Car Dale Tower
Since tourism began, sightseers have known that the best way to get the lay of the land and see it all is to find a vantage point to look down on the countryside from high above. But what was the Florida tourist to do in a state where the highest mountain would barely register as a hill in any other region?
Well, if you can't find a mountain... build your own. Entrepreneurs stepped in to fill the void with a variety of tourist observation towers all across the state. Florida has had a Citrus Tower (still in operation), a Placid Tower (standing, but not in service), and any number of now lost towers from Panama City Beach (the Top O' The Strip Observation Tower) through Central Florida (Nagel Groves Tower) and down to Riviera Beach (Trylon Tower).
The granddaddy of them all was the Everglades Observatory, built in the early 1900's to thrill tourists with views of exotic swamplands (as well as possibly sell them a plot of land that would soon be drained and built upon). At that time Miami tourism was centered around the Miami River: visitors, brought south by Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad and staying in the hotels near the mouth of the river, would take tour boats up the river to attractions like Richardson's Groves at Musa Isle or, to a landing just before the river rapids (located a bit upriver from today's Miami River Rapids Mini-Park), where they could board a rickety mule-drawn rail-car for transportation to a high spot in the swamp where they could ascend the mighty tower, to the amazing height of about 25 feet, and get a view for miles around.
The Rapids were dynamited and dredged in 1908 as part of the Miami Canal project, as efforts to drain the wetlands transformed the area into dryer, more developable ground (much of what we now think of as dry land to the west of Miami, including Hialeah, Doral, Sweetwater, and other areas, was once part of the Everglades). Attractions like the Everglades Observatory gave way to housing and industrial developments.
If you want a much higher view of the same area as it appears today, all you have to do is head for the upper floors of any of a number of high-rise Miami International Airport area hotels (or catch a flight out of the airport, of course). If you want to get a birds eye view of Everglades National Park, on the other hand, you have to head further inland to the Shark Valley observation tower (West of Miami off the Tamiami Trail) or the E.J. Hamilton Observation Tower (South of Everglades City on the West Coast).
A later, taller observation tower was built down river near Musa Isle. The Car Dale Tower, as seen in the background of the postcard below, operated in the 1910's.
Note: the attractions profiled on this site are no longer in business.
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Postcard images from the author's collection.
This site Copyright (c) 1997-2011 by Robert H. Brown