Riding With the Tamiami Trail Blazers

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Aerial view if the Tamiami Trail. Photo courtesy of  the State Archives of Florida.

The Tamiami Trail has had a far-reaching impact on Florida’s history and development. At the start of the 20th century, personal automobiles were speedily gaining popularity. Northern tourists sought to escape the cold winters of the north and bask in the warmth of the Florida sunshine. Unfortunately, few roads on Florida’s popular Gulf Coast traveled directly from Tampa to Miami. Before the trail was constructed, visitors commonly traveled to South Florida by boat. If motorists wanted to go to Miami, they had to drive north to Tampa, cross over to Daytona and then drive south to Miami.

In 1915, a group of businessmen from Miami, Naples, and Fort Myers met with state officials in Tallahassee to discuss the probability of a cross-state highway from Miami to Tampa. At first the proposed highway was named “the Miami to Marco Highway” then changed to “Atlantic to Gulf Boulevard.” The group then combined names of its terminus cities, Tampa and Miami, thus coming up with “Tamiami Trail.”

By 1923, little progress had been made on the Trail. Large sums of money were spent, and work on the highway was dangerous. Several workmen drowned or were killed by dynamite explosions. It seemed as though the Trail would never be completed. Then a group of gung-ho Floridians set out to spark the public’s enthusiasm.

Tamiami Trailblazer holding sign. Photo courtesy of  the State Archives of Florida.

Tamiami Trail Blazer holding sign. Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

On April 4, 1923, Dade County land developer Captain James Franklin Jaudin led a group of businessmen who boldly nicknamed themselves the “Tamiami Trail Blazers” into the Everglades. The Trail Blazers left Fort Myers and drove toward Miami. The motorcade consisted of nine vehicles, one tractor, 25 men and four women. Two Seminole Indians played major roles as guides, hunters and food gatherers: Conopatchee (Little Billie), and Assumhatchee (Abraham Lincoln Clay). Both were popular among the pioneers living in Lee and Collier counties. On the first day of the expedition, the group lost three vehicles. Jaudin and the others relied heavily on the knowledge of their Seminole guides to find water, food, and the best route across the Everglades.

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Map of the route taken by the Tamiami Trail Blazers. Photo courtesy of  the State Archives of Florida.

When the group’s motorcade failed to arrive by April 6, Miami papers declared the group lost. People began to speculate that the Trail Blazers might not have survived the dangers of the brutal Florida swamp. These theories gave the expedition daily national news coverage. On April 10, the Miami Herald ran a story with the headline, “Rain Dashes Only Hope of Trapped Party – Believe All Have Perished.” Rescue parties were assembled, and airplanes soared over the uncultivated land daily. After a 19 day journey, the Trail Blazers had finally made it to Miami and were hailed as heroes.

Shortly after the Trail Blazer’s expedition, the Florida legislature endorsed the construction of the Tamiami Trail. On April 25, 1928, the highway opened to traffic. Since then, millions of motorists have traveled the Tamiami Trail and traversed through the Everglades from the comfort their vehicles.

– Ursa Gil

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