Sam Nicotra came to Florida City in 1945 after the September hurricane. A friend of his father’s, Freddy Ferone, had gotten too old to drive from New York State, so Sam was convinced to drive him south. Sam owned a 1936 Plymouth coupe and because of war rationing, he was worried about his old, bald tires making it, but they did. Sam recalls that as they drove south they kept removing clothing as the temperature rose. The Plymouth burned lots of oil so he bought two-gallon cans and stopped about every 200 miles to add more oil.
When they arrived in Florida City, Sam had intended to rest overnight and then head back to New York State. He took a room at the Palms Hotel, which was near the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and Palm Drive. It was owned by the Torcise family and operated by Mrs. Torcise. The Palms Hotel was in a building originally constructed as a canning factory. Sam decided he liked the climate and the people of Florida City, many of whom were Italian-Americans from around his home town. The next year his parents decided to come down also.
Sam found work rebuilding farm labor camps in Perrine and Princeton since he had some carpentry skills.
He first farmed squash with John Bonnano, with Sam supplying mostly labor. They farmed about three or four acres behind Bill Myers filling station on Krome Avenue near Palm Drive.
After the 1947 freeze Sam was short of money. When it came time to return to New York, Sam needed money so he took a job digging footings for a house being built for $7.00 per day. A friend talked him into putting some money with a local bookie on a horse running later that day. Reluctantly Sam did put $5.00 with the bookie and even more reluctantly went with his friend to the race where he put down another $10.00 at his friend’s insistence. The horse won and Sam pocketed $200 from the bookie and $400 at the track. With the $600 he could buy new tires from Norton Tires and return to New York.
During the 1948-49 season Sam, still single, rented a room on the second floor over the grocery store owned by the Sam Porco family.
Sam then met Rosemarie Oppedisano a 15-year old in the Tisdale Grocery Store on Palm Drive near where the Community Bank branch now stands. Her parents farmed here and then returned to Brooklyn at the end of the season. Five years later, they married and had three children: Anthony, Salvador and Jo Ann.
Before Sam could afford a tractor he rented a mule by the day for 50 cents. At one time he shared a mule for a day with a friend who also could not afford a mule for a full day. Before going to lunch from the East Glade they tied the mule to a bush. When they returned the mule was gone, but much to their relief the mule found his way home on his own. In the early days entrepreneurs brought bunches of mules to South Dade and then took them to other areas after the season ended. In about 1948-49 he bought a small used tractor. Farmers borrowed equipment from each other and the Nicotras loaned out some of theirs.
Most of the time Sam rented land from the Sotilles’ South Dade Farms but he also rented a piece of land where the Florida City Post Office stands now for $30 an acre. It was owned by E.T. Collier of the Naranja Rock Co.
Farmers used public land along the Florida City Canal for their seed beds because the land was elevated and did not flood. The tomato plants were then transplanted into furrows which had been opened by a tractor or a man and a hoe. Sam remembers that New York onion growers started their plants in seed beds here and then took the plants up to New York. North Carolina tobacco growers did the same. Nobody bothered anyone else’s seeds. Squash and beans grew fast enough that weeding was not needed.
Bob Jensen is Vice President for Community Liaison at 1st National Bank of South Florida, president of the Florida Pioneer Museum and a retired Navy Commander.