John Collins built the first causeway to Miami Beach, a 2.5-mile wooden toll road he cleverly called the Collins Bridge. It opened in 1913, but only after Collins got a $50,000 loan from Carl Fisher (he ended up trading 200 acres of Miami Beach land to Fisher). Until then, you could only reach Miami Beach by ferry. The County Causeway (later renamed the MacArthur) was built between 1917 and 1920.
The Collins Bridge crossed just one island between the mainland and the Beach — Bull Island, by then known as Belle Isle. During the land boom of the 1920s, the other Venetian Islands were dredged, and the Collins Bridge was rebuilt and renamed the Venetian Causeway in 1925.
Our top photo shows the old bridge and a high-rise free Belle Isle. You can see the street layout is pretty much the same — Belle Isle Park is on the south of the roadway. This is what the island looked in the days of the old boathouse, and the estates depicted in some of the postcards BelleIsleBlog has collecting during the last year. We’re not sure who owned this estate, built in the 1920s, but J.C. Penney and real estate broker James F. Matthews owned estates on the island.
In the foreground of the bridge aerial, you can see an empty Sunset Harbour area, and the bridge path meeting the Collins Canal, also named for the Beach pioneer. The empty road a bit to the left, heading east-to-west straight at Belle Isle, is Lincoln Road.
Carl Fisher built his Flamingo Hotel on some of the bayfront land off Lincoln Road. This last shot shows the County Causeway in the foreground, a barely developed Star Island, with Belle Isle to the north. The main structure visible on Miami Beach off to the right of Belle Isle is the Flamingo.