Only a century ago the southern third of Florida
was an unwelcoming wet wilderness. Lake Okeechobee was nearly twice
the size it is today. From the lake, water crept southward down the
peninsula through swamp and sawgrass. Rainfall that did not soak
into the underlying limestone sat on the nearly flat land. The only
dry places were on the Atlantic coastal ridge and the Everglades
Florida Photo Archives
Indians inhabited south Florida even before wetter
climatic conditions set into motion the beginning of the Everglades
5000 or so years ago. At the time European explorers arrived in the
1500s, Indian cultures were well established, and people lived by
hunting, fishing, and gathering wild foods. Villages around Lake
Okeechobee may have grown corn, at least for a time. Most of the
Indian population was in villages near estuaries and on the coastal
ridge. People traveled from these villages back and forth to camps
in the Everglades to hunt and fish, much as modern urban dwellers
continue to do today.
By the mid 1700s, the original Indian cultures
encountered by European explorers were gone, their members killed
or enslaved, or dead from diseases to which they had no resistance.
A new group of Indians-a few hundred Seminoles and
Miccosukees-escaped to south Florida at the end of the Second
Seminole War in 1842. They established small settlements on the
tree islands, hunted, fished, gardened, and collected wild foods.
They plied the waterways in cypress canoes, and toward the end of
the 19th century began trading alligator hides and egret feathers,
desirable commodities in the world of women's fashions, for sewing
machines and other goods.
Florida Photo Archives
In 1948 Congress authorized the Central and South
Florida Project to protect agricultural and urban areas from
flooding and to serve as a source of freshwater for what was fast
becoming the heavily populated Gold Coast. Construction of canals,
levees, and water control structures began in 1949 and was
completed in 1962. These structures have altered the natural
hydroperiod and disrupted sheetflow from Lake Okeechobee to Florida
Bay. On some portions of the area drained land was used for sugar
cane cultivation or cattle ranching.
Holey Land derived its name from reports that it
was used as a practice bombing range during World War II and is
pocked with bomb craters. However, these depressions may be the
result of natural phenomena.
In 1994 the state passed the Everglades Forever Act
to address environmental concerns related to quality, quantity, and
timing of water entering the Everglades.
For more information on Everglades restoration
visit the South
Florida Water Management web site.