The creation of two features, that continue to dominate our landscape today, was instrumental in guiding our industrial, commercial and residential development as well as shaping our Urban Forest. The Railroad system was introduced by Henry Flagler to connect northern states to sunny South Florida to give snowbirds a respite from cold winter weather. The railroad was built along the higher elevations of the Atlantic Coast Ridge, on former sand dunes, then dominated by the sand pine scrub community. Early development followed along the railroad corridor to serve visitors and early residents further impacting the native plant communities.
The second major feature was the creation of a vast network of canals to drain the Everglades and associated wetland communities to make them suitable for agricultural production. As Florida’s 19th governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward was successful in draining and developing portions of the Everglades, as well as being honored by his name being dedicated to this County. During the drainage project, the western two-thirds of Broward County were cut off from the remainder of the County by a levee and remain as conservation areas within the Everglades ecosystem. The remaining one-third was further drained by canals and provides our present developed area where we live, work, are educated, and play.
Of special note, the North New River Canal was constructed to provide access for barges from the agricultural areas around Lake Okeechobee to the railroad station on the New River in present downtown Fort Lauderdale, combining both monumental efforts into one local historical amenity.
Because of the vast vacant lands of early South Florida available for development, little consideration was originally given to preservation of natural communities. Later, through regulatory means and conscientious developers, tracts of native habitats were preserved within residential communities, primarily within the northwestern third of the County where forested resources were present. Southwestern Broward was originally Everglades wetlands, and the Urban Forest canopy present has resulted from landscaping of residential, commercial, governmental and educational properties.