This year marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of a tiny woman’s little book that eventually altered the trajectory of Florida history. To appreciate why, however, it’s helpful to look back a few years to a time when many of the sparsely populated state’s communities promoted growth at all costs.
Although the phrase “drain the swamp” has recently come to mean “shake things up in Washington, D.C.,” for most of the 20th Century those words had a literal meaning. Indeed, they accurately described the business practices used by many of Florida’s sellers of undeveloped land.
Their creative sales techniques soon gave rise to the pejorative term “swamp peddlers,” which unfairly stigmatized Florida’s legitimate developers of raw land. The swamp peddlers lured prospective buyers south during the winter months, when Florida’s weather was not only warmer than up north but – even better – coincided with South Florida’s extended dry season. As a result, land that was mostly underwater during summer’s rainy months often appeared to be high and dry.
Eventually, when word of this deceptive practice began to get around, inventive developers found a different way to make use of the flood-prone land that had languished undeveloped after the people who had bought it gave up hope.
The prevailing technique, which entailed literally draining the swamp, became this: Dig up the muck and the underlying rock on some of the land, then pile this material upon the rest of the land. The result: Voila! Hundreds of acres of waterfront property bordering newly dug lakes, ponds, and canals.
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