On July 28, 1896, the city of Miami  was officially incorporated. On that date, the new city’s population was about 300. Today, Miami-Dade County is home to 2.5 million people, and unbelievably, most of that population growth has taken place since World War II.
Of course, the area’s roots go back well beyond the late 19th century—it was home to Tequesta Indians for more than a thousand years before Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in 1566 and claimed the area for Spain. A backwater mission and military outpost for much of the next three centuries, Miami’s modern history began with the efforts of citrus grower Julia Tuttle, the original owner of much of the land on which the nascent city was founded.
Tuttle, the only woman to found a major American city, saw the area’s potential as a tourist destination and pitched it to Henry Flagler, who was in the process of pushing his Florida East Coast Railroad further south from the Palm Beach area.
With Flagler’s railway connecting Miami to the rest of the United States, the city was one of the epicenters of the Florida land boom in the 1920s, and like many other areas of speculation throughout the state, it was hit hard by the double-whammy of the boom’s collapse and the onset of the Great Depression.
With the start of World War II, however, its role as a naval base saw the city grow, and Miami Beach  soon became the preferred vacation destination for movie stars and sun-loving tourists. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 brought the first huge wave of Cuban immigrants to settle in Miami, but with the Mariel Boatlift in 1980 launching a mass exodus of more than 100,000 Cuban refugees, the city’s identity as a haven for Latin Americans was cemented.
Miami ’s fortunes have risen and fallen somewhat more dramatically than many other American cities, mostly due to waves of real estate speculation in this paradisiacal part of the country. The first was in the 1920s, then in the 1950s, and quite dramatically in 2008 dozens of abandoned half-finished skyscrapers dotted the downtown landscape. Still, the city’s most devastating period was during the 1970s and early 1980s, when Miami was the primary point of entry and distribution for most of the cocaine coming into the United States from South America.
Ironically, the exodus of people during that violent era—most notably from the Miami Beach  area—paved the way for much of the vibrant revitalization the city is undergoing today. Property values declined so precipitously that it was possible for innovative developers and entrepreneurs to purchase and renovate many of the art deco buildings that are now seen as some of the area’s most precious architectural treasures.