" THE JOURNAL OF THE HISTORICAL
L l S to: ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA
Charlton W. Tebeau, Ph.D.
Paul S. George, Ph.D.
Rebecca A. Smith
Number LVIII 1998
Editor's Foreword .................................................................................................... 3
by Paul S. George
The Miami-Havana Connection: The First Seventy-Five Years..................... 5
by Francis Sicius, Ph.D.
Life In A Pioneer Settlement: Miami's Medical Community 1843-1874 ....... 47
by William M. Straight, M.D.
From Rising Sun To Daunting Storm: Miami in Boom and Bust,
A Rem iniscence ................................................................................................... 91
by Aretta L. Semes
Historical Association of Southern Florida Members ...................... 93
@ COPYRIGHT 1998
THE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA
is published annually by the Historical Association of
I to the Managing Editor of Tequesta, Historical Museum
of Southern Florida, 101 W. Flagler Street, Miami, Florida
33130. Telephone: (305) 375-1492. The Association does not assume responsibility
for statements of facts or opinions made by contributors. (ISSN 0363-3705)
On the Cover: Cuban immigrants in Miami. HASF 1995-277-2916
Historical Association of Southern Florida, Inc.
FOUNDED 1940- INCORPORATED 1941
Robert B. Battle
Anna Price, Ph.D.
John C. Harrison, Jr.
Randy F. Nimnicht
J. Andrew Brian
Paul S. George, Ph.D.
Charlton W. Tebeau, Ph.D.
Stuart B. Mclver
Rebecca A. Smith
Chairman of the Board
First Vice Chair
Second Vice Chair
Editor Emeritus, Tequesta
Editor, South Florida History Magazine
Editor, South Florida History Magazine
Curator of Research Materials
Emilio F. Alvarez
Neil A. Burell
Jaime J. Conesa
Edward H. Davis, Jr.
Deborah S. Klem
Samuel D. LaRoue, Jr.
Dr. Edmund I. Parnes
Scott A. Poulin
Kathleen M. Shaw
Edward A Swakon
Dinzulu Gene S. Tinnie
Nancy B. White
Richard A. Wood
This issue of Tequesta offers articles addressing three
distinctive eras of Miami history. Francis Sicius, Ph.D., a professor of
history at St. Thomas University, has spent more than a decade
studying and researching the story of Cubans in Miami before Fidel
Castro assumed power in Cuba in 1959, an event that led to the influx
of nearly 800,000 Cuban refugees to Miami-Dade County. Miami's
sizable pre-Castro Cuban exile community is often overlooked in the
rush to chronicle the story of those who fled Cuba for Miami after
1959. Knowledge of these earlier refugees and the larger
community's reaction to their presence in Miami is, however, essen-
tial to our understanding of those who came later and whose pres-
ence has helped transform a Deep South community into today's
robust international city. Readers of the Sicius essay, entitled "The
Miami-Havana Connection: The First Seventy-Five years," may also
find surprising the author's account of the strong ties, commercially
and otherwise, that existed between Miami and Havana since the
beginnings of modem Miami in 1896.
A frequent contributor to Tequesta, William M. Straight,
M.D., offers readers, with "Life In A Pioneer Settlement: Miami's
Medical Community 1843-1874," a wonderful window into the Miami
of yesterday. Straight's research provides an exemplary example of
how the effective utilization of scant, scattered primary source
material can, with plenty of tender-loving-care, bring to life the story
of a tiny, isolated riverine settlement and its medical "community." Dr.
Straight has enhanced our awareness of the area's medical history
for more than four decades, and I believe that this article is one of his
best efforts to date.
Historians researching the early decades of modem Miami
history have, until recently, benefited from the fact that pioneers could
still be found in the Magic City. The inexorable passage of time and
the resultant attrition have changed that picture, however, as the
number of remaining pioneers has declined precipitously. We are
fortunate, therefore, to publish an essay by Aretta Semes, entitled,
"From Rising Sun To Daunting Storm: Miami in Boom and Bust, A
Reminiscence." Presently a resident of California, Mrs. Semes
arrived in Miami in 1923 with her family after a long automotive
journey from New Jersey. The city and the entire state were, at the
time, on the cusp of a great real estate boom, and its bright future
prospects were what brought her family here. In this essay, Mrs.
Semes has provided a first-person account of the excitement of
boomtime Miami, along with the heartbreak that came with the bust,
the killer hurricane of 1926, and the ensuing economic depression.
We know that you will enjoy reading this issue of Tequesta,
and we invite you to avail yourself of the other fine publications,
exhibits, and events provided by the Historical Association of South-
ern Florida for the people of South Florida and beyond. We stand
ready to assist you in probing the rich history and culture of Miami
and the region surrounding it.
Paul S. George
The Miami-Havana Connection:
The First Seventy-Five Years
by Francis J Sicius, Ph.D.
Those who have written about Cubans in Miami have always
placed the story in the context of the last third of this century. How-
ever, this perspective denies geographic and cultural links that go far
beyond the last few decades of history. Although Miami is only a little
more than one hundred years old, its relation to Cuba goes back
Archaeologists have shown that native people from the island
of Cuba traded with their cousins living on the banks of the Miami
River for centuries. In 1507, when Europeans printed the first map of
the new world, they recorded only two major pieces of land that are
still recognizable today, South Florida and Cuba.' Even these earliest
of European explorers recognized the indisputable fact of the geo-
graphic relationship between these two places. During the Spanish era
of exploration, the conquistadors of Florida, Ponce (on his second
excursion), Narvaez, DeSoto, and de Luna all launched their expedi-
tions from Cuba.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Cuban fisherman
pitched tents along the banks of South Florida from Key West to
Biscayne Bay, where they would spend months catching fish and
drying them for sale in Havana. And one of the first pieces of South
Florida property that was titled bore the name of Juan Salas, a soldier
from Cuba who owned the entire island of Key West in 1815.
History oscillates over time, but geography and its influence
is constant. Although the stories of the ancient pirates and conquista-
dors had retreated into legend by 1896, the influence of Cuba re-
mained. And when a group of optimistic Americans voted to incorpo-
rate this tented train terminus as a city in 1896, Cuba and Cubans
continued to be a factor in its development. Among the 700 to 800
hardy residents of Miami in 1896 was a small group of Cubans. This
fact is hardly surprising, since in 1890 Cubans represented then as
now the largest foreign born community in the state. Although the
Cuban population centered around the cigar industries in Tampa and
Key West, word of the new city of Miami captured the imagination of
Cubans as well as people from Florida and other states.2 Some of
these early Cuban pioneers distinguished themselves by introducing
the industry of their homeland to Miami. On May 15, 1896, the
Miami Metropolis, in its inaugural edition, reported that Luis
Gonzalez, a Cuban born but long time American, had opened a cigar
"factory" in Miami.3 Gonzalez was the first, but within a month two
more "factories" had opened.4 Among the early Cuban cigar makers
was Jose Sanchez. In 1896, Sanchez moved to Miami and became a
foreman in a small cigar factory.5 In 1907, he married an American
woman and raised a family here. Sanchez may have worked for the
Ximenes Brothers of St. Augustine, who operated a small cigar
factory in downtown Miami next door to what would become the first
Within a year, the Metropolis, ever concerned with the
promotion of Miami, asked residents to consider what could be done
to induce cigar factories to locate in Miami.7 And on March 4, 1898,
The Miami Metropolis encouraged local farmers to grow tobacco
plants and send them to the agricultural experimental station at the
University of Florida in Lake City. "Any one who sends these speci-
mens," the paper claimed, "will be rendering a great assistance to
furthering the industry in which we are all interested." Not content to
just produce cigars, some Miamians apparently hoped to make Miami
a tobacco producing region also.
At one point near the end of the first decade of the new
century there was a great flurry of activity and excitement over the
possibility that Miami would become a cigar producing city. In 1910
the Herald reported that the Sanchez Haya Company of Tampa had
signed a lease for the second floor of the opera house block on
The Miami-Havana Connection 7
Eleventh Street. The company planned to bring in over 150 workers
from Havana, Key West and Tampa in order to start up a major cigar
enterprise in the town. Over the next few months, a number of Cuban
workers arrived, and the factory went into production at 325 Eleventh
Street. A Herald reporter wrote that he saw:
men and women stripping tobacco, others sorting it, the cigar
makers rolling it into fine cigars, others sorting the finished
products according to color, girls putting on factory bands and
others putting them into boxes. Then the Uncle Sam stamp was
placed on the box and they were placed in large packing cases to
be shipped to the uttermost parts of the earth.8
Although this factory began with great enthusiasm it did not
last long. Within two years the factory had disappeared. The cigar
industry never exerted the same economic influence in Miami that it
did in Key West and Tampa, but its presence at Miami's beginning is
a reminder of the early links that the Cuban people have had with this
While Miami was struggling to fulfill the dream of Julia
Tuttle, one of its founders, of becoming a grand city, the island of
Cuba was entering the final phase of its long quest to become an
independent nation. As the war in Cuba escalated, Cuban patriots
began to look north to the exile communities in Florida and New York
for support. During the first half of the 1890s, the Florida cigar
makers of Tampa and Key West sponsored a number of visits by Jose
Marti to the Cuban communities of Florida. So enthused was Marti at
the support he received from exiles here, that in 1895 he chose the city
of Key West to publicly declare the birth of the Cuban Revolutionary
Party. He called Tampa and Key West the "civilian camps of the
revolution."9 Between these two hotbeds of Cuban revolutionary
fervor lay the new city of Miami.
Although revolution was brewing only a few hundred miles to
the south, most Miamians were preoccupied with the business of
building a city, and those that were not included tourists, wintering at
railroad baron Henry M. Flagler's posh Royal Palm Hotel, "the finest
and biggest hotel on the East Coast." Located on what is now a
parking lot in downtown Miami, the Royal Palm Hotel became the
focal point of Miami's social and economic life in its early years. Like
one of Flagler's locomotives, the hotel pulled the Miami economy in
the early years and many of the fine cigars smoked on the verandah of
that grand hotel probably came from the hands of Luis Gonzalez, Jose
Sanchez, and their fellow Cuban cigar workers.
The space the early editions of the Miami Metropolis that
was not given over to enthusiastic boosterism was taken up with
advertising for land and construction. One of the early contractors,
was Edgar David, an Ohioan, who lived with his Cuban born wife
Isabel and three children in Cocoanut Grove.1 Isabel, literate in
English, probably read with great interest the fictional tale which
appeared in the Miami Metropolis about the fate of a young Key West
Cuban boy and girl, Emmanuel and Margarita. She may have even
read the story aloud to her three young children as they sat on the
back porch of their Cocoanut Grove home far away from the tumult
in her home country. The article, written for the Metropolis by Walter
Scot, could not have found a better audience than the few
Cuban-American families living in Miami.
Margarita is the central figure of the story. She is the daugh-
ter of a wealthy Cuban who had been exiled to Key West by the
Spanish for revolutionary activity. Her deceased mother was an
"American girl from the South." Scot described Margarita as having
an attractive Anglo-Spanish blend of rather dark features "which in a
blond would have been rendered insipid." Margarita's "American
characteristics," he wrote, "had softened the harsher lines of her
Spanish beauty." Margarita falls in love with Emmanuel Morales,
another Key West exile. Her father realizes she is in love, but he has
his objections. This young man should be fighting for a "Cuba Libre,"
he declared, "not wasting his life in idle courting." He demanded that
she tell her suitor that if he were to win her love, "he must do it with
rifle and machete and at once."
He waited for his daughter to counter assault "with a wild
outbreak of feminine expostulation in defense of her lover. ." But she
did not. Rather she wept in her father's arms and sobbed in silent
agreement with him. "God bless your heart, girl," the father sighed,
"the true blood runs in your veins." He promised her that although the
decision may seem harsh, in the end "she will love Emmanuel better
The Miami-Havana Connection 9
Margarita convinces Emmanuel to go off to war and, of
course, he dies. In Key West, Margarita receives word of the tragedy.
Running to the sea, she looks up at the bright stars which illuminate
the cool clear night. The evening breeze causes her to tremble and
makes her think how cold Emmanuel must be too as he lies alone in
his unmarked grave." As Isabel David finished telling the story to
her children she surely reminded them of their own roots in the sad
island to the south.
Stories about the Cuban revolution must also have sparked
the imagination of her husband, David. What intrigued him and his
fellow workers, however, were not romantic tragedies, but rather
stories of espionage and adventure on the high seas. After a busy
day's work of turning campsites into homes, Miami men would retire
at night to play billiards or drink beer smuggled into their "dry" town
from places such as Woods and Company, located just north of the
city limits, in a honky-tonk community called North Miami. Of
course, there were always stories to tell, and in the summer of 1896
one story told with great frequency centered on filibusters to Cuba.
Two names that came up most often were "Dynamite" Johnny
O'Brien and Napoleon Bonaparte Broward. With their coastal
transport ship, the Three Friends, these men completed the final link
of a supply line of ammunition, weapons and men that began in New
York and wound its way into South Florida. News of these exploits
came to Miami either by word of mouth or telegraph dispatches
posted outside the Metropolis. Every day men would run down to the
large board outside the weekly newspaper's office to hear of the latest
One excursion that received considerable attention that
summer was the failed rendezvous between Broward and Captain
Harry Tuttle's boat, City of Key West. Tuttle had been making regular
runs between Key West and Miami for months, and in early July,
while Tuttle's boat was docked at Garrison Bight in Key West, a
group of Cubans, in an attempt to elude Federal agents patrolling the
waters off the coast, bought one way tickets for Miami on his boat.
They planned to meet Broward's boat, the Three Friends on the high
sea and double back to Cuba with their cache of arms and ammuni-
Tuttle loaded his boat with weapons and revolutionaries, and
left a number of passengers stranded on the Key West dock. The
complaints of these abandoned passengers, including a Metropolis
reporter, caught the attention of Key West customs agents. The
suspicion of the agents was also aroused by noisy exuberant Cubans.
When they realized the revolutionaries had cleared the harbor, the
Cubans began dancing and celebrating on the boat and on the dock.
With suspicions raised, the Coast Guard sent a boat to trail Tuttle
back to Miami. Just south of Biscayne Bay, they were rewarded for
their diligence. For in the light of early dawn they watched the trans-
fer of Cuban revolutionaries and weapons from Tuttle's boat to
Broward's vessel. Upon seizing Tuttle, Broward and their boats, the
agents discovered "thirteen Cuban passengers as well as a very large
freight which appeared to be ammunition." On Broward's boat they
discovered more ammunition, cargo he apparently had taken on at
New River, in Fort Lauderdale.12 The Coast Guard took Broward,
Tuttle and their seized ships back to Key West, the site of a Federal
The story of this event was spread by word of mouth through-
out Miami. Particularly nervous and distressed over the capture were
A.W. Barrs, a salesman from Jacksonville, and another man that the
aforementioned reporter described as a "swarthy looking Cuban of
short stature who had checked into the Hotel Miami the day before."
The Metropolis reported that Barrs had been engaged in a number of
filibustering expeditions to Cuba in the past and that he probably had
something to do with the present one. Around the gathering spots and
watering holes in and just outside Miami a consensus of opinion
developed. "If the City of Key West had left at its scheduled hour, and
the exultant Cubans had been able to restrain themselves, the affair
could have succeeded unnoticed.""'
Even from its earliest days, the city of Miami involved itself
in the political turmoil of its Cuban neighbors. Broward soon became
a hero to the independent minded pioneers of South Florida, and they
began to embrace the cause of Cuba as their own. Some Miamians
also realized that a profit could be made in helping their southern
neighbors win independence. Soon all the dynamite that the new
phosphorous plants around Bartow in Central Florida could produce
The Miami-Havana Connection 11
was being shipped on Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway south to
Miami instead of to the industrial north. From Miami it was being
sold illegally and transferred to contraband boats headed for Cuba.
Even the local newspaper knew about the shipments and
reported them (withholding names, of course) when bragging about
the quantity of cargo that was leaving and entering the new port of
Miami. A few months later, the same paper indignantly reported that
international agents hired by the Spanish government had seized a
munitions ship leaving Miami. These weapons, the Metropolis
reported, were headed south to help "downtrodden Cubans" in their
struggle for freedom. The Metropolis pointed out that Miamians
wanted to help their neighbors living on "the fair isle just beyond the
range of our vision," and the editors warned Spain to leave South
Florida alone. "She does not own us as she used to" they wrote, "and
Florida is a very recreant child." With foreign agents off its coast,
contraband in its harbors, refugees on its streets and arms merchants
checking into its hotels, Miami, in its first year of existence, had
already realized the significance of its emotional and geographic
proximity to Cuba. The words "Cuba Libre," which resonated from
Cuba, Key West and Tampa, also reverberated through the streets of
Soon the United States went to war against Spain for reasons
of honor and of course a "Cuba Libre." On April 9, 1898, in response
to the explosion of an American ship in Havana harbor and an
insulting letter sent by the Spanish consulate in Washington to his
government in Madrid, President McKinley declared war on Spain.
