators, the workers had to build bridges to allow the north-south flow of water into the Everglades.
Today most tourists choose Alligator Alley, a toll road and part of I-75 to go from East Naples to Miami (Fort Lauderdale). Driving the old Tamiami Trail, however, connects you with the Old Florida, although I confess I dreaded the drive during summer thunderstorms when I went from Fort Myers to the University of Miami.