April 15, 1896: Henry Flagler's railroad arrives in Miami for first time
In the early 1890s, Julia Sturtevant Tuttle owned 640 acres on the north side of the Miami River and had been trying unsuccessfully to convince oil magnate Henry Flagler to extend his Florida East Coast Railway to Miami from its then-current terminus in Palm Beach. Flagler resisted, until the Great Freezes of 1894-95, which killed citrus crops in the state as far south as Palm Beach. Tuttle sent Flagler a twig of green leaves and white blossoms from one of her orange trees and repeated her offer: She would give him half of her 640 acres if he would promise to extend his railroad to Miami, build a hotel, and plat out the streets for a future city.
Finally, Flagler accepted the deal, and on April 15, 1896, the first train arrived on the newly laid tracks. J.N. Lummus described the arrival in his book, The Miracle of Miami Beach: "The old wood burning engine, with its big bell top, was spouting smoke and the whistle and the bell were going full tilt."
The first train consisted of a locomotive, mail coach, baggage car, day coaches and a chair car, he wrote. Other accounts state the train carried lumber and building materials and the first passenger train arrived a week later. Flagler's train jump-started development of Miami into a real city. Its population increased from 260 in 1895 to 1,681 by 1900. In January 1897, Flagler opened his Royal Palm Hotel on land deeded by Tuttle.
Read more in the introduction to the book, Miami in Vintage Postcards by Patricia Kennedy