Flamingo Gardens a Spectacular Setting with an Eventful Past

Flamingo Gardens is certainly a beautiful place to visit, but do you know how it came to be? 

The short answer is that Floyd L. and Jane Wray bought 320 acres in the Everglades for just under $5 an acre in 1927, incorporated as Flamingo Groves, and planted 40 acres of citrus orchard. In 1969, upon Jane Wray’s death, 60 acres of the property was preserved and became Flamingo Gardens.

That is just the beginning of a fascinating history.  

There are so many questions that arise, and each leads to more. Answering those questions, and filling in the details, is the really interesting part of the story. 

It all begins 10,000 to 14,000 years ago, Paleo-indians lived here in South Florida, probably with mammoths and bison.  Cypress swamps and hardwood hammocks appeared about 5,000 years ago.  An archeological dig less than a mile west of Flamingo Gardens on Long Key shows civilization 3,000 years ago.  The Tequesta lived here in the southeast.  When the Spanish explorers came in 1510, they found Seminoles living and growing crops on this land.  As time went on, the Seminoles and Miccosukees agreed to move to areas that were set aside for preservation of the environment and to use as a safe haven in which to maintain their customs and traditions.

The Wrays were newcomers when they moved here from the Midwest.  They bought property in the Everglades from Frank and Mittie Chaplin and started a citrus grove.  It’s easy to see in that photo that there wasn’t much here when the first tree was planted on February 22, 1927.  Jane said, “There was no road within four miles.  Roads had to be built, ditches dug, drainage provided.  There was no water, electricity, telephones.  The only toilets were outdoors.  There was no Road 84.  What a thrill to sink our first plow; to plant our first tree!”  That first year, they planted 40 acres of summer oranges.

In 1928, Wray began planting the botanical garden with exotic plants and seeds provided by the government “so that our guests might realize the beauties of this tropical section of South Florida and to further emphasize the wonderful climate.”

Construction began on Flamingo Road in 1929.  By the early 1930s, there were oranges to sell and ship.  As the first elected Chairman of Port Everglades, Wray acquired federal funds to widen the entrance and deepen the basin at the port to allow large freighters and cruise ships to dock at Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami for the first time, and allow convenient shipping of fruit to the north.
Floyd and Jane lived in Hollywood, but they needed a place on the grounds for business and entertaining.  Wray Home was erected in 1933, beautifully situated on one of the high points of the majestic oak hammock.
The gardens at Flamingo Groves were open to visitors 12 months a year.  An early newspaper ad read, “A Cordial Invitation is Extended to Guests and Citizens of Fort Lauderdale to visit Flamingo Groves, Southern Florida’s Newest and Largest Orange Grove Development.”  There was a small sightseeing tram ride with a talk about citrus, the groves, and the Everglades, a pond with 12 flamingos, free-roaming peafowl, the prized botanical collection, and of course, a fruit stand.
Citrus IndustryDue to the increase of groves in the whole area, Wray built the first modern citrus packing and shipping plant on Federal Highway in 1934.  (The photo to the left shows the groves that year.)  By 1939, Wray’s original 40-acre grove had grown to more than 200 acres.  The Flamingo Groves Catalog of 1951 listed 83 different varieties of citrus for sale.  At its peak, Flamingo Groves eventually covered over 2,000 acres (about 3 square miles).
Mr. Wray passed away in 1959; Mrs. Wray in 1969.  Her will endowed the Floyd L. Wray Memorial Foundation to honor her husband and preserve 60-acres, including the beautiful botanical gardens, to share with the public.  It’s greater purpose was to teach awareness of the beauty and bounty of the Everglades.  
Today Flamingo Gardens is an enduring gift from the Wrays, and a living museum of Florida’s past, a refuge to endangered and injured wildlife, as well as a haven for native and migrating species.  Schoolchildren of all ages arrive daily during the week on field trips, and guests visit from around the world to enjoy the legacy left them by the Wrays and to learn more about the Everglades, environment, animals and history of the area.  

As the end of the year approaches, please keep in mind that donations to help Flamingo Gardens maintain that legacy are tax-deductible.  And, visit the website flamingogardens.org for more general information. 
There’s so much more to the story, with so many interesting details and tidbits to share as the saga unfolds, so be sure to check back for next month’s blog.
By the way, if you have old photos of Flamingo Gardens or Flamingo Groves in digital form to share, please email them to [email protected] along with the dates and your recollections.  Call the Flamingo Gardens at 954-473-2955 if you have photos that you can bring to be scanned.  We would love to add them to our archives.