Miamians, who had already made profits from the illegal shipment of
arms to the south, began to dream of the windfall profits that would
be realized now that the operations would be legalized. The Miami
Metropolis printed accounts of some of those dreams, and enumerated
the advantages that Miami would have as the principle point of
embarkation for Cuba. The newspaper reasoned that since Miami had
a safe landlocked harbor, a direct rail line to the coal fields of Ala-
bama and was the American city closest to the theater of war, it
should be the obvious choice for the center of military operations.15
Despite the newspaper's arguments, Tampa was chosen over
Miami. Perhaps U.S. military intelligence understood what the
Spanish conquistadors had figured out four centuries before, that the
sea route between Tampa and Cuba is longer but much safer than the
treacherous route around the Keys and over the Straits. Despite this
rejection, Miamians caught the war fever as intensely as the most
patriotic of cities. When rumors spread that the great Spanish Armada
was sailing across the Atlantic, Miamians were certain it was headed
straight for them. Many feared the damage that a well placed gunboat
could do to the new city. Sitting safely off the coast, the journal
pointed out, a warship could destroy the newly constructed pride of
the city, the Royal Palm Hotel, or worse, it could explode the new
water tower near the Miami River, a great symbol of city pride and
promise. Miamians also feared the damage that foraging Spanish
soldiers might do to their fledgling dry goods and food stores. It was
with an inflated sense of self-importance that Miamians believed that
the Spaniards even knew of their existence. Nevertheless, the War
Department relented and constructed battery works with two ten-inch
and two eight-inch guns on the bay about a mile and a half south of
downtown. Judge Ashton organized a militia force of sixty four men
to represent Miami in the war against Spain, and when he presented
his men to the Governor, he discovered that enthusiasm for the Cuban
war had spread throughout the entire state. Twenty companies had
reported to Governor William Bloxham, although the state quota had
been set at twelve.16 Late in June the government fulfilled Miami's
demand for protection from Spain when more than 7,000 troops
arrived in the city. Despite careful preparation by the Florida East
Coast Railway, the city could not support such a rapid influx of
people. The railroad had dug a temporary sanitation system, but it
quickly became overloaded and the men resorted to digging latrines
which the soldiers (not understanding the nature of the Florida
aquifer) placed dangerously close to their drinking water wells.
Having found water so close to the surface, the men abandoned their
artesian well project and despite warnings, the men continued to dig
and use shallow water wells with dire consequences. Sickness and
inactivity demoralized the men. Then came the hot mosquito filled
months of July and August. Given a choice between hell and Miami,
one man, probably echoing the sentiments of many others, said he
would choose the former without hesitation. Tempers flared, and the
The Miami-Havana Connection 13
soldiers created far more disorder than order in the city they were sent
to protect. One night shots rang out from a group of soldiers and a
bullet pierced the tent of two railroad workers sleeping a few blocks
away on Twelfth Street. One of the two, James T. Williams received a
deep flesh wound and his roommate E.W. Ramage was hit in the
wrist, which shattered the bone and made amputation necessary. Even
Julia Tuttle was not immune from the disruptive presence of thou-
sands of armed men in her new city. One morning she awoke to find
that one of the soldiers, overcome with depression, had the temerity to
shoot himself right in her back yard garden by the river.17
When the troops finally pulled out in August 1898, a collec-
tive sigh of relief emanated from the small city, though retailers
profited handsomely from the soldiers, who cleaned out their invento-
ries. The military excursion was ill-fated to the end. The day they
were leaving a late summer storm battered the soldiers on the train
platform. Many of the young men rushed to Fred Rutter's place just
south of the platform to escape the rain or get a cold soft drink from
the ice barrel. At that moment a bolt of lightening struck the shack
killing two young soldiers. One of them, Charles Gill of Louisiana,
was buried in the city cemetery with military honors. His grave
remains the one last physical link that Miami has to Cuba's war
Despite the problems connected to the soldiers presence in
Miami, the United States entry into the war in proved an important
lesson for Miami regarding the city's relationship with its neighbor to
the south. Miamians discovered that their close proximity to the
Island made Miami a natural commercial partner with Cuba; they
also learned that they could not be indifferent to political or social
upheaval on the island. Finally, they realized their strategic signifi-
cance in terms of foreign relations with Cuba. Although it would take
the federal government a few more years to learn these lessons, Miami
already knew that for better or worse its future was tied to Cuba's and
that a part of its population would always clam the heritage of
America's defeat of the Spanish In 1898 marked the begin-
ning of a new era of leadership in the Caribbean. The termination of
four hundred years of history, however, did not end without conse-
quence, and for the first quarter of the twentieth century, political and
economic convulsions erupted throughout the Caribbean causing the
United States to send troops into the area over twenty times. This
show of military strength was accompanied by investments of over a
billion and a half dollars.19 Finally, by the end of the 1920s, the
Caribbean was relatively peaceful and through an extraordinary
display of guns and money the United States had established hege-
mony over the area.
Being so close to the United States, Cuba felt this new force
most directly. During the early years of independence, Cuba experi-
enced American military or political intervention on at least five
different occasions. It also received about eighteen percent of the total
dollars invested in the region. As the Cuban poet and patriot Martinez
Our Cuba knows well
when the hunt for nations begins
And how the threat
from the north continues
even when ambition lies dormant
Florida is the finger
that points to Cuba20
The significance of this new area of exploitation was not lost
on Miamians. Immediately after the Cuban war for independence, a
group of Miamians joined other pioneers in an attempt to settle and
annex the Isle of Pines off the coast of Cuba. For twenty years this
island remained an American settlement until the Supreme Court, in
1920, decided that it belonged to Cuba.21
Large amounts of American money flowed into Cuba in the
1920s, and Miamians hoped to channel at least some of it through
their city.22 In January 1930, Curtiss Wright announced his plans for
the inauguration of flights to Havana which, the Herald reported,
"spurred further speculation" of financial gain to be made in Cuba.
The paper also cited the great success that Miami Airplane and
Supply Company had after placing just one ad in a Havana newspa-
The Miami-Havana Connection 15
Reporting on the
increasing investments and
the relative stability which
seemed to be developing in
the Caribbean, the Miami
Herald predicted (correctly, ....
as it turned out) that when
air service was eventually
established, Miami would
become the gateway to the
Caribbean and Latin
America. Hence, the Miami
Herald concluded, "al-
though peaceful progress of Y. at -
Latin America concerns all ,
the United States, it con-
cerns Miamians in particu- /
lar."24 Ever since 1925 .
when Gerardo Machado "
became president, Ameri-
cans had been bullish on Gerardo Machado. HASF 1995-277-17438.
Cuba. When Machado took
office he did so on a great wave of good will both at home and
abroad. His promise of judicial, economic and educational reforms
along with his denunciations of the ever intrusive Platt amendment
gave optimistic Cubans hope that democracy would finally flourish on
their island.2 The United States was equally enthusiastic over the
Machado presidency. While visiting New York, Machado promised
that after five years of his government, "the capacity of Cubans to
govern themselves would be assured." At a banquet in his honor given
by Charles E. Mitchell, president of New York's National City Bank,
he promised that in his administration "there would be absolute
guarantees for all businesses." Thomas Lamont of the House of
Morgan said he hoped the Cubans would find a way to keep Machado
in power indefinitely.26
Carl Fisher and Glen Curtiss, two prominent Miami business-
men and developers, also hoped that Havana would provide a ready
market for their automobile, which they planned to mass produce in
Opa Locka. They sent Machado a prototype of the car, and for his
part Machado sent an enthusiastic endorsement letter which promised
that the car would be well received in Havana. This was one more
example, Machado pointed out, of Miami's "very special relationship
with Cuba."27 In 1930 Machado authorized a massive promotion of
Cuba in Miami. The focal point of this campaign was a weekly five
page special section of the Miami Herald which reported on life in
Cuba. Not surprisingly, the paper showed nothing of the political
turmoil beginning to brew on the island. It presented Cuba as a
tropical paradise with unlimited economic opportunity. It contained
articles on the best hotels in Havana, information on how to obtain
Cuban citizenship, as well as articles on the most profitable goods for
the import-export business. The special section also contained articles
designed to convince Miamians of Havana's friendly pro American
environment. As an example of this good will, they reported on the
establishment of English language schools within four of Havana's
high schools. This development arose when "the government realized
the urgent necessity for Cuban youth to learn English."28
This promotional activity was not without benefit. During the
Machado regime, investments in Cuba skyrocketed to over $1.5
billion, an amount equal to the entire American investment in all of
the rest of the Caribbean and South America at the time.29 In the
1920s, the United States was still officially "dry" but Cuban rum
flowed freely in the speakeasies and hotels of Miami. Greater Miami's
vast waterways provided the port of entry for these extra-legal
Acknowledging the growing economic bond between Havana
and Miami, Juan Tripp's newly formed Pan American Airlines
inaugurated regularly scheduled flights between the two cities on
January 1, 1931. The promise of a flourishing economic alliance with
Cuba caused a number of developers in Miami, led by real estate
magnate Clifford Reeder, to begin the promotion of an idea which
would become known as "Interama," a permanent Caribbean Trade
Fair, although the dream was never realized, it remained a significant
symbol of the aspirations of many Miami promoters from 1929 when
it was first conceived until the 1970s. Fragments of the dream still
The Miami-Havana Connection 17
remain along Northeast 163 :4160 K.
Street where a few street -: "
signs still carry the name
Interama Boulevard This .
unrealized vision under-
scored two dominant
characteristics of Miami:
the incessant boosterism of
many of its citizens and the- 1
undeniable influence of its .
proximity to the Caribbean.
In the 1930s the burgeoning
relationship with Cuba gave
substance to this disposi- -
In 1933, Miami's -
economic ties with Cuba
General Mario Menocal with sons Ranl and Mario jr.
drew it into the turbulence in August, 1933. HASF 1955-277-17309.
of the island's politics. In
the 1930s Cubans were growing increasingly disillusioned with
Machado and his failure to realize most of his promises of economic
prosperity. As a result of economic depression in the United States
and the collapse of international trade everywhere, sugar prices in
Cuba dropped drastically and the economy of the island was on the
brink of destruction.32 In order to bring some discipline to the
economy, Machado in 1931 began an expansion of his power, which
culminated in his announcement that there would be no elections held
at the end of his six year term. He had decided to extend his term of
office indefinitely. When two former political rivals, Carlos
Mendietta and Mario Menocal joined forces in an unsuccessful coup,
it became clear that the days of the Machado regime were numbered.
The question on everybody's mind was when the U.S. Army would
arrive to restore order with a new government. There was even a
revolutionary party in Cuba [ABC] whose avowed purpose was to
create so much chaos that the Americans would have to enter the
country to restore order. But the troops did not arrive.33
In the 1930s, under Franklin Roosevelt, U.S. policy toward
the Caribbean had begun to change. One event which had tempered
U.S. aggressiveness in Latin America was the Nicaraguan interven-
tion of 1926. Americans had expected to enter the small county and
restore order, but what they encountered was a full scale guerrilla war
led by the folk hero General Augustino Sandino. The significance of
the event was not lost on the State Department, and they determined
to develop a policy of influence in the region that did not include as a
first step the introduction of armed troops. The opportunity for
experimentation with the new policy occurred when Machado lost his
mandate to rule in Cuba. The new American policy utilized economic
and diplomatic pressure against the government in power, coupled
with financial support for exiled leaders who had demonstrated
enough support to create a new regime. Given the changing American
policy, exiled leaders spent a lot of energy convincing U.S. State
Department officials that they had popular support. It was during this
period that Miami became the center of Cuban exile activity in the
United States. Three factors caused this geographic shift in exile
power away from New York and Tampa. The first was the inaugura-
tion of Pan Am flights which placed Miami a mere two hours from
Havana. The second was the decision of the millionaire ex president
of Cuba, Mario Menocal, to settle in Miami and third was the arrival
of a powerful revolutionary group of students and young people in
After the failed coup attempt Menocal, following a brief stint
in prison, was exiled to Germany. But he quickly returned to the
Americas and rented a large stone mansion with a tiled roof on
Collins Avenue at Lincoln Road. This was one of five houses
Menocal would live in with his extended family while he was exiled
from Cuba.34 Menocal brought with him to Miami a large group of
followers who formed a colony of elite exiles on Miami Beach.
Throughout the early thirties, newspaper men kept a vigil outside
Menocal's mansion noting the arrival and departure of Cuban foreign
ministers and political leaders. Menocal's contributions to the sugar
economy of Cuba, his wealth, and his prestige as a former president
and revolutionary leader caused those seeking power to gravitate
A second exile group living at the other end of the economic
The Miami-Havana Connection 19
and political spectrum also
arrived in Miami in the
early thirties. Under the
leadership of Carlos Prio
Soccaras, this group, which
called itself the DEU .4
(Directory of University
Students), fled to Miami in
1932. Manuel Varona
Loredo and Rubio Padilla,
who represented the new
generation of leadership,
came with them.35 Thus, by
1932, the most significant _B.RU
exile leadership of both the Carlos Prio with his wife, August, 1955. HASF 1995-
older and the new genera-
tions was located in Miami. Active exile groups continued to exist in
Tampa and in New York, Menocal's old allies were receiving funds
and encouragement from the U.S. Government, but the heart and soul
of the revolution remained in Miami.
The radical group DEU has been described as the "purest and
most cohesive of all revolutionary groups" in Cuba at that time." It
formed a cell in Miami which had broken away from a similar group
in New York. The issue of controversy was U.S. intervention. The
traditional view of Cuban revolutionaries was to demonstrate for U.S.
interventions and help in changing the government. The DEU in
Miami opposed this. Dependency on American intervention, they
believed, had been the fatal flaw of every Cuban leader since Indepen-
dence. These separatists who became known as the "Miami Cell"
throughout the American exile community, opposed American inter-
vention. They published a "Four Point Plan" from Miami which
circulated throughout the United States and Cuba. The plan advocated
the overthrow of Machado and the development of a true democracy
completely free from American influence. To accept American
mediation, they protested, "was to accept the participation of a
government that is responsible for oppressing us as a people.""'
The radical views of the DEU kept it outside the mainstream
exile community. They did not receive large donations and actually
became a financial burden to the city of Miami. They were hardly
part of the distinguished wealthy exile community exemplified by the
Miami Beach group. Rather, they lived as poor refugees. They arrived
in leaky boats and gathered in army camp barracks near the center of
town, or they crowded into cheap apartments such as the one at 138
Northeast 11th Terrace, just north of downtown.38
In 1932, there had been only a few hundred Cubans living in
Miami, but by the following spring there were over a thousand exiles
huddled within a few blocks of downtown Miami. Powerless as
individuals, as a group they gave strength to the exile leadership.39
This group could be depended on to provide hundreds of demonstra-
tors whenever an important leader showed up at Menocal's mansion,
or whenever disturbing news arrived from Cuba. The refugees in
downtown Miami were mostly poor, radical and excitable, but they
soon became the allies of their more genteel neighbors across the bay.
Despite their differences, these disparate groups shared the philo-
sophic point that the U.S. should not intervene in the creation of a
new government for Cuba. As president of Cuba, and even in his
early exile period, Menocal had supported the idea of U.S. interven-
tion, but he had changed his point of view while in Miami. Just as the
radicals living in Miami had suffered for this point of view so had
Menocal. Although Menocal was probably the richest and the most
politically powerful Cuban exile living in the United States, and
despite a great deal of popular support he enjoyed both in and outside
of Cuba, he was excluded from the junta that was being put together
under Carlos Mendietta with U.S. support. It may be difficult to
imagine an alliance between a ragtag group of student revolutionaries
and the distinguished and wealthy ex-president of the country, but as
Justo Carillo points out in his history of the 1933 revolution, Menocal
and the DEU represented "opposite polls of force which were at-
tracted to each other." They also represented a new political point of
view for Cuba, which had developed in Miami, uninfluenced by the
older established exile communities in Key West, Tampa and New
York.40 Clearly when one looks for the roots of the current
Miami-Havana political connection, the revolution of 1933 cannot be
The Miami-Havana Connection 21
The alliance of the two groups was mutually beneficial. The
radicals provided Menocal with spontaneous demonstrations of
support, and in return Menocal helped provide financial support for
the refugees. Unable because of his political position to obtain money
from the federal government, he used his influence to raise funds for
the DEU from private foundations and donors. For example, he joined
with the Pan American League of Miami to put on a benefit for the
refugees at the Biltmore Hotel. The Pan American League was one of
numerous groups created as a result of Miami's new infatuation with
the Caribbean. Founded by Mrs. Clark Steams, and supported by
such notables as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, the League stated as its
goal "the promotion of peace and understanding among the
America's." It held luncheons, seminars and supported a speakers'
bureau and artists' series. But probably the league's most significant
contribution was the support it provided foreign students studying at
the University of Miami. It was this connection that motivated the
group to hold a major fund raising dinner in support of the Cuban
radicals living in Miami. Important Miamians such as Judge Frank B.
