In 1892, U.S. Senator Duncan U. Fletcher (a strong backer of the Florida canal company) and others attempted to exploit a form of fiber called Ramie. Several Florida canal company officials became increasingly interested when an inventor obtained a patent on a decorticating machine that efficiently stripped useful fiber from the plant, yielding many times what previous machines had stripped from the plant. Ramie became useful in rope, sack, and heavy cloth making.
Fletcher’s group obtained the right to use the machine on an experimental basis and bought 1,300 acres of ramie lands along the Middle River north of the Town of Ft. Lauderdale from the Florida canal company.
For a while, the experiment yielded good results until Mexico heavily competed against the U.S. in the production of ramie. Consistently undercutting the U.S. in labor and production costs, production of ramie in the U.S, became a losing proposition. By 1912, Fletcher’s group had converted its agricultural lands into land development for housing, subdividing the land into scores of small lots in a subdivision called Progresso, north of the town of Ft. Lauderdale.
These small lots sold at auction attracted buyers from all over the country. So many prospective buyers arrived that buyers slept in scores of tents in an area north of the original Town of Fort Lauderdale colloquially called “tent city.” There was not even enough housing for the influx of prospective buyers of lots in the subdivision.