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USF Libraries Exhibits

Railroads

Men standing by a train

Men Standing By a Train, [1895?].

Change was on the horizon when Henry B. Plant brought the first railway to Tampa in December 1883. The city was given an edge with this new transportation development, bringing railroad workers, settlers, whiskey and goods to the area. The railroads opened up new opportunities linking the coastal communities to inland cities.

The railroad that spread throughout Florida spurred the next major migration into Florida in the 1920s, during the real estate boom. Instead of plantation owners, these new pioneers were middle-class American families and land speculators looking to start a new life in a warm, sunny, tropical place or to make large profits through land speculation. Development was exploding in Florida during this time and was bolstered by new tax laws, gambling and the continued growth of the railroad system. It was during this time that many of the familiar landmarks and destinations we know today such as Davis Island and Miami Beach were created.

An Aerial view showing early dredging work for Davis Island

Early Dredging Work for Davis Island, [Date unknown].

However, the boom was short-lived and came to an abrupt end in just five years. High demand and the inflated economy drove rent and prices to unsustainable levels for many residents. The same railroads that made this land boom possible started collapsing, overwhelmed by the demand for materials. Mother Nature also played a role in ending the land boom with cold winters, hot summers and hurricanes. All of these things made it difficult for people to live here and scared away others thinking of moving to or investing in Florida. All of these factors caused Florida’s economy to enter a depression before the rest of the country experienced the Great Depression.

All of the brave men, women and families that endured the pioneer life in Florida were paramount in shaping the future of Florida.