Debunking the Orange Blossom Myth

By Seth H. Bramson

It is high time that the orange blossom myth is debunked once and for all, for the truth and fact is that Julia Tuttle did not send Mr. Flagler orange blossoms, a bouquet of flowers or anything else except, as did Mary and William Brickell, letters to get him to extend the railroad to the shores of Biscayne Bay.

The orange blossom story is pure, unadulterated nonsense… Think about it: how would she have sent the orange blossoms? By FedEx? By USPS overnight mail? Of course not, and the “well, she put them in dry ice” story is completely ludicrous because getting packages back from the area adjacent to the Miami River to St. Augustine, where Mr. Flagler was headquartered, would have taken at least three and a half days at that time. You can imagine what anything floral wrapped in dry ice would have looked like after such a journey!

The myth was first debunked in 1913 when the then-incorporated village of Coconut Grove published a beautiful promotional booklet in which they clearly stated that no such thing happened and that it was a lovely and very romantic story, but completely untrue. 

The facts: following the great and terrible freezes of December 1894 and January and February 1895, Mrs. Tuttle wired Mr. Flagler that the region around the shores of Biscayne Bay was untouched by the bitter cold. She asked him to come south to take a “look-see,” but contrary to the complete falsehoods spouted off that he did so, he did not, instead sending his now-famous in Florida history lieutenants, James Ingraham, his land commissioner, for whom the Ingraham Building on SE 2 Avenue just south of Flagler Street is named, and Joseph R. Parrott, his railroad vice president.

Upon making the trip south, they were amazed when they found the area south of the freeze line lush and verdant and green. (It appears, from many years of research and from the description of their trip — by train to West Palm Beach and then by buckboard and boat to the dock at Lemon City, then again by buckboard to meet not just with Mrs. Tuttle, but also with Mary and William Brickell — that the freeze line appears to have been somewhere in the vicinity of one to two miles north or south of today’s Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale).

They took boxes of truck (produce) and citrus back to Mr. Flagler, along with two citrus tree limbs wrapped in wet cotton. (There was no record kept of which variety of citrus was brought back to Mr. Flagler, hence we do not know today if it was orange, tangerine, lemon, lime or grapefruit branches.) Upon their return, he then wired Mrs. Tuttle: “Madam,” he asked, “What is it that you propose?”

The Brickells had previously offered Mr. Flagler half of their land south of the river, but Mrs. Tuttle’s offer was the icing on the cake:  “If you will extend your railroad to the shores of Biscayne Bay and build one of your great hotels” she told him, “then in addition to what has already been promised you by Mr. and Mrs. Brickell, I will give you half of my holdings north of the river plus fifty acres for shops and yards.”

With that, the deal was finalized, contracts were drawn up and signed by the appropriate parties. The first train, a construction train, arrived on April 15, 1896, the first passenger train arriving one week later, on April 22, 1896, with the first excursion from north Florida arriving on May 11. On May 15, the first edition of Miami’s first newspaper, The Miami Metropolis, was published and on July 28, 1896 Miami, without ever having been a village or a town or an incorporated entity of any kind, sprang into existence as a city. The great and fabled Royal Palm Hotel opened on the north bank of the Miami River on December 31, 1896, not in 1897 as some faux historians have stated. 

And now, dear readers, for the “icing on the cake,” and to bring proof to the fact that Julia Tuttle is not the “mother of Miami,” but rather one of at least four “mothers of Miami.” First, the Brickells corresponded with Mr. Flagler attempting to induce him to extend the railroad at least two years before Mrs. Tuttle did the same thing, but the proof is in the pudding with this: Mary and William Brickell signed their contract with Mr. Flagler on June 12, 1895, while Julia signed hers on October 24 of that year, more than four months later.

Simply put, those who started the fable (yes, good and romantic publicity at the time) might have had legitimate reason to do so, but those who propounded it long after the truth became known to all who cared to avail themselves of it, should be ashamed of themselves for having done so.

That is how it happened, not because “she sent him some orange blossoms!” 

Seth H. Bramson, “Mr. Miami Memorabilia” is America’s single most published Florida history book author:  24 of his 33 books deal directly with the villages, towns, cities, counties, people and businesses of the Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade County “gold coast.” He is the nation’s senior collector [66 years this coming May] of Miami memorabilia and Floridiana and his collections of FEC Railway, Florida transportation memorabilia, Miami memorabilia and Floridiana are the largest in the country.

For more on this story, refer to Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of Rail:  FLORIDA EAST COAST RAILWAY” (P. 9), and, more completely, in Arcadia’s “Images of America:  MIAMI: THE MAGIC CITY” (P. 7) wherein the true and factual story is told regarding how and why Henry Flagler made the decision to extend the railroad the 66 miles south from West Palm Beach to what was then not yet the City of Miami.