Stoneman and Hugh Matheson attended the affair, but those who
declined invitations were also noteworthy. Miami Beach Mayor Frank
Katzentine protested to the League when his name was placed on the
list of guests attending the affair. He pointed out that the refugees
were political enemies of the legitimate government of Cuba, and
since the United States still recognized that government, he felt that
his name should not be used to encourage political strife between
factions in any other countries.41
If he had been asked, Katzentine might also have expressed
dismay over the fact that one of the most powerful of Cuba's exiles
was holding court in a mansion on Miami Beach. The Mayor's
uneasiness was probably shared by many of Miami's entrepreneurs
and boosters. They probably feared that the good will being generated
between the two cities would be destroyed if Miami became identified
as the center of intrigue against the legitimate government. Machado
was by no means out of power, and he was responsible for stimulating
the new economic activity between Miami and Cuba. If he survived
the crisis in his government, and in February 1933, there was no
indication that he would not, Miami entrepreneurs wanted to be sure
that he remained well disposed toward their city.
The Miami Herald shared this apprehension. Although
Herald editor Frank Stoneman attended the benefit, his paper never
noted the presence of the refugees until it was clear that Machado
would fall. During the exciting months from the inauguration of
President Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1933, until the fall of
Machado in August, Miami was a hotbed of Cuban political activity.
Exile leaders met until the early morning hours at Menocal's mansion,
demonstrations broke out spontaneously at various sites, including the
Menocal house, the Pan American Airways terminal in Coconut
Grove, and Downtown Miami's Florida East Coast Railway Station.
There was even evidence that the revolutionaries had broken into the
National Guard armory, stole weapons and smuggled them into Cuba,
but none of this news ever appeared in the Herald. Its absence from
the paper invites speculation. On at least fifteen occasions during the
months prior to Machado's fall in August, the New York Times
reported revolutionary events occurring in the Cuban exile community
of Miami that the Herald ignored.42
Perhaps economics can explain the Herald's indifference to
the exile community. For example every Sunday during this unstable
period, the Herald published five full pages of advertising paid for by
the Cuban government. It even printed an announcement by the
government stating that during the current crisis, Cuba intended to
keep her tourists from being bothered by "internal problems." The
Herald maintained this tolerant attitude toward the Machado regime
even after the Cuban President had expelled the American publisher
John T. Wofford and closed down his newspaper, the
Havana-American, for making unfavorable comments about the
government.43 Additionally, the Herald represented the business
community of Miami, not the exile community, and businessmen did
not want to endanger the city's cordial relations with Cuba's legiti-
mate government. It was best, they felt, for Miami to remain neutral
in the struggle. Unlike the generation of 1898, there would be no cry
of "Cuba Libre" in 1933. As the struggle wore on, however, neutrality
and indifference became a difficult task, especially during the hot days
of mid-August when Machado's government finally fell, and tempers
exceeded the temperatures on the hot streets of downtown Miami.
The Miami-Havana Connection 23
In the middle of the night of August 13, the Machado regime
ended. After leaving instructions to his wife to meet him in New York,
Machado gathered up his five closest friends and advisers for a flight
from Cuba. Still in their pajamas, they flew together in an amphibian
Sikorsky to Nassau with five revolvers and seven bags of gold. It was
up to the highest ranking official remaining, Secretary of State
Orestes Ferrara, on the following day, to bring the government of
Machado to a close.
Legalistic to the end and perhaps to make an important
symbolic point that the government was surrendering to the American
government not the Cuban people, Ferrara submitted his resignation
to Sumner Wells, the U.S. Ambassador and chief negotiator during
the crisis. During his trip to the U.S. Embassy, Ferrara smelled blood
in the streets and feared for his life. He asked Wells for protection and
safe conduct for him and his wife but the ambassador declined.
Ferrara opened the window to Wells' office and asked him to listen to
the sound of guns being fired in the street. Wells insisted that it was
simply the excitement and celebration of the departure of Machado
and that Ferrara would be safe to leave the country without harm.
Ferrara and his wife left in an open car and when the "jubilant" crowd
recognized him, it quickly became an angry mob. Guns were drawn
and bullets flew over the heads of the former secretary of state and his
wife. The car arrived at Havana harbor just ahead of the crowd.
Ferrara and his wife ran from the car and onto the Pan Am clipper
ship waiting at the dock. The pilot Leo Tertleskey had the engines
idling and when he heard the mob, he taxied out into the harbor; as
gunshots ripped through the fuselage, he took off leaving fourteen
Miami bound passengers' baggage and the mail at the terminal.
Gunshots ripped into the plane but no vital parts were damaged and
two and a half hours later the bullet riddled plane taxied safely into
Dinner Key harbor.44
There at the Pan American Airway terminal another angry
crowd awaited Ferrara. When he stepped off the plane into the hot
muggy afternoon sun the crowd moved closer. As he walked through
the canopied passage into the terminal the crowds called after him.
Most of the shouting was in Spanish but interspersed in English the
words "murderer," "butcher" and "assassin" could be heard. When a
reporter asked for a translation of what the crowd was saying a young
man simply said, "Just imagine the worst words you know in En-
glish." Shaken but indignant, Ferrara faced the crowd from the second
story balcony of the new air terminal. As he left the building someone
shouted after him in English, "I wish I had a sword. I would fight a
duel with you! In fact I will fight you with anything, you bum!"
Ferrara, who was no stranger to the art of dueling, ran to answer the
challenge, but he was restrained by the police. Then under heavy
guard the ex-secretary of state and his wife were taken to the train
station in Hollywood where they boarded a Pullman for New York.45
The following day, Miami's Cuban refugees greeted Mrs.
Machado similarly. This time, however, the crowd was less control-
lable. Mrs. Machado arrived in Miami drained both physically and
emotionally. After watching her husband flee for his life the day
before, she had taken the family's armored yacht to Key West. From
there, she along with her daughters and their husbands, boarded the
Flagler train. By the time she arrived at the Miami station at 7:30 in
the evening, a crowd had gathered and it began taunting her and her
family. When police threatened to disperse the crowd with clubs, it
resisted by forming itself into a tight ring. Police reacted angrily with
their billy clubs and they arrested about ten men considered to be the
leaders. About fifty members of the crowd followed the police and
demonstrated outside the jail demanding the release of their friends.
Among those arrested was Manuel Mencia, nephew of Miguel
Gomez, the popular former mayor of Havana who had joined
Menocal in the aborted coup of 1931. When questioned by police the
effervescent Gomez replied that there must have been a misunder-
standing, for his nephew was a gentleman, and, therefore, he would
never insult Mrs. Machado or any lady.6
These last demonstrations by the exiles finally exploded the
tranquil facade that many Miamians had tried to maintain during the
crisis. Police Captain L.O. Scarboro told reporters that the patience of
the entire force had finally been stretched to the breaking point. "No
more demonstrations will be tolerated," he announced. "If they want
to fight and raise hell," he declared, "Let them go back to Cuba!" He
explained to reporters that for the past five months the city had been
quietly putting up with the demonstrators and hundreds of exile
The Miami-Havana Connection 25
incidents. "But they have been pampered for too long," he exclaimed.
"From here on out they will have to take their place as law abiding
residents in the area. We don't believe that any group in Miami should
be permitted to submit everybody else in the city to conduct as has
been exhibited here. This situation has been embarrassing the police
for some time," and he vowed to bring an end to it.47
During his angry diatribe, Scarboro let out information that
probably should have been kept quiet. For example, he told reporters
"we have definite knowledge that thefts of machine guns and pistols
from U.S. armories (across the nation) have been traced to Miami,
undoubtedly through the activity of some of these exiles (and) the
army has been sent here to investigate." When the story broke in the
Herald there was an immediate attempt to quiet Scarboro. Menocal
met with Police inspector Frank Mitchell and they issued a joint
statement that he, Menocal, would be personally responsible for the
conduct of the exiles from now on. Meanwhile, members of the Board
of Trade met with Scarboro and tried to urge him to retract his
statements from the previous day. But Scarboro remained adamant.
"The statement I published yesterday was correct," he insisted, "I
have nothing to retract." Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and there
were no more incidents involving the exiles and the police. The ten
young men arrested the day before at the train station were released
from jail and the new Cuba government, apparently as eager to
maintain good relations with Miami as Miamians were, announced
that it was sending a ship immediately to collect all of its citizens
who wished to return to the island.
In reaction to news of the refugees departure, the Miami
Herald, in an editorial, bid farewell to the refugees. With the "sudden
retirement" of Machado, the editorial began, "Miami has begun to
lose her Cuban residents who are fleeing back to their homeland."
Ignoring the more tawdry events of the recent months the Herald
stated that Miami had been glad to extend her hospitality to the exiles
and "was sad to lose them." The editorial concluded on an ironic yet
prophetic note, "Miami's gates will always be open to Cubans, should
the time ever come again when they need a refuge. In the meantime,"
the article concluded, "our mutual interests will continue to grow."48
The thirties witnessed an important turning point in the
With the advent of the airplane,
travel to Miami became safer
and easier than the traditional
journey to Tampa or New York,
and competitive Miami entrepre-
neurs pursued this advantage
aggressively in order to ensure a
.isn e long lasting commercial relation-
ship with Cuba. It seemed that
the two areas were finally
realizing the commercial and
cultural destiny that geography
and history had established for
then. Although Cuba was subject
Desi Arnaz with a copy of his book, February, to political turmoil, Miami
1976. Mack photo 1626.
business leaders were prepared
to remain flexible, sending cars
and invitations to dictator Machado one day and bidding bon voyage
to exile revolutionaries and best wishes to a new government the next.
Miamians remained impervious to the political convolutions on the
island. The benefits of the commercial possibilities seemed to far
outweigh the ephemeral game of politics.
After Machado fell, a number of his supporters left Cuba for
Miami and from that time on there would always be a large Cuban
exile community living in Miami. America's most famous Cuban
entertainer, Desi Arnaz, came to Miami at this time. Arnaz was born
on March 2, 1917 and named after his father, Desiderio Arnaz, a
dentist in Santiago, who was also involved in politics. During the
Machado regime he served as the mayor of Santiago and during the
revolution, like so many other Machado supporters, he had to run for
his life. The story of the Amaz family is a familiar one for Cubans
living in exile here. Arnaz and his son arrived in Miami in 1933 as
poor refugees. Pooling what little money he had with a friend, the
senior Arnaz started the "Pan American Export Company" in a small
warehouse on S.E. Third Street.49 They imported bananas, which
arrived rotten, and tiles that arrived broken. The partner quit in
disgust, but Arnaz' father remained undaunted by his bad luck. He
The Miami-Havana Connection 27
and his son piled the broken tiles into the back of their tired old pick
up truck and went to a construction site on Miami Beach where Arnaz
told the contractor that broken tile was the latest design in Cuba. The
contractor bought all the tile at a higher price than whole tile.50
In order to save money to bring the rest of the family from
Cuba, Desi Arnaz and his father lived in their warehouse. Soon his
mother arrived and they moved into a small two bedroom house at
809 Northeast First Avenue.5 Arnaz went to St. Patrick's School on
Miami Beach. During this time Dezi Amaz got his first job as a
performer. He played the guitar with a back up band to Buddy Rogers
at the Roney Plaza, where he was discovered by Xavier Cougat who
took him to New York. A year later he returned to Miami with his
own band. It was here that Desi Arnaz introduced the "Conga Line"
to America.52 There were many Cuban neighbors here with the Amaz
family in the 1930s. The former President of the Senate, Alberto
Barreras, occupied a mansion at 2040 North Bayshore Drive on
Biscayne Bay. Jorge Sanchez, the Cuban sugar king, lived on Miami
Beach at Thirty-Seven Star Island, The Mendozo Brothers had a cigar
factory, and there were three Cuban Public Markets, one at 116
Northwest Third Avenue, another at 1501 Northwest Fifth Avenue,
and a third at 439 Northwest Seventeenth Avenue. During this period,
two ex-Cuban presidents, Geraldo Machado and Mario Menocal, also
called Miami home. A Miami Daily News article in 1939 reported
that 25 to 30 Cuban families lived here permanently while another
3,000 lived here on a temporary basis.3
Experiences during the Machado revolution greatly modified
Americans foreign policy in the Caribbean. The formula included
economic pressure, followed by support of an exile government with a
legitimate claim to popular support coupled with the threat of military
intervention. Miami had a major role as this new policy played out in
tumultuous political life of Cuba in the forties and fifties. There were
numerous changes in the Cuban government from 1933-1959, and
with each change the Cuban population in Miami increased to a
substantial minority. The provisional government established after the
fall of Machado was replaced by a military coup led by Fulgencio
Batista. Batista directed the formation of a constitutional government
and was elected president in 1940. Ralston Grau San Martin followed
in 1944, and he was succeeded by Carlos Prio in 1948.54 Each change
in government brought a new group of political exiles to Miami and
the tide never receded. As soon as one group returned to Cuba,
another arrived to plot their own accession to power. As the Herald
reported in 1947, "More than 10,000 political and military 'refugees'
from Cuba have turned Miami today into a new kind of haven from
storm and unfriendly weather. "Flagler Street has acquired," the
Herald concluded, "a distinct Cuban flavor."55
A clearer picture of Cuban influence in the city presented
itself in the new Spanish language newspaper Diario de las Americas,
which began publishing from its office at 4349 NW 36th Street in the
early 1950s.56 The Diario revealed a Latin life in Miami far richer
than that alluded to by the Herald. According to the Diario, there
were 80,000 Latins living in Miami in 1955. They drank Bustelo and
Pilon coffee and every Saturday many of them listened to Susy
Merino who hosted a show in Spanish entitled, "Ondas del Caribe,"
from 7:15 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on WIOD.57 In 1955, the Diario
pointed out that although there were thousands of Cubans living in
Miami, few were aware of the fact that a shrine to the patroness of
Cuba, La Virgin de la Cobre, had been constructed at St. Michael's
Church on Flagler at 29th Avenue. The statue was built from a
donation made by Hilda Negretti who was the wife of a popular
Cuban attorney in Miami, Gino Negretti.8
It was also during the early fifties that Miami established its
first bilingual school. According to Las Diarios, teachers at Miami's
Buena Vista Elementary School at 3001 Northwest Second Avenue
began to offer classes in Spanish, making it the first bilingual school
in the county. Although there were at the time 129 schools in the
county, only Buena Vista had a significantly large number of Spanish
speaking students. Of the total of 609 students, 239 spoke Spanish as
their first language. Although the majority of the Spanish speaking
students were Puerto Rican, the second greatest number were Cu-
ban.59 Another indication of the growing Cuban community was the
establishment of the Circulo Cubano, a Cuban Social Club in 1955.
Located at 420 Southwest Eighth street, Circulo Cubano was a social
club which sponsored weekly dances for adults and teenagers.60 In
addition to a club, radio station and a Church they could call their
The Miami-Havana Connection 29
own, the Cuban community ate at Cuban restaurants (The Garden
Restaurant, 2235 Southwest Eighth Street, Club Latino, Thirty-Eight
Norhtwest Fifty-Fourth Street, and El Florida Restaurant, 2322
Norhtwest Seventh Street) and bought Cuban pastries (Miramar 611
Northwest Twenty-Ninth Avenue and 314 Southwest Eighth Street,
and Palermo Bakery and Panaderia 681 Northwest Seventh Street).
They also went to the movies in Spanish, seeing films such as "Esta
Estrana Pasion" at the Roosevelt Theater.61
The rapid rise in Cuban culture in Miami was propelled by
the protean nature of politics in the homeland. During these periods of
political upheaval, Miami opened its gates to ex-Cuban officials with
money regardless of their political beliefs. Not atypical of these times
was Grau San Martin's friend and minister of education, Jose Manuel
Aleman, who arrived in Miami in October, 1948 with $20,000,000 in
his suitcase.62 Scenes such as this symbolized both the corruption that
plagued Cuban government and the strong economic ties that Miami
and Havana continued to establish as they moved closer together in
the decades of the forties and fifties. There were two very significant
symbols of Cuban presence in Miami in the 1940s. The first was the
Miami baseball stadium, a superb facility, built by Aleman. The
second was the Pan American Airways. Juan Tripp, after moving his
airline here in 1928, proceeded to build a beautiful art deco airport
terminal at the old Dinner Key naval air station site. Tripp's modem
airport became the take off spot for all vacationers headed to Cuba
and South America. After the war the airline moved out to the airport
at Northwest Thirty-Sixth Street, but Pan American Airways contin-
ued to be the principle name in travel to the Caribbean and Europe,
and Miami was its headquarters.
In the 1940s and 1950s, organized crime provided another
economic link between Miami and Havana. Most of Havana's
entertainment operations, which included hotels, gambling and
prostitution, were administered in Miami, a safe but proximate
distance from the volatile republic. As a result of this new relationship
with Cuba and the underworld, Miami became an important link in
the commercial empire of organized crime. For example, heroin that
flowed from France to Havana to New York had passed through
Miami. And when dishonest Cuban politicians arrived in Miami with
suitcases full of money, the various mafia run businesses in Miami
provided investment opportunities that did not scrutinize sources of
income. By the mid-fifties, the U.S. Department of Commerce re-
ported that investment by Cuba citizens in the United States had
reached $400,000,000, and most of this money went through Miami.
