Happy 93rd Birthday Tamiami Trail by Lois Bolin, Ph.D.

Lois Bolin, PhD, Old Naples Historian

On April 25, 1928, Governor John W. Martin launched a 450 car motorcade on a one day journey from Tampa to Everglades City in celebration of the opening of the Tamiami Trail. The Everglades’ greatest day was also a fulfillment of the governor’s 1925 campaign promise to have the highway completed during his administration — “come hell or high water.”

Trailblazers never quit
There was barely a mile of the Tamiami Trail in existence when Collier County was formed in 1923, because the State of Florida had some rather unrealistic ideas on how roads were to be built.
Each town was to sell bonds to finance the road’s construction, which was fine —if you lived in Dade County and had the population to support such bonds. But if you lived in a sparsely populated spot like Collier County, that wasn’t likely to happen.

In 1923, to un-stall the Trail talks yet again, a group of 23 men dubbed the “Tamiami Trailblazers” along with two Seminole guides took on a public relations campaign to draw attention to the need for a road. They decided to cross the Everglades in cars to prove it was possible to build through the swamp.

Their journey from Carnestown (near State Road 29) to the Dade County line was to take four days. Instead, it took 23. To say their Model Ts got struck is a blind flash of the obvious, but these men did not know the word “quit.” It took 17 hand built bridges and eight miles of paths through dense cypress forest with their food and gas dropped to them by bomber aircrafts, to complete their adventure and get the Trail talks back on track.

But the building of one of the greatest feats in Florida hit a snag again in August 1926. That’s when Governor Martin stepped in to lend a hand with his “come hell or high water” battle cry. With 31 miles to go and a million dollars of Barron Collier’s money already spent, crews discovered the next section of the planned road was solid rock, unlike the sand they’d been working on until then.

Not only that, but the land boom in Florida was at its peak, and turnover among workers on the Trail was about 50 percent a month. As one story goes, when Mr. Collier was asked how many
shifts he had working, he replied, “Three: one coming down from Tampa, one on the job and one on the way back to Tampa.”

What if… ?
Frank F. Tenny, Jr., Colonel U.S.A.F. Ret. and director of photography for the then Collier County Historical Society reflected on what if the Tamiami Trail had not been completed when it had.

The recession of 1926 intensified into a full depression that lasted well into the 1930s, followed by World War II. It was Mr. Tenny’s belief that if the Trail had been put off until after the war, a boom similar to what happened on the east coast would have occurred and made Collier into what it never wanted to be —a Dade-like county.

At the end of the road
At a cost of $8 million, or about $25,000 a mile, the Tamiami Trail formally opened to traffic on April 26, 1928, marking the first time in history that motor vehicles could move over land across the southern tip of Florida.

The entire Trail was once listed on the National Scenic Byways Program, which recognizes highways that are outstanding examples of our nation’s beauty, history, culture and recreational
experience. In September 2008, however, a 50-mile portion of this magnificent highway was undesignated by the Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization- but that’s another story.
Regardless, this achievement, which has been likened to the building of a scaled-down Panama Canal, required workers to go through hell and high water to ultimately connect people to the
magic of this place we call home. Happy 93rd Birthday from the millions who have traveled this trail to paradise.

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