They’ll come, once the name has been changed. Great monied hordes of tourists and deal makers and conventioneers and widget makers will come flooding into the county formerly known as Broward.
They’ll be drawn, apparently, by the altered appellation and subliminal fantasies of spring breaks and beach parties and wet T-shirt contests, circa 1985. So much for the place named for Napoleon Broward. Welcome to Lauderdale County.
The Sun-Sentinel editorial board joined the clamor on Monday, claiming the name change “simply makes sense — geographic sense, economic sense and common sense.”
But calling the county Broward makes historic sense. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward was the quintessential Floridian in that era when the state was transformed from a southern backwater to a cauldron of wild egos and overwrought ambitions. He had been a fisherman, a tug boat captain, a salvager, then a gun runner in the 1890s, smuggling arms down to Cuban revolutionaries. At one time, the Spanish government offered a $25,000 reward for the capture of Captain Broward, among the first in a long line of Floridians to meddle in someone else’s revolution.
Such a resume made for the perfect entry into Florida politics. Broward was elected sheriff in Duval County, then governor of Florida, running as a populist, champion of the working man and enemy of the robber barons.
And, oh yeah, Broward pretty much invented the city of Fort Lauderdale, choosing the cluster of clapboard shacks along the New River as project headquarters and terminus for the canal network he was dredging in 1906, aiming to drain the Everglades, that “pestilence-ridden swamp,” as the governor called it.
Of course, that project looks like an environmental horror from the vantage of the 21st century. “He drained the Everglades,” argue civic boosters determined to jettison the old governor’s name. Though that seems a little unfair, given that the history of Florida in the 20th Century consists of one ecological travesty after another.
This is hardly the first time civic leaders have clamored for a name change. There was a push to change the name to Lauderdale County in 1986. And again in 1992. Then Dade added a hyphen and cashed in on Miami’s great tourism allure. But the goal here is to completely abandon Napoleon Broward in favor of another historical figure, Maj. William Lauderdale, who commanded the original Fort Lauderdale and died of a pulmonary illness while chasing after Seminole marauders in 1837.
Besides, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee all have Lauderdale counties, none besieged by tourists. All three of those counties were named for James Lauderdale, William’s hero brother, who was killed in the War of 1812. Yet Broward County expects to do better by latching onto the name of his less-famous sibling. Instead of a notorious smuggler — someone who represents an authentic chunk of Florida history — the county wants to name itself for a failed military leader in the Indian wars.
Anyone who has spent an unprofitable evensing at one of the Seminole casinos knows who won that particular conflict.