Cuban exiles provided a financial waterfall to capital starved Mi-
The world of sport was also greatly influenced by the in-
creased Cuban presence in Miami. The Miami Jai Alai Fronton and
the race tracks of Hialeah, Tropical Park and Gulfstream welcomed
Cuban jockeys and players. The flurry of financial activity between
Miami and Havana both legal and illegal solidified their economic
relationship. It also changed the city of Miami radically as people
such as Meyer Lansky and other underworld figures began to play a
major role in determining the city's future. But these changes, as great
as they were, pale in comparison to the influences the island would
have on the Magic City in the following decades.64
In 1952, Fulgencio Batista, the young sergeant who had given
the Cubans democracy in 1940, took it away from them with a coup
de etat against Carlos Prio, and once again Miami was swept into the
whirl of Cuba political upheaval. After the 1952 coup, Prio moved to
Miami where he lived with the honor of being the last legitimately
elected president of Cuba. For those with longer memories, he was
also remembered as the idealistic leader of the DEU, the exile student
group that had opposed Machado in 1933. With these credentials
most Cubans were willing to forgive his indiscretions as president and
recognized him as their leader in exile. Throughout the fifties, the
plots of Prio and his compatriots to overthrow Batista again threw
Miami into the world of Cuban politics. In September 1956, for
example, a former Cuban legislator, Dr. Oscar Alverado, was arrested
at Miami International Airport by the FBI. He was accused of buying
weapons for use in Cuba for the overthrow of Batista. The newspa-
pers announced that David Walters, the personal attorney of Carlos
Prio would defend Alverado.6 Six months later, on the morning of
May 15, 1957, a group of seventeen supporters of Prio crept out of
Biscayne Bay on their way to Cuba to begin the revolution against
Batista. This small group of soldiers under Calixto Sanchez arrived
The Miami-Havana Connection 31
on the coast of Oriente where they were captured and summarily shot
by the lieutenant of police of the tiny village of Mayari.66 These
relatively insignificant events marked the end of Prio's claim to
leadership. Increasingly, support began to fall on the "hero" of Sierra
Madre, Fidel Castro, and his followers."' By December 1958, Castro
had taken control of the country, and early in the morning of January
1, 1959 the first Castro refugees began to arrive in Miami.
At first, Miamians accepted the appearance of refugees on the
evening news as rather normal and routine. Most of the earliest
arrivals had financial or familial connections and represented little
burden to the city, in fact they proved to be the opposite, providing, as
they did, a boost to an economy weakened by the recession.68 Small
businesses, especially used car dealers, appliance and furniture
dealers and real estate agents began to enjoy a boom in their busi-
nesses. But very rapidly the hundreds of relatively well off exiles
turned into thousands of desperate and penniless refugees. At first the
Cuba community was determined to handle the problem themselves.
This illusion did not last long, for in a very brief period, as Monsignor
Bryan Walsh has pointed out, there were as many as nineteen families
living in a single family residence.69 Of course, this was the extreme,
but even the average Cuba family in Miami during this period of early
migration was sharing a two room dwelling with at least two addi-
tional adults.70 When the pressure on the Cuba families became
unbearable, they sought help from private charity, and, since it was a
familiar institution, the first place they turned to was the Catholic
Church. In response, the new Diocese of Miami (only a year old at the
time) opened a refugee center at 130 Northeast Second Avenue, in a
portion of the Gesu School building.
The Catholic Church also put refugee children into their
schools, which inflated the average classroom size to over sixty
students. In addition they established health care for refugees free of
charge at Mercy Hospital. One of the biggest problems the church
handled in these early days was the relocation of thousands of chil-
dren who had been sent to Miami alone by their parents from Cuba.
Through the assistance of the National Catholic Welfare Council,
thousands of young children were placed in foster homes in forty-
seven dioceses in thirty different states. The monumental task of
placing these children and keeping track of them was a human miracle
and this event alone deserves a full chapter when the complete story
of Cuban migration is told. In the first months of 1959, the Catholic
Church spent in excess of $200,000 on processing the refugees and
providing direct financial support. This sum did not include hospital
and educational costs. The following year this amount increased to
Catholics of Miami quickly became aware of the refugee
problem in their churches on Sunday when financially pressed pastors
began to take up special collections for the refugees. The rest of
Miami also began to realize the dimension of the problem as the exiles
that appeared nightly on television began to look less like wealthy
Latin visitors on a weekend holiday and more like the desperate
refugees they had previously only seen coming out of East Berlin:
bedraggled, confused, hungry and poor.
Upon arrival at Miami's Airport, the new immigrant was
questioned by an immigration officer then given a quick physical
inspection. The lucky ones were approved, photographed, finger-
printed and released. The less fortunate were sent to Opa Locka
airport for further questioning. Having survived this ordeal the
immigrant, with no family or friends to help him, turned to the
Catholic Relief Center where he received a meal and possibly a few
dollars with which to begin a new life.72
Although shabby in appearance, and penniless, these refugees
were quite different than the group of poor workers and students who
had wandered the streets during the Machado revolution. These new
arrivals were, as later statistics verified, decidedly middle class.
Typical of the new immigrant was a man described by then Mayor
Robert King High. "My law office recently required testimony from
someone with a background in Cuban law," High testified before a
Senate Committee. "We were able to reach a former judge, an appel-
late judge in Cuba who had served some 30 years. He came to Miami
in mid-1960. It was brought out in testimony as to what his present
position was and he stated that he delivers groceries on a part time
basis for $18 a week."'3 These poorly dressed, mentally depressed,
uncomely wanderers were not the Cubans that Miamians had become
accustomed to in the decades of the forties and fifties. Many
The Miami-Havana Connection 33
Miamians quickly grew impatient with their new guests from Cuba.
News commentator Wayne Fariss echoed the opinions of a large
number when he said:
Miamians view the Cubans as house guests who have worn out
their welcome, who feel it is now time for them to move on...
(The Cubans) are a threat to our business and tourist economy. It
would appear that the hand that holds Miami's torch of friendship
has been over extended.74
Rejected in Cuba, poor and abandoned by all but the Catholic
Church in Miami, and ridiculed by many, the first refugees from
Castro's Cuba suffered a sad plight. Had word of this filtered back to
Cuba, possibly the great flow of humanity would have ceased,
perhaps the great energy expended in migration might have been
expended against the Castro regime. But before the earliest unhappy
experiences of Miami became established practice, and before the
terrible experience of Miami filtered back to Cuba, an amazing event
occurred which would change the character of Miami forever. The
Federal Government intervened. Suddenly the refugee problem was
not seen as a local issue but rather a matter of national security.
In the fifties and early sixties, as refugees poured out of
Eastern Europe, Americans interpreted the phenomenon as proof of
the failure of communism. When the federal government noticed
similar numbers coming out of Cuba they instituted policies which
would encourage continued migration and prove a similar point in the
Caribbean. Miami soon became the latest battle front in the cold war,
the "Berlin of the Caribbean," and refugees were no longer abandoned
waifs but heroes.
Much of this ideological transformation is documented in
United States Senate hearings held in Miami in 1961. Senator Philip
Hart from Michigan set the tone for the hearings when he stated that
if the United States was going to undertake a major refugee assistance
program it must be done in a way "that reflects a conscious under-
standing that our action in this area bears directly on our foreign
policy.""75 Local leaders, sensitive to the Washington sentiment and
eager to obtain funds for their beleaguered community, also picked up
the Cold War theme. Congressman Dante Fascell, in soliciting funds
for education, added that in every classroom time must be taken out
for an indoctrination program.76 Mayor Robert King High testified
that, "We can no longer treat the matter of Cubans as a welfare
problem. These people," High continued, "who gave up their homes
and in some instances their families because of their refusal to
knuckle under to communist tyranny should be allowed to taste the
fruits of freedom."77
Dr. H. Franklin Williams of the University of Miami, seeking
funds for refugee programs at his school, testified, "(The refugee
problem is) something larger than a community problem. We see
Miami as the battlefront of the Cold War... For the first time," he
pointed out, "the United States was a country of first asylum, and the
way we handle these people who have chosen to leave a Communist
area was important to the Cold War."78 Of course, Williams as well as
others who testified in Miami were seeking federal dollars for the
community. But the immediate gratification of large amounts of
federal money inhibited reflection on the long term implications for
the future of the city. The great influx of federal money, along with
the millions of Cuban dollars lying dormant in Miami since the 1940s,
combined with the migration of a vigorous Cuba middle class to the
area, set off an explosion of entrepreneurial activity that had never
been seen in Miami, or for that matter, in few other places. Almost
overnight, businesses sprang up throughout Miami. There were at
least a dozen Cuban newspapers of varying quality printed in 1960 in
Miami, and they all recorded the swift Cuba economic development.
On December 30, 1960 the first Cuban movie theater opened at 313
West Flagler. It was called Theatro Flagler and its first show was the
French film, "Este Cuerpo Tan Deseado" (literally, "This Body So
Desired"). A Cuban employment agency opened at 223 Northwest
Third Avenue and in December, 1960, on Miami Beach in the Raleigh
Hotel, Mr. Abraham, the former owner of the Dulceria Mignon del
Vedado in Havana opened a Cuban restaurant. "We have Cuban
Food," Abraham announced, "and we speak Spanish." At Seventeenth
Street and Biscayne Boulevard, where the revolutionary headquarters
would eventually be established, there was a man selling liberty
The Miami-Havana Connection 35
More significant than
these first openings, however,
was the dramatic transformation --. ,, .
of Southwest Eighth Street.
Since the thirties there had
always been a Cuban presence
on Eighth Street, but within two 7r
years (1961-63), according to
information found in the Miami
City Directory, twenty-eight
stores on Eighth Street, lying
between Southwest Fifth Avenue
and Fifteenth Avenue, changed
ownership from American to
Cuban." An Italian shopkeeper
on Eighth Street, Sylvan
Two people shop at a restaurant on Southwest
Patemo, put these statistics into Eighth Street, August, 1979. HASF Miami
human terms. After 28 years of News Collection 1989-o11-15766,
running a shop on Eighth Street he had to close down and sell out in
1962. "(Cuba migration) is knocking the hell out of my business," he
said, "the Cubans trade with their own people and we merchants have
to take a loss or sell out cheaply to the Cubans. It's unbelievable how
the Cubans could push out Americans in four years time."8'
On the other hand, in the late 1950s, the area taken over by
Cubans in Miami had been in very poor economic condition. The city
had the highest rate Veterans Association and the Federal Housing
Administration foreclosures in the country, and Southwest Eighth had
become a shabby row of poor businesses trying to survive in a
deteriorating neighborhood.82 Also, many small merchants in Miami
benefited from the Cuba migration. As Antonio Jorge and Raul
Moncarz have pointed out, the influx of money and economic activity
had a multiplier effect, which overflowed from the Cuban community
into the general economy of the area. Small businessmen selling
appliances, furniture, clothing, used cars, and other necessities of
middle class life in the early 1960s shared in the new prosperity 3
The major source of the new economic stimulus for this
activity came from the Federal Government. In 1960, the fiscally
conservative Republicans contributed four million dollars in benefits
to the refugees, but by 1961, under the Kennedy administration,
expenditures on Cuban refugees increased to $2.4 million a month. By
1976 the Cuban Refugee Fund had pumped $1.6 billion dollars into
Miami's Cuban Community.4 Additionally, traditional government
disbursement sources, such as the Small Business Association tar-
geted Cubans as recipients of benefits. As Professor Raymond Mohl
has pointed out, of the $100 million dollars distributed by the Small
Business Association in the early 1970s over half went to Hispanics,
a great majority of whom were Cuban.85
Overshadowing all government expenditure in the 1960s,
however, were the investments made by the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA). Through front organizations such as the "Zenith
Group" at the University of Miami, and fighting groups practicing in
the Everglades, the CIA pumped over $100 million dollars into the
Cuban community in the early sixties. After the failed Bay of Pigs
operation in April 1961, the CIA also introduced a new dimension to
the Miami economy as weapons production and sales became an
important industry in the area. Miami also provided a ready army for
CIA operations throughout the world. At first, this militia activity was
localized. For example, the counterrevolutionaries bombed Paula's
restaurant at 435 North First Avenue, which was known as a hangout
for Castro sympathizers. Any time a Cuban official came to Miami or
passed though the city on the way to New York or Washington, these
guerrillas would attempt an attack on them, claiming they were
fighting the communists. The Government-funded anti-communist
guerrilla group grew to such a point that eventually CIA agents could
come to Miami and recruit an army of from one to two hundred
Cubans simply by saying they needed their help in an anti communist
operation. Although this was kept a secret, the implications became
known to everyone, as events related to the Watergate break-in
revealed that Miami Cubans had played an integral part in that
This massive influx of federal money from various sources
dwarfed normal public spending for the period. For example, the 1959
budget for the City of Miami totaled $19 million.87 In 1960, the
Federal government contributed $4 million, or an amount that repre-
sented more than twenty percent of the entire city budget, to the
The Miami-Havana Connection 37
Cuban refugees. By 1961, Federal contributions equaled the 1959
budget. In the early 1960s, the federal government created the largest
refugee relief program in its history. As a result of the federal commit-
ment to Cuban refugees, Miami was transformed economically,
demographically and politically.8
In 1995, thirty-five years after the Cuba policy was first put
into place, the Clinton administration began a process which will end
the special status of Cuba immigrants. With an era coming to an end,
historians can now reflect on its impact. If the purpose of the program
was, as local Miamians believed, to help stimulate the local economy,
the Cuba refugee policy was an unparalleled success. Dreams of
economic expansion into Latin America and the Caribbean which had
began with the first Pan American flights in the 1930s became a
reality in the 1960s and thereafter. Exiled Cuba businessmen, building
on old connections in the Caribbean, made Miami the new financial
and trading center of the Caribbean. Around the foreign policy tables
of Washington, however, Miami's economic prosperity was secondary
or merely a byproduct of the real goal, which was a diplomatic
victory over the Castro regime, a goal still unachieved. In fact the
diplomatic and economic assault designed to break Castro's hold on
Cuba actually strengthened him. For the Miami refugee policy created
a safety valve for the revolution. Castro purged his most powerful
enemies, the middle class, by allowing them to flee to Miami, ensuring
that the most essential segment of the population necessary for a
bourgeois democracy had been removed from Cuba. With only true
believers and those indebted to the revolution left, Communism
became the only destiny for the former island republic. This policy
also created a source of economic strength for the island. From a
purely demographic point of view the policy expanded Cuban influ-
ence into the United States and these new colonists, although they
were forced here, have done what colonists have always done. They
have provided wealth for the mother country, in this case Cuba.
Cuban refugees in Miami, through concern for loved ones on the
island, have provided money, medicine, clothing and food to the island
that it otherwise would not have had.89
Why did the United States embark on such a futile policy? In
part, the answer is that it was just one segment of a larger cold war
chess game fought on many fronts against communism. But
Miamians were not simply the passive recipients of this policy, they
were active in its formation. In two previous revolutions, against
Spain in 1898 and Machado in 1933, a small group composed of
wealthy exiles and desperate radicals used Miami as a base for
successful revolutionary operations. There was no reason to believe
that the 1960s would be any different. Local government and busi-
nessmen lobbied heavily for government aid which would transform
their city because it meant added income for the city. It was also a
policy that had been pursued successfully in the past during other eras
of political upheaval in Cuba.
What local politicians and businessmen did not fully grasp in
1960, however, was that the diplomatic playing field had changed
drastically. The refugees were not just the extremely rich and the
extremely poor. They were decidedly middle class. And as statistics
for the first years of the revolution show the main goal of the majority
of immigrants was not to ferment revolution in Cuba but to reestab-
lish for themselves and their families the comfortable life they had
known in Cuba. The United States Senate Hearings on the refugee
problems held in Miami in 1961 reveal a large amount of money
being spent to retrain accountants, physicians, teachers and lawyers
so that they might pursue productive lives in the United States.
The radical change in the relationship between Cuba and the
United States also played an important role in Miami's transforma-
tion. Cuban-American relations were no longer played out in the
context of American hegemony in the Caribbean, but rather as part of
the global Cold War. As President John Kennedy stated shortly after
entering office, "Our objection isn't to the Cuba Revolution, it is to
the fact that Castro has turned it over to the Communists." Miami and
Havana became pawns in the Cold War and their destiny was no
longer in their own hands. At one time these two important geo-
graphic centers were on a course of economic cooperation and
development, as long ago as the 1930s, for instance, they provided a
model for Anglo-Spanish cooperation in the new era of trade being
stimulated by the airlines. But due to events over which neither had
control, these two cities have scorned their natural destiny and have
become enemies. The destruction of this relationship remains one of
the great casualties of the Cold War.
The Miami-Havana Connection 39
1. "Waldseemueller map 1507" in William P. Cummings, The
Southeastern United States in Early Maps, (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The
University of North Carolina Press, 1958) plate 1.
