Florida Abolishes Its Smallest City, Islandia
Florida is about to lose its smallest city. The Miami-Dade County Commission has taken the first step to unincorporate the city of Islandia. Located 18 miles off the coast of Homestead and under 7-square-miles, the little-known island community had 18 residents in 2010.
South Florida Business Journal reports that the ordinance, which unanimously passed last week, will go into affect after a public hearing before the county's Infrastructure and Land Use Committee on February 15th.
Only reached by boat, Islandia is comprised of coral reefs, the northernmost in the Atlantic Ocean. But beyond its natural splendors, it's also a microcosm of classic South Florida drama. Its history includes fights between developers and conservationists, and between white slumlords and African-American land owners, and features lives forever changed by Hurricane Andrew.
When it was first incorporated in 1951, Islandia was slated to be the next Miami Beach. By the 1960s, hungry developers wanted to build a causeway connecting the small island to the mainlaind. But conservationists stepped in to turn the chain of islands into Biscayne National Park.
Spearheading the fight was Herbert Hoover, Jr., vacuum cleaner mogul and avid fisherman with no relation to President Hoover. He told Sports Illustrated:
Of course, I'm very much in favor of conservation, but I'm also interested as a capitalist. You've got to have recreational areas for the average man if the capitalist system is to have any meaning, a place where the average man, with his shorter workweek, can go with his family to boat and fish. The average man can't go to the Bahamas to fish on a day off, like I can. Saving a place like this is important for the capitalistic system.
According to a Channel 10 broadcast, Islandia had a mayor, a city hall, and voting polls in its first decade as a city. But as this Miami News article points out, Islandia's first and only mayor Luther Brooks, a rent collector for Miami's low-income housing, conducted the city's affairs offsite and did not own any property on the island.
Sports Illustrated states that in 1966, the island's only permanent residents were a police chief, the manager of an alcoholics' rest home, and Lancelot Jones, a fishing guide.
Jones's father escaped slavery in North Carolina, migrated to Florida after the Civil War, and bought three of the tiny islands that separate Biscayne Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. After settling there in 1898, the family was the largest landowner on Islandia. They were also among the first to sell their property to the government with the stipulation that they could remain living on the little island paradise.
According to Biscayne Park Ranger Gary Bremen, the Jones family lived there until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew destroyed everything they had.