Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Miami Beach: Farmer Collins, his avocados, and a bridge

Miami and its barrier island, today known as Miami Beach, were connected by the Collins Bridge officially opened June, 1913.

New Jersey farmer John S. Collins (1837-1928) came to Miami most likely after Flagler’s railroad reached the city in 1896. He had invested in a coconut-growing business that failed but he saw potential in Miami’s barrier island for other crops. Collins cleared a few acres near the ocean around Indian Creek to plant avocados trees. He also planted Australian Pines trees that remain today on the street named for them.

As his enterprise grew, so did his expenses. Collins turned to his children, and son-in-law Thomas Pancoast, in New Jersey for assistance and invited them to see his “ranch.” They were not as impressed with the ranch as they were with the island’s potential as a resort destination.  Collins and Pancoast formed the Miami Beach Improvement Company - probably the first time words Miami and beach were paired. 

The company borrowed money to construct a bridge to Miami. It was built of Florida pine, iron and cement and included a revolving drawbridge. The first section spanned to Bull’s Island, the only natural island in Biscayne Bay. Collins Bridge opened June 12, 1913. Pedestrians could cross for 5-cents; vehicles for 15-cents.

Collins Bridge closed in 1925 and was replaced by the Venetian Causeway.  The Miami Beach Improvement Company along with developers Carl Fisher, J.N. Lummus and other visionaries launched what soon became one of the most famous beach resorts in the world. Think avocados the next time you drive along Collins Avenue, now also known as A1A. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
For more about Carl Fisher, visit Jane's Bits:

Kleinberg, Howard. Miami Beach. Miami: Centennial Press (1996).
Miami News, April 9, 1913
Miami News, Jan. 29. 1913


Tags: Miami Beach history, avocados in Miami Beach, John S. Collins, Thomas Pancoast, how Miami Beach began

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