2. The 1900 Dade County census suggests a small colony of
about fifteen Cubans living here. Among the names in the census are
George Villar, his wife Marie and two children, Mateo Encinosa, his
wife Nora and four children, Nora Gonzalez and Frana Vamora both
single women. At least one Cuban-American living here in 1900 was
born in Florida. According to the 1900 census, Edward Gonzalez, son
of Luis mentioned above, was born in Florida in 1872. Luis Gonzalez,
who married an American woman, probably traveled to Miami from
Key West either directly or via Tampa. Dade County Census, 1900.
3. "By Way of Preface," Miami Metropolis, 15 May, 1896, p.9.
The word "factory" must be read in context. The term "cigar factory"
could apply to a single cutting table on a front porch.
4. "Miami Mince Meat," Miami Metropolis, 12 June, 1896, p.1.
5. Dade County Census, 1900.
6. "C.L. Ximanies Died Suddenly in Macon," Miami Herald 2
June, 1911, p. 4.
7. "Tobacco Growers Convention," Miami Metropolis, 4 March,
8. "Everything Rushing in Sanchez-Haya Factory," Miami
Morning News Record, 4 November, 1910, p.1.
9. Michael True, "Revolutionaries in Exile: The Cuban Revolu-
tionary Party 1 891-93" (Unpublished Ph.D Dissertation, University
of Virginia, 1965) 36-39.
10. Dade County Census, 1900.
11. "For a Cuba Libre," Miami Metropolis, 9 July, 1897 p.6-7.
12. "Cuba Libre," Miami Metropolis, 26 June, 1896 p.8; "City of
Richmond," Miami Metropolis, 3 July, 1896, p.4; Sam Proctor:
Napoleon Broward: Florida's Fighting Democrat. (Gainsesville:
University of Florida Press, 1950) pp.99-118. Miami Metropolis;
"Progress of Events," Miami Metropolis, 26 June, 1896, p.1. 3 July
13. "City of Richmond," Miami Metropolis, 3 July 1896, p.4.
14. "Progress of Events," Miami Metropolis, 22 April, 1898.
15. "A Signal Station Here," Miami Metropolis, 22 April, 1898,
p.8. "Miami and the Soldiers," Miami Metropolis, 17 June, 1896,
p.2. "Soldiers Are Coming," Miami Metropolis, 24 June, 1896. p.1.
16. Charlton Tebeau, A History of Florida (Coral Gables: Univer-
sity of Miami Press, 1971) 314.
17. "Careless Shooting," Miami Metropolis, 22 July, 1896, p.1.
18. "Terrible Accident: Two Soldiers Killed By Lightening,"
Miami Metropolis, 12 August, 1898. "Funeral," Miami Metropolis,
12 August, 1898, p.1.
19. Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (New York:
Harper and Row, 1971) 492, 586; New York Times, 28, 29 April,
20. Translation from spanish.
21. Leland Hamilton Jenks, Our Cuban Colony: A Study in
Sugar, (New York: Vanguard Press, 1928.)
22. According to the Miami Herald over $1.5 Billion. Miami
Herald 5 January, 1930. "Cuban and American Friendship Expands,"
Miami Herald, 5 January, 1930. Sec. II p.9,
23. "Cubans Are Anxious To Trade," Miami Herald, 3 January,
24. "Miami," Miami Herald, 6 January, 1930.
25. Thomas, 572.
26. "Bankers Support Machado," New York Times, 29 April,
27. "Fischer Receives Machado Letter," Miami Herald, 11
January, 1930, p. 18.
28. "Cuban and American Friendships Expand," Miami Herald,
5 January, 1930, p.9.
30. For example, the Herald reported on January 1, 1930 that a
thirty-four foot sloop with a full cargo of rum had been seized In a
Coral Gables canal. "Liquor Seized on Boat in Canal," Miami
Herald, 1 January, 1930, p.1.
31. "Pan American Center Envisioned for Miami," Miami Daily
News, 3 December, 1944, p.1.
32. Hugh Thomas, Cuba: La Lucha Por La Libertad 1762-1979,
Tomo 2: La Republica Independiente 1909-1958, Barcelona:
The Miami-Havana Connection 41
Ediciones Grijalbo, 1974) 775-789.
33. Ibid, 778-779.
34. Interview by author Mario Menocal, grandson of the
ex-president, 20 September 1996, Miami Florida.
35. Justo Camllo, Cuba 1933: Estudiantes, Yanquis y Soldados
(Coral Gables: Instituto de Estudios Interamericanos, 1985) 50-51.
36. Carillo Cuba, 178
37. Ibid. 51.
38. The New York Times reported on February I that, "Fifteen
Cuban youths who described themselves as political refugees ... Were
taken into custody by the United States immigration officials.. .when
they landed in Tavenier. They were paroled in custody of the leaders
of the Cuban exile colony here (Miami)" New York Times 1, February,
1933; Miami City Directory, 1933. Cuban Youths Seized on Florida
Coast," New York Times, 1 February, 1933, p.1.
39. "Rebels in Florida Say Revolt Has Begun: Florida Colony
Growing," 2 March, 1933. p.7.
40. "Revolt in Oriente Province; Statement by Government;
Refugees Remain in Florida," New York Times, 30 April, 1933, p.1.
41. "Program is Benefit for Cuban Residents," Miami Herald, 24
February, 1933, p.9; "Cuban Benefit Cause of Diplomatic Stir,"
Miami Herald, 25 February, 1933, p.2.
42. "Political Refugees Set up Headquarters in Key West," New
York Times, 5 February, 1933, p. 1. "Foes of Machado in U.S. and
Central America Planning Coup," Ibid, 10 February, 1933; "Rebel
Movements Reported," Ibid, 11 February, 1933; "Revolt Plan Ru-
mored," Ibid, 23 March, 1933; "Florida Colony Growing," Ibid, 2
May, 1933; "Refugees Remain in Florida," Ibid 30 April, 1933;
"Junta Formed in Miami," Ibid, 30 April, 1933; "High School
Students and Menocal Adherents Reject Mediation: Miami Group
Will Not Receive Mendez Penate," Ibid, 25 June, 1933, p.18; "Effect
of Overturn on Miami," Ibid, 20 August, 1933 sec. IV, p.3.
43. "Cuba is Deporting American Publisher," Miami Herald, 16
January, 1931, p.1. "Machado Moves to Aid Tourists," Miami
Herald, 25 January, 1931, p.1.
44. The New York Times, 13 August 1933.
45. Miami Herald, 13 August, 1933.
46. "Riots Mark Overthrow of Machado," Miami Herald, 15
47. "Menocal Assumes Exile Responsibility," Miami Herald, 16,
17 August, 1933.
48. "Miami's Loss," Miami Herald, 18 August, 1933.
49. Desi Arnaz, A Book: The Outspoken Memoirs of Ricky
Ricardo, The Man Who Loved Lucy (New York: Morrow, 1976) p.36.
50. Ibid., pp38-39. See also "Conga King Likes Billing as Cuban
Mickey Rooney," Miami Herald, 15 November, 1939, See III p.2.
51. Arnaz, p.37; Also Miami City Directory, 1933.
52. Arnaz, In his biography, Amaz explains how he improvised
this "native Cuban-Miami ritual out of necessity." see My Life.
53. Miami Daily News, 14 November, 1939.
54. Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom, 706-786
55. Although it could not document the exact number, the Herald
estimated that more than 10,000 Cubans have turned Miami into a
haven from the political storms on their island. "10,000 Cuban
Refugees Bask in City," Miami Herald, 7 December, 1947 see VI
56. Miami City Directory, 1955 Appeared there in 1955 directory
for the first time.
57. From Advertisements in Diario de Ias Americas, 1955.
Ironically, WIOD has now (1998) become one of the last bastions of
talk radio in English in Miami.
58. "La Caridad de Cobre en Miami," Diario de Las Americas, 9
September, 1955, Virgin de la Cobre.
59. "Mas Estudianted Hispanos Hay Ahora en Dade County,"
Las Diarios 18 September, 1956.
60. "Gran Entusiasmo Por El Balle del Circulo Cubano El
Sabado," Las Diarios 21 September, 1956, p.4.
61. Specifically "Anuncio Classificados," p.3 Diario Las Diarios
21 September 1956.Advertisements throughout the paper given a
good look at the commercial life of Miami's Latin Community in the
62. Thomas, Cuba: La Lucha Por la Libertad, 984.
63. Lourdes Arguelles and Gary MacEoin, "El Miami Cubano,"
Arieto (Vol. VII No 28, 1981) 5-6.
The Miami-Havana Connection 43
64. University of Miami economist, Reinhold Wolff points out
that in the 1940s the older local underworld leaders in Miami were
driven out by a more aggressive group from the Northeastern United
States; According to Arguelles and MacEoin this group was fi-
nanced by the New York Crime syndicate headed by Meyer Lansky.
See:Arguelles and MacEoin, "El Miami Cubano," 5.
65. "Politico Cubano Detenido Al Arrivar a Miami," Diario
Las Americas 27 September, 1956 p.7.
66. Thomas, Cuba: Pursuit of Freedom, 950.
67. "Fidel Castro Alive and Holding Out Against Batista's
Forces New York Times, 24 February, 1958, p.1.
68. According to Economia, the Castro inspired exile movement
came in distinct waves from 1958 to 1962. Throughout the year
1958 there were approximately 3,000 refugees most of whom were
connected to the Batista government. It was only alter 1958 that the
first wave of non-government refugees began arriving in large
numbers. In 1959 there were 7,000, by 1961, 40,000, and in 1962,
when the first suspension of flights occurred, there were 150,000
Cuban immigrants in Miami. Economia was a twenty page mimeo-
graphed paper put together monthly by former Cuban government
officials, professors and economists living in Miami. Their principle
purpose was to document the economic failure of the Castro regime
in its early years. The point they were trying to make with their
immigration statistics was a correct one (i.e. Cuba was losing the
most productive part of its population) See also: Thomas, Pursuit of
Freedom, 950; and "Testimony of James Hennessy, Executive
Assistant to the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization
Service," Hearings Before the Subcommittee to Investigate Prob-
lems Connected With Refugees and Escapes. Committee of the
Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty Seventh Congress, Second
Session, part 2. December 2,3&4, 1962, (Washington D.C.: Gov-
ernment Printing Office, 1963) 210. (Hereafter: "Senate Hearings.)
69. "Monsignor Brian Walsh Testimony," Senate Hearings,
70. 7 Dias del Diario de la Marina, 26 November, 1960.
71. "Walsh Testimony" Senate Hearings, 226: "Coleman
Carroll, Bishop of Miami Testimony," Senate Hearings, 15.
72. "Hennessy Testimony," Senate Hearings, 209.
73. "Robert King High, Mayor of Miami, Testimony," Senate
Hearings, 333 Some of the earliest immigrant statistics come from
the 7 Dias Del Diario De La Marina, an exile newspaper. Citing
figures from the International Rescue Committee established by
President Eisenhower, 7 Dias provide the following analysis of
immigrants as of November, 1960: Professionals thirty percent
Middle Class sixteen percent, Public Employees ten percent, Workers
forty percent. Despite the separate category of "Middle Class" it
seems more appropriate to put all these people in the category of
"Middle Class" Since they all had certainly rejected the "anti middle
class" that had taken hold of their homeland. It is also fair to put these
statistics in context of the article in 7 Dias, the editors were attempt-
ing to point out that the exiles were not simply political exiles but
rather they represented the average Cuban citizen.
74. Wayne Farris, Crisis Amigo "WCKT Channel 7 Special
Report" (December 5, 1961, 8:30-9:00 p.m.)
75. "Senator Phillip Hart Testimony," Senate Hearings, 4.
76. "Congressman Dante Fascell Testimony," Senate Hearings,
77. "Mayor Robert King High Testimony," Senate Hearings, 47.
78. "H. Franklin Williams Testimony," Senate Hearings, 82.
79. 7 Dias Del Diario De La Marina, 1 October, 5, 26 Novem-
ber. 30 December, 1960.
80. Miami City Directory 1961-1963.
81. Florida Times Union (Jacksonville) 8 September, 1963.
82. "Miami Si, Cuba No," New York Times, 29 September, 1974,
83. Antonio Jorge and Raul Moncarz, "International Factor
Movement and Complimentary Growth and Entrepreneurship Under
Conditions of Cultural Variation," Research Group for European
Migration Problems Supplement 14, (Netherlands, September, 1981)
84. Senate Hearings, 4; Jorge and Moncarz, "International Factor
Movement. . "30.
85. Raymond Mohl, "Race, Ethnicity and Urban Politics in the
Miami Metropolitan Area," Florida Environmental and Urban Issues,
The Miami-Havana Connection 45
9 (April, 1982) 24.
86. Arguelles and MacEoin, "El Miami Cubano," 8.
87. City of Miami Budget 1959-1960, (Miami: City of Miami,
88. "Miami Si, Cuba No," New York Times, 29 September, 1974,
89. Without information from Cuba it is difficult to ascertain the
actual value of economic support from the "Miami Colony." How-
ever, in 1979 when Cubans were permitted to visit the island as
tourists, they spent over $100,000,000 there. Juan Clark, Jose
Lasaga, Rose Regue, 1980 Mariel Exodus: An Assessment and
This Page Blank in Original
Life In A Pioneer Settlement:
Miami's Medical Community
by William M. Straight, M.D.
On Saturday, August 8, 1874, George W. Parsons, a
twenty-four year old visitor from New York City, then resident in the
house that Dr. Robert Fletcher built on the south bank of the Miami
River, wrote in his diary:
Ole Dr. Fletcher is here to keep me company for a while & cook.
He first arrived in these places [the Miami River community]
after it was divided residing here some 30 years ago... Is a queer
character rather profane man though very honorable & very
entertaining at times in his description of this country & K. West
in former times.... [he] is known all over K. West & has quite a
reputation in his way.'
According to the family Bible, Robert Richard Fletcher was
born in Prince George County, Virginia, February 24, 1801. This
researcher has found no information on his early life and education.
He was a physician according to the statement of his daughter,
Rosalie, and according to the 1860 Census of Dade County. A
canvass of the current medical schools that existed in early 1800s has
failed to show his enrollment. He may have apprenticed himself to a
practicing physician and thus earned his title. Although Fletcher
signed a number of legal documents which are extant he never signed
"Dr." or "M.D.," and I have found no record of him practicing
medicine either in Key West or in the Miami River community.2
Fletcher came to Florida in June 1830 and lived in bustling
Key West 1830-1843.1 He was active in city politics (City Marshall,
1832) and Monroe County politics (Sheriff, 1832; Auctioneer and
Justice of the Peace, 1841-1842; Clerk of the Monroe County Court,
On January 14, 1833, Fletcher married Mary Margaretta
Mabrity (August 1, 1806 January 18, 1892) in Key West.4 They had
four children, born in Key West: Robert Francis (February 2, 1835 -
September 25, 1863); Mary Amanda (July 18, 1837 May 22, 1889);
James Whalton (February 28, 1839 December 7, 1850); and Bar-
bara Rosalie (September 14, 1841 May 2, 1927). On the Monroe
County Census, 1870, a Robert Charles Fletcher (1866 March 1,
1912), age 4, is noted as part of Fletcher's household. There is no
The location of Fletcher's House looking southwest along the south band of the river
from its mouth, ca. 1884. Courtesy of the Historical Association of Southern Florida.
indication of his relation to the family given, but he is listed as "son"
on the 1880 census. On the Monroe County Census of 1880, as part
of the Fletcher household, is listed Frances G. ( March 8, 1873 May
11, 1963), age 7, a granddaughter. In the Probate file of Barbara
Rosalie Fletcher, Frances is listed as Barbara Rosalie's daughter and
only heir, although it is thought Barbara Rosalie never married.5
In an effort to combat Indian hostilities by luring armed
settlers to the frontiers, Congress passed The Armed Occupation Act
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 49
on August 4, 1842. This Act offered 160 acres of free land to single
young men or heads of families, eighteen years of age or older and
capable of bearing arms. In return, they were to live on the land five
consecutive years, build a "fit habitation" and clear and fence five
acres. Fletcher applied for such a grant at the Indian Hunting Grounds
- the most attractive piece of real estate in the area near the
present day Charles Deering Estate. His grant was approved on June
26, 1843, pursuant to his meeting the prescribed conditions, ie,
THE FLWTCHER PLACE
ADAPTED TO THE
MAP OF MIAMI
BY A.L. KNOWLTON 1
AS RECORDED IN RAT BOOK B AT PAGE 41
PUSUC RECOS OF MIaii-OADE COLMW, FLRIOIt|
1- .S L.].. --- I -
f---.- t L J r---l N82W 6.33 CM
2J j4 O SfwTCH BY BLAIR O. CONNER
DICI cTIZED *W aNW n CONNE(R
The Fletcher Place Courtesy of Mr. Blair D. Conner, P.L.S.
