Although it’s difficult to imagine now, as recently
as 1923 there was still not a single mile of paved road in Collier County.
For years the long-awaited highway between Tampa and Miami – the Tamiami
Trail – had been stalled at the western edge of Dade County and the southern
boundary of Lee County, bogged down by difficult terrain and a chronic shortage
of construction money. The longest link, some 76 miles of the proposed highway,
fell in Collier County and remained unfinished.
Completion of the Tamiami Trail was a critical first step in Barron G. Collier’s
master plan to develop the region and link newly created Collier County to
Florida’s two leading cities. In October 1923, as promised, he got the
project underway with his own money.
A retired naval officer and engineer, David Graham Copeland, was assigned
the seemingly impossible task of building a town in the Florida wilderness
as a base for directing a mechanized army of construction workers on both the
Tamiami Trail, and a new highway and railroad connection north, to Immokalee.
Virtually overnight, Copeland transformed the new County seat at Everglades
into a modern communications and supply center operated with almost military
precision. The Allen River was re-christened the Barron River and dredged to
raise the level of the land above the mangrove swamps. Surveyors, engineers
and architects designed new docks, buildings, homes, stores, schools, streets,
repair shops and railroads. Electric power, water, regular mail and steamship
service, a weekly newspaper, telephones and even an electric trolley were provided
for the workers and residents of Everglades.
By the time the Florida State Road Department came to his aid in 1926, Collier
had already invested more than $1 million in earnings from his advertising
businesses into construction of the Tamiami Trail.
The final cost was a staggering $8 million, or about $25,000 a mile. But for
the first time in history, vehicles could travel overland across the southern
tip of Florida, opening Collier County to economic development and thousands
of new homebuyers.