The cross-peninsular stretch of the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami officially opened on April 25, 1928. Area residents welcomed the road and predicted a boost to the local economy from the increased traffic. Perfectly positioned to profit from the road were the Koreshans, whose property ran adjacent to the Tamiami Trail as it passed through the small, rural community of Estero, Florida.
Allen H. Andrews, a member of the Koreshan Unity, wrote about his experience during the “blazing” stage of the Tamiami Trail. Andrews was among the group known as the “Trailblazers” who completed the first successful motorcade crossing of the route that later became the Tamiami Trail.
On April 4, 1923, the Trailblazers set out from Fort Myers towards Miami across the vastness of South Florida. The motorcade consisted of ten vehicles and 28 men, including two Seminole guides. Andrews described this place as a land where “[l]aw and order are practically unknown,” home only to the Seminoles and assorted moonshiners, bootleggers, and other outlaws.
As the expedition progressed through wet prairie, marsh, sawgrass, and hammock islands, they suffered the loss of three vehicles, rendered “out of commission” by the muck. Andrews and the others relied on the knowledge of their Seminole guides to find water, game, and to determine the best route across the glades.
The constant need for fresh water weighed heavily on Andrews’ mind: “To the writer the lack of good drinking water proved the greatest privation and there were frequent periods when one’s thoughts dwelt in anticipation upon the ice cream and cooling drinks one would get in Miami when the Trail’s end was reached–but when?”
As they reached the 100 mile mark from Fort Myers, Andrews also started to worry about food, which was “practically gone” at that point. His outlook brightened when one of the Seminole guides, known to whites as Abraham Lincoln or Assumhatchee, returned with a deer. Soon the men had boiled venison for dinner, sufficient to satisfy the “almost famished crowd.” Apparently the buck yielded enough meat for “fried venison” the next morning.
At this point, a week out from Fort Myers, the Trailblazers reached dense stands of cypress, “…avoiding as much as possible the larger trees and with a hatchet in hand blazing the way on both sides of the route. Then came the axe men and those who bore away the underbrush and fallen timber. When a half mile or so had been cleared a delegation would go back to bring up the cars.”
After the cypress came “frequent big outcropping ledges of jagged lime rock” exuding from the alternating wet and dry prairie. Andrews described this portion as “the roughest motoring we had so far experienced.” The motorcade rejoiced when they heard the “whir of a motor” from an airplane passing overhead. The plane, piloted by W.A. Carr and N.C. Torstensen, arrived to drop off much needed supplies, courtesy of the Miami Chamber of Commerce.
As the group neared Miami, they came upon construction crews working to connect the finished sections of the route. They learned from a “blasting crew” stationed some 40 miles west of Miami that the daily papers had featured several stories that feared the Trailblazers were lost in the Big Cypress Swamp.
The Trailblazers met with great excitement upon finally reaching Miami. To commemorate their historic trip, the city held a parade and reception on Flagler Street. Andrews credited himself and his fellow Trailblazers with focusing the attention of millions of Americans on an ambitious highway project in the swamps of Florida. He closed his account with a nod to the legacy of the Trailblazers who “proved the healthfulness and fertile character of the country” and stimulated the investment of “many thousand dollars” to complete the project.
All Andrews quotes from his memoir, A Yank Pioneer in Florida (Jacksonville: Douglas Printing Company, 1950). More on Andrews, the Koreshans, and the Tamiami Trail, is available at the State Archives of Florida in N2009-3, Koreshan Unity Papers.