"proving it up." However, his grant was later annulled, possibly for
The Fletchers moved to the Miami River area in 1843.6
Fletcher was not the first person to live on the River in that era, nor
the first physician to visit there, but he was the first civilian physician
of record to live in the Miami River area.7 Indeed, according to
application papers for homesteads under the Armed Occupation Act,
when Fletcher came, there were at least seven and possibly eleven
who were living in this area.8
The long, tedious Second Seminole War (1835-1842) ended
by Army decree, August 14, 1843, although there were thought to be
about three hundred Indians remaining in the Everglades. Settlers who
had been waiting out the war in the Keys began filtering back to the
Miami River area. William F. English, who had bought all of the
privately held land on the southeast Florida mainland from his uncle,
Richard Fitzpatrick, re-established his uncle's plantation on both sides
of the Miami River with slave labor. At the same time he platted a
town on the south bank and sold lots in "The Village of Miami."9 As
Clerk of the Monroe County Court, Dr. Fletcher was keenly aware of
these developments, for it was he who recorded the deed in the sale of
Fitzpatrick's land to English on August 7, 1843. Furthermore, the
office of Clerk of the Dade County Court at Miami was open and,
with his experience as Clerk of the Monroe County Court and his
political connections, he might get that position when the seat of Dade
County was moved to the Miami River community."o
Fletcher may have visited the Biscayne Bay / Miami River
country on fishing or hunting trips prior to 1843 and thus was famil-
iar with the area. Visitors from Key West to the Miami River sailed
up Hawke Channel, outside the Keys but inside the reef, hugging the
curve of the Florida Keys, and into Biscayne Bay by way of the Cape
Florida Channel. This channel runs along the south and southwestern
shore of Key Biscayne into the bay. Once in the bay, by careful
navigation a vessel sailed to within a half mile of the Miami River.
Here, anchored in seven feet of water, the visitors got into a skiff and
rowed across a bar into the river's mouth.
In 1843 a visitor entering the river, saw on the south bank a
white sand beach" and the "very comfortable house""' of Reason
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 51
Duke, a onetime keeper of the Cape Florida Lighthouse. Southwest
of the clearing in which Duke's house sat, were fields, once cleared
but now overgrown. On the north bank the tropical hammock that
fringed the river and bay had been thinned to permit a parade ground,
and several frame buildings that constituted Fort Dallas, an army fort
active in the Second Seminole War In the foreground a burial mound
25 feet high and 75 feet wide and extending 100 feet in a northern
direction jutted from the hammock."3 Winding in a north westerly
direction the river passed between a tangled fringe of mangroves
lining both banks. Through interruptions in these borders appeared,
here and there smaller hammocks, the English plantation fields and
buildings and beyond them pine barrens. In the fields north of the
river, about one and a half miles from the river's mouth, was a mill
operated by Colonel English.14 This may have been a mill for grinding
sugar cane, coontie root or both. Sugar was a major crop on the
English plantation and coontie grew lushly in the pineland. Parsons
notes pulling from the river a big cogwheel "... that was said to
belong to English's sugar mill."15
As the skiff glided up the river, raucous Green Backed
Herons, Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, Great and Little Blue
Herons and clucking Moorhens took wing. Further away in the pine
barrens the rapid staccato of the Red-bellied Woodpecker and slower
thumping cadence of the Pileated Woodpecker pierced the scene.
From the river banks sunning alligators slipped quietly into the
stream. Through crystal clear water the river's bottom shown as:
great basins as white as marble in which fish are sporting now
and then darting into or out of dark grottos. The coral bottom in
many places is shaped into caves and cliffs, to which are attached
a profusion of aquatic plants of beautiful forms and colors, which
wave in the rushing current like banners in the wind. 16
Indeed, the only distraction in this peaceful scene was the
hordes of mosquitoes and blue flies whose bites drew blood.
About two and one-half miles from the river's mouth (ap-
proximately half way between today's Northwest Seventeenth and
Twenty-Second Avenues) the river forked. On the south fork the
brothers, George and Thomas Marshall, had lived since 1828. They
were engaged in subsistence farming and growing lush bananas for
the Key West market. The north fork, the larger of the two streams,
led to the headwaters of navigation, the "Upper Falls."
At the Upper Falls, three and three quarters miles from the
river's mouth, (a short distance above today's Northwest Twenty-
Seventh Avenue bridge) water spilled over the rocky rim of the
Everglades into the riverbed. The "falls" were also a "rapids" where
the river bed descended about six feet over a distance of 450 feet.
Here the visitor got into the shallow water and pulled his skiff to the
crest of the rapids. Once atop the rim, "As far as the eye reached,
nothing but a sea of grass was visible sprinkled here & there with
small hammocks or islands of a slight elevation with timber &
bushes."17 On a stream which emptied into the river from the north
just below the rapids, the brothers, Thomas Jefferson and George
Washington Ferguson, operated both a sawmill and a coontie mill.
These brothers became the most successful producers of coontie
flour, "arrowroot, in south Florida, grossing about $25,000 in one
year in the late 1840s."1
When Doc Fletcher and his family arrived at the River, their
first priority was finding lodging. Immediately available were the
buildings of Fort Dallas. These had been recently vacated by the
soldiers and returned to their owner, Colonel William F. English.
Although English was in residence at that time he would allow
newcomers to lodge in the empty barracks buildings until they could
build their own shelter. Thus the Fletchers likely stayed at the fort
until they could arrange other lodging.
On September 15, 1844, Fletcher bought ten acres of land
from Colonel English in the name of Mary M. Fletcher. On today's
map, this tract began at a point about 0.2 miles from the mouth of the
Miami River on its south bank. It was bounded, more or less:
On the north by the Miami River; on the south by SE 8th Street;
on the west by South Miami Avenue; and on the east by a line
parallel with and 417 feet, more or less, east of Miami Avenue.'9
On this land, a short distance from the river's edge, Fletcher
constructed a two story frame house mounted five feet above the
ground on pine pilings for it was then thought:
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 53
in that climate it is necessary to have a clear space between the
ground and lower floor of the dwelling house, in order to escape
the fevers that emanate from the damp ground below the habita-
Another reason for building dwellings on pilings was to avoid
flooding. Before Everglades drainage began in 1908, much of the
Miami River community flooded when heavy rains filled the Ever-
glades to overflowing. For example, in the late spring and early
summer of 1866, water stood waist-deep around William Wagner's
house, an eighth of a mile from the river at today's Northwest Eighth
Avenue near Eleventh Street.21
The frame structure was likely hewn from pine trees in the
nearby woods. Milled lumber may have been available in the commu-
nity,22 but if not, it was shipped by sailing vessel from Key West to
provide siding, flooring, shingles, sashes, etc. The doors and windows
were closed by solid shutters. "Gauze blinds" in the openings and
mosquito nets over the beds kept the mosquitoes and other flying
insects at bay. An outhouse in the nearby woods served as toilet
The upper story of this house served as living quarters. The
lower story' served as a store where Fletcher traded with his neigh-
bors and the Indians. On the side facing the river a covered porch
provided a gathering place and a sleeping place when the weather was
good and the mosquitoes few.24 At the river's edge was a dock, and a
storage shed. This house became the first Dade County Courthouse
about March 9, 1844, when Miami became the county seat.25
On April, 1874, George Parsons, who lived in the Fletcher
house, described the view from the front steps of the Fletcher house:
as I write here on the front stoop things look quite charming & the
prospect is rather enchanting. Several boats hauled up for fear of
being stolen under the cocoanut trees & bananas, the yacht I have
charge of at the dock and small boat along side, orange trees and
C [etc.] the situation of the house almost on the water, and the
beautiful sky and water every day all combine to make a picture
that is nice charming and interesting.26
According to a U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey map made by
EH. Gerdes in January-February 1849, Fletcher also had a "Mill" at
the river's edge.27 Whether this was a sawmill or coontie mill is not
noted, but the latter seems more likely. However on another map by
Gerdes, (1849-1851) of the same area there is no mention of a mill on
Fletcher's property. Another map of the river community as it ap-
peared in September 1849, drawn from memory in 1854 by J.M.
Robertson,28 shows Fletcher's mill on the south branch at the fork of
the river. In the letter accompanying the map, Robertson states this
mill was, "Building in 1852."
As the river was brackish for the first mile upstream and well
water was heavily impregnated with lime salts, these sources provided
water for bathing and washing clothes. Freshwater for drinking and
cooking was found by going more than a mile upstream or from
numerous springs, such as the Punch Bowl,29 in Brickell Hammock or
from freshwater boils in the bay. These sources of freshwater were
often not very ample during the "dry season."30 A cistern was used at
the Cape Florida Lighthouse as early as 1861, and cisterns were likely
used on the mainland as well.
Cooking was done outside on an open fire or in a
palmetto-thatched cook shack. Fire being the scourge of the pioneers,
they went to great lengths to keep it away from the living quarters.
The early settlers relied heavily on the ocean, bay and forest
for their food. They obtained staples such as coffee, salt, rice and
corn in Key West. The abundant coontie root furnished flour for bread
and confections, thickening stews, and for other purposes.
When the Fletchers arrived they brought with them a supply
of staple foods. Fruits and vegetables could be purchased from the
English plantation and the subsistence farmers along the river. As
soon as the family got settled they planted their own kitchen garden.
The acreage Fletcher bought, once a thick sub-tropical hammock, had
been cleared first by the slaves of Richard Fitzpatrick, a prominent
South Carolinian living in Key West, who bought the land in the early
1830's and established a sugar cane plantation. During the Second
Seminole War, the land lay fallow, but after the war it was cleared
again by the slaves of Colonel English. The soil, built up over the
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 55
centuries by hammock humus, was rich, and vegetables such as
potatoes and cabbage grew lushly.31
In his claim for reparations for the U. S. Army occupation of
his plantation during the Second Seminole War, Richard Fitzpatrick,
listed his farm products in 1836 as: corn, flint corn, pumpkins, sweet
potatoes, plantain, bananas, Bermuda arrowroot, limes, cocoanuts,
sugar cane, sugar apple, guava, ducks, fowl, turkey and guinea
The Fletchers likely grew some of the foods mentioned above
in their kitchen garden. Dr. Fletcher became locally noted for his
agricultural skills, and Rose Wagner Richards, whose family home-
stead northwest of Fletcher's home, credited him with introducing
both mangoes and dates to the area.33 Ethan V. Blackman, a chroni-
cler of early Miami wrote that Fletcher also grew sapodilla, avocado
and orange trees.34
Fletcher's daughter, Rosalie, recalled that her father raised
"... 400 head of hogs, hundreds of chickens and also raised many
turkeys."35 Indians frequently brought venison, raccoon, possum and
other game to trade. Alligator tail was favored by a few of the early
settlers, but alligators were chiefly sought for their hides. Turtles and
turtle eggs were a chief source of fresh protein during the summer
months, and occasionally the settlers ate manatee. Conch meat and
The mouth of the Miami River, 14, Miam, The MagCi, p. 34.
Courtesy of Arv Moore Prks.
'. *.' .B .', .n
The mouth of the Miami River, 1849. Miami, The Magic City, p. 34.
Courtesy of Arva Moore Parks.
chowder and oyster stew were common favorites from the sea. Some
of the settlers found cormorant tasty, and quite a few relished curlew
(a local name for the White Ibis). Parsons mentions once eating a
woodcock (Pileated Woodpecker) and once panther, "... it tasted well,
very like veal.36 With a cast net, a boatload of edible fish, such as
Spanish mackerel and mullet, could be had from Biscayne Bay in an
hour or so. Butter was a rare delicacy and iced beverages were almost
nonexistent. Although on one occasion, March 1855, the medical
officer at Fort Dallas complained that vegetables were difficult to
get,37 food was rarely a problem for the settlers, except during the
Civil War when the Union blockade virtually stopped the supply of
When Fletcher arrived at the river, except for the land cleared
by Fitzpatrick and English for their plantations, and that cleared by
the U. S. Army at Fort Dallas, the area around the mouth of the
Miami River was covered with dense tropical hammock and a thick
pine barren. The surface of the ground was pocked with jagged holes
in the rock containing small caches of sand and humus. Walking on
this surface wreaked havoc with footwear. The commander at Fort
Dallas complained that, "... a pair of new shoes will not last a man
over ten days.""38
A footpath/horse trail, long used by the Seminole and
Tequesta Indians before them, was the super highway in South Dade
County at that time. This trail led from the river's mouth south
through the Brickell Hammock and along the bluff, roughly corre-
sponding with today's Brickell Avenue and Bayshore Drive. The trail
continued along the bay front, through Coconut Grove, on today's
map roughly corresponding to Main Highway, and down Douglas
Road to the mouth of the Coral Gables Waterway, which at that time
was a shallow, easily fordable creek. From there a trail led to the top
of the ridge and went south along today's Old Cutler Road through
the Hunting Grounds toward Cutler and beyond.39
There were similar Indian trails along both banks of the
Miami River and from the river going north and northwest through
the Allapattah prairie to the Everglades.40 Another footpath/horse trail
was in use June 20, 1874, when one Miami settler walked 17 miles to
get mail from the post office at William H. Hunt's house at
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 57
Biscayne.41 Footpaths also ran from farms to neighboring farms as
Horses were used in the Miami River area as early as the late
eighteenth century and likely during the Second Seminole War. Their
use during the Third Seminole War is well documented. In December
1851, George Ferguson mentions a sorrel mare "that was formerly
owned by R. R. Fletcher."
The first "road" built in the southern end of Dade County,
which stretched for more than 100 miles in a north-south direction,
was the military road between Fort Dallas and Fort Lauderdale,
which was completed in early 1857.42 In the 1860s Rose Wagner
Richards mentions a wagon road from Fort Dallas to her father's
farm, near Wagner Creek, a portion of which is today's Seybold
Canal, at Norhtwest Eighth Avenue and the river.43
Travel of any distance was by water. Most families had a
skiff, or a Seminole dugout, often rigged with a sail. Several settlers,
including Fletcher, had one or more sloops or schooners. Most of
these were under 50 feet in length and some were only 10 to 12 feet.
Often they were shallow draft vessels equipped with a centerboard
and might draw 2 to 3 feet with the centerboard up and 5 to 6 feet
with the board down. Most of those that went outside into the ocean
were decked and had a small cabin but there are accounts of sailing
from Miami to Jupiter Inlet in open vessels of 12 feet length. Cooking
and sanitary facilities were not provided on these small vessels other
than, perhaps, a night jar.
Steamboats visited Biscayne Bay as early as the 1830s. These
shoal draft, flat bottom, side-wheelers were particularly maneuverable
in shallow water. Commonly their engines were wood burning.
Colonel English made reparation claims for many cords of wood
taken off his plantation to fuel U.S. Navy steamers during the Second
Seminole War. Later coal burning engines became popular and a
coaling station was maintained at Key West. Larger vessels traveling
at sea often had both steam and sail as captains, who had grown up
with sail, were loath to trust steam alone.
Vessels drawing 10 feet could enter the bay by way of the
Cape Florida channel and travel up to within one-half mile of the
river's mouth. There was a frequently mentioned bar at the mouth of
the river, which Gerdes states could carry 7 feet at high tide." Another
observer states this bar could carry only 4 feet at high tide. Once past
the bar and into the first part of the river depths up to 16 feet could be
had at high tide.45
Traveling about Biscayne Bay, other than the route mentioned
above, was chiefly limited to smaller sailing craft or skiffs because of
many shallow areas. There are many accounts of these craft being
stuck on mud banks while sailing to Jack's Bight [today's Coconut
Grove], to the Hunting Grounds [Cutler], to Lemon City or to
Biscayne [Miami Shores] up the bay. The trip to Key West could be
made "inside" the Keys but it was shallow and treacherous thus
usually Hawke Channel, between the Keys and outer reef, was
preferred by smaller craft; larger vessels traveled beyond the outer
Residents and visitors agreed that flying insects, mainly
mosquitoes and sand flies, made life miserable, especially between
May and October each year. When mosquitoes were bad, whenever
possible, Fletcher and his neighbors scheduled outdoor activities from
well after sunrise to well before sunset. To minimize harboring the
pests, they cleared the undergrowth widely around their living and
working quarters. They endured heavy clothes tied tightly at the neck,
wrists and ankles, even in the dead of summer, regardless of the sweat
bath these produced. In addition to these measures their chief reliance
was on smudges (often made by burning coconut husks), mosquito
nets and gauze covering of doorways and windows. Even the hardy
Seminole Indians slept under mosquito bars when they could acquire
John Dubose, the first lighthouse keeper at Cape Florida,
wrote to his superior in 1830:
it is impossible that any family can reside here from 1 May to 1
October on this Coast, everywhere the Mosquito are very thick
and bothersome, but now you can neither eat, drink, or sleep in
any peace...Mosquitoes kill the fowls and chickens and they soon
kill young pigs [it is impossible] to eat a meal without having a
pot of smoke under the table to keep them off."
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 59
In those days, mosquito repellents were unknown even the
burning of pyrethrum powders and the use of oil of citronella were
years in the future. When the weather permitted, those who had
vessels often sailed out and anchored on the reef, where a strong
southeast breeze provided respite.
In the months of April and May two other vicious insects
wreaked havoc, as described by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel George F.
Thompson, who made an inspection tour of South Florida for the
Freedmen's Bureau in 1865-1866:
a blue head and a gray fly about the size of a honey bee which
attack cattle and horses with great violence and drives them mad.
