With a national push for expansion and progress in the later part of the nineteenth century, stimulated interest in draining the Everglades for agricultural use. Wetland removal was not questioned from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century according to historians. It was actually considered the proper thing to do.
Actually, it began as early as 1837, and by 1842 a resolution in Congress was passed that prompted Secretary of the Treasury Robert J. Walker to request those with experience in the Everglades to give their opinion on the possibility of drainage. Not surprisingly, many of the officers who had served in the Seminole Wars favored the idea. Then in 1850, Congress passed a law that gave several states wetlands within their state boundaries. The responsibility for funding the attempts to develop the wetlands into farmlands fell on the states under the Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act. In Florida, a committee was quickly from but halted until after 1877 until after the Civil War and Reconstruction.
A state agency called the Internal Improvement Fund (IIF) whose sole purpose was to improve Florida’s roads, canals, and the rail line was found to be deeply in debt after the Civil War. Without other options, the IIF found Pennsylvania real estate developer Hamilton Disston who was interested in implementing the plans to drain the land for agriculture. After purchasing 4,000,000 acres for $1 million in 1881, he began construction on canals near St. Cloud.
At first, his plan seemed to work as the waters levels in the wetlands surrounding the rivers was lowering. The plan though was insufficient for the wet season, but his purchase of the land primed the economy of Florida. Soon the purchase and project made news and attracted tourists and land buyers. Within four years, property values doubled, and the population increased significantly.
With the money the IIF received from Disston’s purchase, they were able to begin numerous development projects. Then when oil tycoon Henry Flagler began purchasing land and rail lines along the east coast of Florida, the IIF saw it as another opportunity to improve transportation.
In 1904, during the gubernatorial race, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, promoted draining the Everglades. He called the future of South Florida the “Empire of the Everglades.” Soon after he became governor, he began working to “drain the abominable pestilence-ridden swamp.” The Everglades Drainage District was established in 1907 and began to study how to build the most effective canals, and how to fund them.
Governor Broward ran for the U. S. Senate in 1908 but lost. After being paid by land developer Richard J. Bolles to tour the state to promote drainage, he was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1910. He died before he could take office, but land in the Everglades was now being sold for $15 an acre shortly after his death.