We were told of several cases where horses had been attacked by
a swarm of these insects and killed within three hours.47
In late 1843, when Dr. Fletcher moved to the Miami River
community, Dade County extended from the St. Lucie River on the
north to Indian Key on the south. Less than 100 people lived in the
southern end of the county. Most of these were young adults and,
except for accidents, not likely to need a physician. Therefore,
Fletcher had no illusions of sustaining his family from a medical
practice. Seeking ways to earn money, he opened a store in his home.
The earliest mention of this store is by Rose Richards who states that
when she arrived, March 15, 1858, there were two stores, "... one a
sutler [at Fort Dallas], owned by Captain Sinclair and one on the
south side [of the Miami River] owned by Dr. Fletcher."48 Fletcher
had a schooner and made trips to Key West to get stock for his store
and may have been paid by his neighbors to transport items for them.
As previously mentioned, Fletcher, like most of the early
settlers, may have had a coontie mill at his house near the river's
mouth as early as 1849. This was clearly the case on the east bank of
the south fork of the river, which was, "Building in 1852."49 Later,
about 1858, Fletcher and George Lewis, who lived on the south bank
of the Miami River just west of today's Northwest Twelveth Avenue,
built a coontie mill on the Natural Bridge over Arch Creek, in today's
North Miami.50 That mill operated a year or more but was not suffi-
ciently profitable and was abandoned at the onset of the Civil War.5
Possibly because of his political connections and his experi-
ence as Clerk of the Monroe County Court (1842-1843), Fletcher was
appointed Clerk of the Dade County Court in 1844 and served a two
year term. Other Dade County political offices that he held were:
Justice of the Peace, 1844-1845; Dade County Coroner, 1846;
Representative from Dade County to the Florida General Assembly,
1846-1847 ;52 Dade County Auctioneer and Notary Public, 1847;
Postmaster at Miami, 1850 and again in 1860;"5 and Representative
from Dade County to the Florida Constitutional Convention, October
These offices were all elective, supplied some income and are
a testament to the respect that Fletcher's neighbors held for him. He
was also elected Dade County Revenue Assessor on July 26, 1845,
but declined to serve.
The years 1843-1849 were relatively uneventful for the tiny
river settlement. The Indians were friendly and traded with the settlers
around the Miami River. The settlers were occupied with everyday
problems: tending their farms, setting out fruit groves and supplying
their tables with fish and game. With slave labor, Colonel English
steadily improved his plantation. In May 1846, George McKay
completed a township survey of the public lands making possible, for
the first time, legal description of grants, claims and privately owned
On April 30, 1847, the Cape Florida Lighthouse was
re-lighted with Reason Duke as Lighthouse Keeper. It had been
destroyed by Indian attack, July 23, 1836, at the outset of the Second
Seminole War and completely rebuilt from the ground up
In 1849 English brought skilled artisan slaves from Charles-
ton, S.C., and began building two stone buildings.55 One of these,
intended for slave quarters, and used during the Third Seminole War
as troop quarters and a storehouse,56 was moved to Lummus Park
(404 Northwest Third Street) in 1925 and is preserved as the last
remnant of Fort Dallas.
All was well until July 12,1849, when four Indians attacked a
settlement on the Indian River, killing Mr. Barker, the brother-in-law
of the Inspector of Customs there. Several days later the same four
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 61
Indians attacked a trading post on Payne's Creek near Charlotte
Harbor, killing two men. False news of a general Indian uprising
rapidly reached the Miami community, prompting its settlers to flock
to the lighthouse seeking protection and transportation to Key West.7
Soon after July 30, all those living in the Miami River community,
now abandoned their homes and went to Key West, except for the
keeper of the Cape Florida Lighthouse, Reason Duke.
There was no general uprising and, after several months, the
Indians themselves killed one of the four renegades and delivered the
other three to the federal authorities. But settlers throughout the state,
always apprehensive about the Indians and eager to have them totally
removed, raised such a hue and cry before the miscreants could be
apprehended that the federal government felt it necessary to reactivate
several army posts. Fort Dallas was one of those occupied perhaps
in response to an urgent letter from Colonel English to Lieutenant D.
N. Conch, commanding in Key West. This time the fort was occupied
from September 9, 1849, until December 24, 1850.
This, the fourth occupation of Fort Dallas, was relatively
uneventful. The returning troops found the "old log houses" and the
walls of the two stone buildings which they promptly put in livable
condition and to which they added, "two houses on the beach near the
mound,"58 for officers quarters. The troops were occupied in routine
patrols and station keeping. The Seminoles, for their part, success-
fully avoided the soldiers and made no attacks on the settlers. Soon
most of the settlers returned to the river to find their houses and farms
The troops at Fort Dallas were remarkably healthy during the
sixteen months of this occupation. There were only two cases of fever,
an event so uncommon that the surgeon describes one in detail in his
Quarterly Report, September 30, 1850. Only one death occurred; that
death was attributed to phthisis pulmonalis (pulmonary tuberculosis).
One remarkable medical event did happen, possibly the first use of
inhalant anesthesia in Florida.'
Dr. Fletcher and family were among those who left, and they
probably did not return to the river until after early December 1850.
He and his family appear on the Key West census of August 13,
1850; he is listed as a "druggist," perhaps his source of income while
he was away from the river. While the family were on the island they
lost their 12 year old son, James Whalton, "from eating berries of the
In the summer of 1851, Dr. Charles S. Baron, a practitioner
of Knoxville, Tennessee, bought, in his wife's name, 613 acres,
encompassing the Punch Bowl. He established a coontie mill and
cleared and began the cultivation of three acres. A letter in the
author's possession, from E. Gwynn, his factor in Key West (June 4,
1853), mentions selling for Dr. Baron: limes, tomatoes, turnips, leeks
and comptie. A land official who visited Baron in 1855, adds to this
list: potatoes, cabbage, lemons and bananas as produce from his
farm.62 This land official describes Baron as, "a grand looking man,
though his face is somewhat disfigured by his beard." He describes
Mrs. Baron, "... who I found to be a German lady of some beauty,
grace and dignity." Later he expresses sympathy for Mrs. Baron,
forced to a life of seclusion living with the doctor, "... who is a
hypochondriac, a misanthrope and very whimsical at least I think
Dr. Fletcher was appointed Keeper of the Lighthouse at Cape
Florida on Key Biscayne, June 24, 1853, at a salary of $600 per
annum. With this position went a well-built, brick keeper's cottage
and ample subsistence delivered quarterly.4 Fletcher had served as
Lighthouse Keeper at Garden Key, Dry Tortugas, prior to 1836 until
sometime after 1838.65 He performed well during that tenure and this
likely assured his appointment in 1853. But in 1836 he was thirty-five
years of age while in 1853 he was fifty-two years old; perhaps these
seventeen years had something to do with his subsequent replacement
on May 21, 1855.
Fletcher's days were now structured and demanding. The
seventeen lamps with reflectors had to be lighted punctually at sunset
and extinguished at sunrise. The Argand-type concentric wicks
required trimming every four hours or more often, if necessary. In this
procedure special care must be taken to cut the tops of the wicks
exactly even, to produce a flame of uniform shape and free of smoky
points. Immediately after extinguishing the lamps at sunrise, each
lamp was carefully removed from the chandelier, the lamp glasses
cleaned, the silvered copper reflectors carefully polished with rouge
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 63
and whiting and the copper and brass work cleaned with Tripoli
powder. Each lamp required refilling with whale oil. Both the inside
and outside of the glass panes in the lantern were kept spotless. The
walls, floors and balcony of the light room were scoured and the
tower's cast iron stairs, passageways, windows, and doors cleaned
from the lightroom to the oil cellar at the base of the tower.
Light-keepers kept regular four-hour watches throughout the
night. The first watch began at sunset. No light-keeper was exempted
from watch except in case of sickness, and the light-keeper on duty
must not leave the light-room, on any pretext except to call his relief.
The principal light-keeper kept a daily journal detailing such
things as the amount of oil burned, the weather, the amount of ships
passing the tight during the day, shipwrecks (in as much detail as
possible) and the precise hours of lighting and extinguishing the lamps
in the lantern."
The Cape Florida Light was supposed to be staffed by a
Keeper and one Assistant Keeper. However, the extant records do not
name an Assistant Keeper when Fletcher took over from Temple Pent
(June 24th, 1853), until Fletcher's son, Robert Francis, was ap-
pointed, August 26,1853, at an annual salary of $350.67
The Lighthouse Service regularly inspected stations and at
the first inspection (September 26, 1853) after the appointment of
Fletcher, the inspector reported the lighthouse, "in bad condition."68
On January 17, 1854, James Guthrie, Secretary of the Treasury,
recommended Fletcher's dismissal. Nominations for a successor were
received but no action taken and recorded in the Letterbook Index
until after April 6, 1855, when M. C. Watkins, Inspector of the Cape
Florida Lighthouse, reported, "... Keeper unable to attend to duties."
On May 8, 1855, John P. Baldwin, Superintendent of Lights for the
Seventh District, sent the Lighthouse Board a letter detailing com-
plaints against the Keeper (this letter is no longer extant).69 On May
21,1855, Fletcher was "removed" as Keeper of the Cape Florida
Light.70 No reason is recorded.
Dr. Charles S. Baron was appointed Keeper, May 21, 1855,
to succeed Fletcher, It was during Baron's term, 1855-1859, that the
light underwent its last major reconstruction. Masons raised the brick
work of the tower twenty feet and it was capped with an iron
watch-room and lantern such that the focal plane of the light was 100'
above sea level. A new "illuminating apparatus," consisting of a
second-order Fresnel lens and a five concentric wick Argand lamp,
After the Second Seminole War ended in 1842 the Seminoles
received a two and one-half million acre "temporary hunting and
planting" reserve situated west and south of Lake Istokpoga and west
of a line running from the mouth of the Kissimmee River through the
Everglades to Shark River and thence along the coastline to the Peace
River."71 Although the Miami River community was not included
within the boundaries of this reserve, the Indians continued their time
honored visits to the Hunting Grounds and coontie fields in this area.
At first they had little contact with the settlers but as time passed
friendly relations developed, and there are no mentions of Indian
depredations committed in the area even during the Indian scare of
In central and southwest Florida, however, settlers, covetous
of the land reserved for the Indians, set up a loud clamor for their
complete removal or extermination. Some Indians, ignoring the cooler
heads of their tribes, provided some justification for this clamor by
stealing and the occasional murder of settlers beyond the reserve
limits. Attempts to solve the problems by peaceful negotiations with
the heads of the Indian bands made little progress. The situation
changed radically when President Franklin Pierce transferred supervi-
sion of the eastern Seminoles from the Department of the Interior to
the War Department. Now they came under the supervision of
Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War. He took a less conciliatory
attitude and ordered the Army to prepare for the use of force if
necessary. As part of the preparations, Fort Dallas was reoccupied,
January 3, 1855.72 Finally, the Third Seminole War began December
20, 1855, when Indians attacked a small reconnaissance party near
the Big Cypress Swamp.73
This, the final occupation of Fort Dallas, which lasted until
June 10, 1858, brought jobs, money and an average complement of
140 men and six to eight officers. Some of them, enlisted men as well
as officers, brought their wives, children and servants. The troops
engaged in station keeping activities and frequent patrols along the
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 65
coast and into the Everglades. Although the soldiers rarely encoun-
tered Indians, they often found signs that Indians were in the area.
Once during a social event on the parade ground a woman saw an
Indian peering from the nearby hammock but a search turned up
About three p.m. on January 7, 1856, John Mount arrived at
Fort Dallas and reported Indians had attacked Peter Johnson's coontie
mill on Biscayne Bay about six miles below the fort, (in today's
Coconut Grove) and killed Johnson and a helper, Edward Farrell.
Captain B. H. Hill, commanding at the fort, immediately dispatched
three barges to round up all the families and detached settlers living in
the community to bring them into the fort. He sent a twenty-man
detachment to Johnson's mill, which ultimately found the bodies of
Johnson and Farrell and buried them. They found one of the two
houses vandalized but the other untouched.74 An attempt to track the
Indians was unsuccessful.
On August 12, 1856, Indians robbed and vandalized the home
of George Ferguson (on the south bank of the river just west of
today's twelfth avenue), and George Marshall (on the south fork of
the Miami River, half way between today's Northwest Seventeenth
and Twenty-Second Avenues) Two detachments, totaling ninety men,
found fresh trails and camp sites littered with some of Ferguson's
possessions but no Indians.75
The troop's most useful accomplishment during this occupa-
tion was the construction of a road from Fort Dallas to Fort Lauder-
dale beginning about mid-December 1856. The segment, stretching
from Fort Dallas to Arch Creek was built under the command of
Captain John M. Brannan, and that of Arch Creek to Fort Lauder-
dale, under the command of Captain Abner Doubleday, the legendary
inventor of baseball. Construction continued through the month of
January and into February 1857.76
This occupation also brought a boom in the social life of the
Miami River folks. Walter S. Graham, Editor of Miami's first news-
paper, the Miami Metropolis, interviewed old settlers at Key West
who recalled delightful times at Fort Dallas:
... others told us of the pleasant picnics, boating parties and
dances which occurred at Fort Dallas, particularly in 1855.77
Hostilities gradually ceased, and the Third Seminole War
came to an end by Army decree on May 8, 1858. Rose Richards, who
arrived shortly before the war's termination, recalled:
I came to Miami when I was six. It was March 15, 1858, and the
Indians who had been fighting the government troops at Old Fort
Dallas had run up a peace flag that day about a quarter of a mile
from the fort ending the Indian Wars hereabouts.
I was standing on the deck of a two mast schooner with my
mother and one of my three brothers when we sighted Miami.
There were a few huts here, the rude wooden homes of two
families, the huts and shacks of the bachelors who made up the
bulk of the population, Fort Dallas, two stores and a post office.78
When Mrs. Richards arrived in Miami, she recalled, only
three other white families lived in or near the settlement: The
Fletchers [Robert Richard Fletcher], George Ferguson's family and
the Joe Farrells.
When asked if Indians ever caused her family trouble, she
said, "Only over friendliness they became very chummy."
One chilly day I had wrapped the children in coats and blankets
and put them on a large bunk inside the house to keep warm. I
was tucking the last one in when I was startled by a movement by
my side. A Seminole warrior, completely imperturbed was
crawling into the bed by the children. My amazement must have
provoked an answer because the Indian, apparently surprised that
an explanation was required, grumbled, "Pickaninny cold, me
cold too," and burrowed under the covers. I let him stay.79
Whiskey caused much discord and occasional tragedy in the
Miami River community. One such event occurred on the evening of
February 14, 1861. George Marshall, in a drunken rage, shot and
killed William Wagner's ten year old son in front of George Lewis'
store (on the South bank of the river just west of Twelveth Avenue).
The settlers sent for the sheriff, but he was in Key West. On February
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 67
23, and before the sheriff arrived, Marshall sold his 160 acres to Dr.
Fletcher for $300 and left the country. He was never heard from
Hardly noticed by the residents around the river, war clouds
gathered on the national scene. On January 10, 1861, Florida's
secession convention met in Tallahassee and voted sixty-two to seven
to withdraw from the Union making Florida the third state to join the
Confederacy. On April 12th, Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was
fired upon and the Civil War had begun.
Southeast Florida, far from the battlefields of the Civil War,
none-the-less, felt the winds of war. At midnight, August 21, three
Confederate sympathizers gained access to the Cape Florida Light-
house, smashed its lens, and carried off three lamps and burners. The
light was not re-lighted until April 15, 1866.81
The monthly mail boat from Key West ceased to sail. The
schooners William and John and Julia Gorden, owned by Captain
Sinclair and used to bring household goods, clothing and staple foods
to the community, were seized for debt. Food and necessities became
scarce. Settlers who had vessels had to get permission from both
Lieutenant Commander Earl English, in command of the Gunboat
Sagamore blockading the lower coast of Florida and Captain Malloy,
U.S. Gunboats blockaded the southern coasts during the Civil War (note the cutter
laying alongside). Courtesy of The Mariner's Museum, Newport News, VA.
the Union Commander in Key West, to travel to the Island City for
supplies. They were then permitted to bring back with them only the
amount of supplies deemed necessary for one family for a limited
period of time. In response, the settlers planted more vegetables: corn,
beans, peas, and pumpkins, and cultivated more tropical fruits. Hogs
and chickens were in demand Fish, turtle and wild game made up a
large portion of the diet. Flour, when it could be had, sold for $17 a
barrel and pickled pork for $50 a barrel. Ordinary cotton homespun
cost one dollar a yard.
Pine woods gophers (tortoises) were a luxury to be indulged
in only on Sundays. Bread was made from yellow coontie and slap
jacks or johnnycake from cornmeal ground at George Lewis' mill on
the river. Many times the only thing on the table was a dish of coontie
scalded in clear water, sometimes even without salt, Rose Richards
New faces were seen daily: Confederate sympathizers fleeing
Key West to join the Army of the Confederate States,82 refugees
trying to avoid the conflict, deserters of one army or the other and
renegades. Some of these occupied the empty quarters of Fort Dallas,
but many set up camps far out in the pine woods to avoid people and
to engage in the making of pine tar which they sold to blockade
runners. Alternately, bands of Union or Confederate soldiers swept
through the community looking for deserters, contraband [escaped
slaves] and blockade runners. Richards recalled that, fortunately,
bands from the two armies never met in the Miami River community.
The sentiment of most of the Miami River settlers was with
the South, but not blatantly so, particularly in the presence of strang-
ers or known Unionists. Dr. Fletcher was one of the more outspoken
locals and, indeed, his son, Robert Francis, enlisted in the Confederate
service (April 25, 1862) as a hospital steward. Left in the hospital to
tend Confederate wounded at the battle of Stone's River,
Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he was captured and imprisoned at Camp
Butler, Illinois, where he died September 25, 1863.83
The most outspoken rebels of the Miami River community
were George Lewis84 and John Adams. Both of these men ran the
Union blockade from Nassau to the Peace Creek, on the lower west
coast, or to the Tampa Bay area85 Their vessels were shallow draft,
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 69
centerboard sailboats that could sail into shallow waters and thus
evade the blockading gunboats. They carried cargo such as food,
whiskey, tobacco, medicines, cloth and other items for local consump-
tion but rarely guns, powder or lead.86 Ultimately, both Lewis and
Adams were captured, and sent to Union prisons, (Adams to Gover-
nors Island, New York and Lewis to Fort Taylor in Key West); both
survived the war. Lewis went to Cozumel on the Yucatan peninsula of
Mexico and never returned to South Florida, Adams returned to his
land on the south fork of the Miami River where he died in January
Early in the war the Union established a blockade of southern
ports. The U.S. Gunboat Sagamore," with Lieutenant Commander
Earl English in command, was on patrol from Indian River to Key
West for nine months during 1862 and 1863.89 Periodically, she made
stops in Biscayne Bay and sent cutters90 to Miami and up the Miami
River looking for Lewis, Adams and others. The sailors often bought
fruit, vegetables, chickens or hogs from the settlers when a supply
Richards records that on one of these sweeps:
Captain English with a number of sailors from the blockade
steamer, came to Miami, calling first on Dr. Fletcher and asking
him to take the oath of allegiance [to the Union]. Upon his refusal
to do so he was told to make up his mind by the time they re-
turned from up the river, where they had some business to attend
to. They passed by our house not saying a word to any of us,
never having done so before. Soon afterward a big black smoke
was seen to arise from where Mr. Lewis' factory had been
standing and which could be seen by ourselves and also by the
people in Miami. Fear was pictured on our faces, we thinking the
time had come when we would be left homeless. Thank goodness
we were not disturbed by this party. They returned to Miami and
did not have to ask Mr. Fletcher the second time to comply to the
request made of him a few hours before by Captain English.9'
This event is also recorded in less detail in the diary of the
surgeon aboard the Sagamore. 92
There were also outspoken Unionists among the Miami
community during the Civil War Theodore Bissell and Isiah Hall,
for example. Bissell had a homestead on the Miami River above the
falls but lived in Key West where he held the position of Deputy
Inspector of Customs, which required trips to Miami. Hall served as
pilot for the Sagamore. Because of anti-Union sentiment, Hall moved
his family to Fort Lauderdale and later to Jupiter Inlet, Fort Dallas,
and Key West. After the War the Halls lived for several years just
south of today's Matheson Hammock on what was once called Hall's
Lee surrendered at Appomattox, April 12, 1865, but for the
Miami River community the war was not quite over. Richards wrote
that rumors soon reached the community that President and Mrs.
Jefferson Davis were trying to escape through south Florida. Sud-
denly, "... the pine woods were full of Yankees looking for the Presi-
dent. Union soldiers captured Davis near Irwinsville, Georgia, May
10, but the Confederate Secretary of War, John Cabell Breckinridge,
and party managed to reach Fort Dallas (June 9) in a small sloop.
They were met by a villainous group of deserters and renegades
whom they managed to deceive as to their identity, and with gold
coins, purchase water, food and rum. There followed a harrowing
escape as the fugitives were pursued by the renegades down Biscayne
Bay, over Featherbed Banks, out through Caesar's Creek and finally
to Cardenas, Cuba. 9
With the ending of the war many of the refugees and others
living around the river departed for their previous homes and else-
On October 25, 1865, a federally mandated constitutional
convention was convened in Tallahassee to alter the state's Constitu-
tion of 1861 and bring it in line with the national constitution. Florida
was under martial law, and a federally acceptable constitution was a
condition for return to statehood.
Dr. Fletcher was elected to represent Dade County but
apparently did not attend the sessions despite free transportation to
Tallahassee being furnished by the Union.94 This convention, "...an-
nulled the secession ordinance, abolished slavery, declared the inhabit-
ants free without distinction of color, and permitted Negroes to testify
Dr. Jeptha Vining Harris 1839-1914.
Courtesy of Mr, Fred Kirtland.
William Henry Gleason. Miami, The Magic City,
p.41, Courtesy of Arva Moore Parks.
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 71
in court cases involving
their own race.9 It did
not give the Negro the
vote. This constitution
satisfied few Republi-
cans in Congress and
Florida was denied
admission to the Union.
Dade County politics
began a great metamor-
phosis with the arrival of
Yankees, William Henry
Gleason and William
Henry Hunt, who were
"no common people."
Historian Arva Moore
Parks has given a
complete account of the
machinations of these
men.96 In brief, claiming
they had a lease from the
U. S. Government, they
moved into the Fort
Gleason soon became
political boss of South
Dade County. He had
little opposition until Dr.
Jeptha Vining Harris
bought the Fort Dallas
property from Harriet
English, its longtime
Harris was "no
either.97 He enlisted in the Mississippi and Alabama Cavalry a month
after graduation in medicine at the University of Louisiana (March
20, 1861) and found himself at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee (April
6-7, 1862). Considering the number of troops engaged and the
casualties on both sides, this battle has been rated the bloodiest of the
Civil War. In support of a pension claim many years later, Dr. Harris
I had the pleasure of fighting at the Battle of Shiloh and I never
spent a happier day in all my [life]. I actually, as a sharpshooter,
killed seventy-six Yankees, all single shots, and amputated legs
and arms, at Shiloh Church, all the next day... "
Harris was not one to be deceived or intimidated by the likes
of Gleason. Having paid $1,450 to English for the 610 acres known
as the Fort Dallas tract, he came to Fort Dallas in January 1870, to
find Gleason and Hunt in residence. He had some difficulty evicting
them but finally gained full possession in March 1870." Gleason and
Hunt, however, were slow to remove their possessions and nearly a
year later, Harris notified Mrs. Hunt that the possessions would be
put out on his wharf where they would be exposed to the elements and
where she could get them, if she wished. Relations between Harris and
the two Yankees continued to fester until Harris challenged Hunt to a
duel and threatened to shoot him on sight if he stepped on the Fort
Dallas property. Neither Hunt nor Gleason took up the challenge. In
April 1874, when Harris happened to meet Gleason on a Key West
street, he gave him a sound thrashing with a cowhide strap.
Gleason, always eager to win by fair means or foul, at-
tempted to take advantage of an honest error in the Fort Dallas deed
to wrest the land from Harris."' Although Harris prevailed, Gleason
managed to cloud the deed for several years. 0'
Meanwhile, Dr. Fletcher was plagued with ill health which,
"... required medical attention that could not be had in Miami."102 On
April 14, 1870, he sold his ten acres near the mouth of the Miami
River to Charles F. Barager (a.k.a. Barrager) for $300 and moved to
Key West. Curiously, this same year he bought 40 acres adjoining the
George Marshall tract from the estate of William H. Wall, his recently
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 73
deceased brother-in-law. Perhaps this was to help his sister or it may
have been just a wise investment as at that time he owned the
Dr. Fletcher lived out the remainder of his life in Key West.
He visited the Miami River community twice for short periods of
time. He was a guest of the William Wagner family during the sum-
mer of 1873. From August 8, 1874, to October 13, 1874, he visited
George Parsons. Fletcher died in Key West sometime between 1874
and 1880.103 Upon Ole Doc Fletcher's departure, the Miami River
community was left with just one physician, Dr. Jeptha Vining Harris.
In the summer of 1870, a severe epidemic of yellow fever
broke out in Key West, causing the citizens to flee to the Biscayne
Bay area. Mr. James M. Dancy, one of a survey party in Miami at
that time, wrote, "... the shore here was lined with craft of all sorts
and sizes trying to escape from the epidemic.. ."14 They brought the
epidemic with them and infected a number of residents (the total
census of Dade County in July 1870 was eighty-five). There were no
deaths but the chief of the survey party was gravely ill. Dancy
believed he protected himself by drinking daily quantities of coconut
An event occurred
October 21 of that year that
nearly resulted in Dr. Harris'
death and caused Harris and
twenty other male residents of
the Miami River community
to be brought before the
District Court, Southern
District of the United States,
in Key West, charged with
unlawful salvage. This
represented over half of the
young adult males in the
Horace Philo Porter, M.D. 1838-1212.
Miami, The Magic City, p. 42. Courtesy
of Arva Moore Parks.
community.' 5 Although Harris had served as wreck master and thus
in charge of the salvage, he apparently avoided incarceration or a fine
whereas three of the other participants were not so fortunate, lan-
guishing two months in the Key West jail on grits, black strap molas-
ses and dirty water called coffee, and paying a fine.
Harris, according to Agnew Welsh, a newspaperman and
historian of Miami, was a man, "...of great courage. During his
residence here he had occasion in 1872 to visit Enterprise [on the east
coast 200 miles north of Miami] and having no other means of travel
made the round trip on foot, his food supply consisting of a quantity
of parched corn and some salt."6
Harris was also "an obliging neighbor," Rose Richards
recalled, and this inadvertently resulted in an unpleasant incident. In
1872, Harris, was acting as agent for Anna Beasley, who was then
living in Key West. She was the widow of Edmund D. Beasley who
had settled on the Coconut Grove in the 1830s, and had applied for a
homestead of 160 acres along a mile and a half of the current water-
front.107 Harris leased the Beasley land to a Union veteran, Dr. Horace
P. Porter, who arrived in the community in 1872. 18 Porter discovered
the homestead was not proved up and attempted to "jump" Beasley's
claim by representing the claim as abandoned. This effort was de-
feated but aroused animosity among the long-time residents who sided
with the Beasley's widow."'9 "All was not bad, however. Porter
applied for a post office under the name Cocoanut Grove which was
granted and opened January 6, 1873. Porter was the postmaster, and
when he left it closed. On August 24, 1884, when Commodore Ralph
M. Munroe sought to reestablish a post office in Cocoanut Grove, he
reopened the previous one and thus established the current name of
this community, later spelled Coconut Grove.
Porter was disappointed at his inability to claim Beasley's
improved land and was not willing to undertake the labor to prove up
an 80 acre homestead adjacent to Beasley's, which he had applied for
and received. Furthermore, his wife and daughters did not find life on
the frontier to their liking and returned to New England. Finally, on
January 19, 1874, Porter left Cocoanut Grove for good.
While Porter was still in South Florida, he played a role in
the second incursion of yellow fever into the community In the fall of
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 75
1873, the bark Yausberghaus put in at Key West with yellow fever
aboard. Charles F Barnes of Miami and Dr. Harris, each in his own
vessel, were in Key West at the time and not knowing of the yellow
fever, visited the Yausberghaus. The disease did not spread to the city,
but infected Barnes and Harris."0 Barnes returned to Miami on
September 18 and died the following day. In September troops from
Key West arrived at Miami hoping to escape the epidemic. They
established Camp Dallas on the site of Fort Dallas. The troops
escaped the disease but it spread to the community and in the subse-
quent days Barnes' mother took sick and died. Dr. Harris and his
three children, and William Wagner, Jr., Andrew Barr and Charles F.
Seibold all contracted the disease, but survived. Captain R. S.
Vickery, surgeon with the troops, took care of Dr. Harris and his
children, as well as Wagner and Barr. Dr. Porter cared for Seibold.
Possibly debilitated by his recent bout with yellow fever and
discouraged by the poor results of his farming, Harris decided to sell
out and move to Key West. Richards wrote, "... Harris was a good
physician, and an obliging neighbor, but unfortunately he was no
farmer...""' Harris sold the Fort Dallas Tract to the Biscayne Bay
Company for $6,000 and moved to Key West on December 3,
Yellow jack visited Miami for a third time in the summer of
1874. Fearing yellow fever, which was present in Havana that sum-
mer, the troops at Key West were sent aboard the schooner Matchless
to Miami. They arrived June 16th, and the Fort Dallas property not
being available, they set up Camp W. D. Whiting fronting on the bay,
south of William Brickell's house and store. On August 8th, yellow
fever broke out on the U.S.S. Ticonderoga at Key West. "3 On
September 5th, on orders from the Admiral at Key West, several
yellow fever victims were put ashore at the Camp Whiting hospital
from a troop ship traveling north. This unusual action was taken
possibly because, at that time, Camp Whiting's medical officer was
Dr. Joseph Yates Porter, who was a noted authority on yellow fever.
Fortunately yellow fever did not spread to the community from these
January 1874 saw the arrival of Dr. Richard Bulckley Potter,
the fifth physician in the Miami River community. He was the first
physician who charged and received a monetary fee for his services."5
He left a practice of medicine he had just begun in Cincinnati to bring
his brother, George, a severe asthmatic, to a gentler climate. He
staked out a claim for eighty acres at Biscayne and built a cabin (on
today's map at 8500 Northeast Tenth Avenue). During his sojourn in
the community, 1874-1882, he was the only physician in the area.
Although Dr. Potter did practice medicine when he was needed and
sometimes collected a fee for it he, like others before him, had to
supplement his income. He farmed, made coontie starch, served as
Customs Inspector, Deputy U. S. Marshall and Clerk of the County
Court, and even dawdled in salvaging shipwrecks to make ends meet.
The population was steadily growing, in the Miami River/Biscayne
Bay area, but more slowly than up around Lake Worth. George Potter
moved first to the area in 1881, and established a 160 acre homestead
just south of the heart of present day Palm Beach. Richard remained
in the Miami River community hoping to sell his homestead, but when
no buyers came forth, he followed his brother to the shores of Lake
Worth in May 1882. He bought property on the western shore of the
lake, in today's West Palm Beach, and practiced medicine there until
his death, July 13, 1909.
Ole Doc Fletcher's colleagues and neighbors seldom had to
combat serious disease, at least in part
due to their small number, isolation
and vigorous youth. Undoubtedly
accidents occurred, although few are
recorded in the extant records. These
records tell of children being born in
the community, but do not mention
midwives or physicians in attendance
until Dr. Potter delivered Mary
Brickell of her daughter, Maude, April
4, 1874."116 The first mention of surgery
by a civilian physician is that of Dr.
Harris' operation on a Seminole
warrior for an arrow wound in the
groin. Medical care by civilian physi-
Dr. Richard B. Potter- 1W845- 909 cians is documented in several in-
Courtesy of Mrs. Ben Crowell Stewart.
stances, and we must presume there
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 77
were others, but clearly the time when a doctor could support himself
with the practice of medicine had not yet come. Nonetheless, as we
have seen, the earliest physicians played important, and sometimes
exciting, roles in the Miami River community that a century later has
become the Miami-Dade megalopolis.
During the four decades, 1843 to 1883, the population of the
Miami River community grew very slowly. Fletcher, his colleagues
and his neighbors struggled to survive by farming, fishing, hunting,
beach combing, making coontie starch, trading with the Indians,
shipping produce to markets in Key West, tending the lighthouse at
Cape Florida and performing the few paid government jobs such as
Clerk of the Court, Deputy U. S. Marshall and Postmaster. During
those years they witnessed two extended occupations of Fort Dallas,
the privations of the Union blockade during the Civil War, a
self-appointed carpetbag dictator and three incursions of yellow fever
into the community. Theirs was a mostly peaceful, sometimes stress-
ful but not uneventful life.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The author is deeply indebted to
Mrs. Arva Moore Parks McCabe who suggested the project to him,
gave access to extensive archives of Dade County which she has
assembled at her own expense, time and effort, and reviewed the
manuscript. She has graciously given helpful suggestions and encour-
agement along the way. Others to whom the author is especially
indebted are: Mr. Sam Boldrick, Floridana Librarian of the
Miami-Dade Public Library; Mr. Tom Hambright, Floridiana Librar-
ian of the Monroe County Library at Key West; Mrs. Linda Carter,
curator of the Betty Bruce private collection in Key West; Mr. Blair
D. Conner, P. L. S., retired Chief Surveyor, Dade County Public
Works Department; Miss Rebecca Smith, Curator of Research
Materials at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida; and Captain
Vining Sherman, USN (retired), Mr. Fred Kirtland and Mrs. Gladys
Baldwin Wallace, descendants of Dr. J.V. Harris, who furnished
material and photographs of Dr. Harris.
1. Diary of George W. Parsons (1873-1875). A typescript of a
microfilm copy in the P. K. Yonge Library, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL, which was obtained by Arva Moore Parks: I 02.(Here
in after cited: "Parsons' Diary.")
2. "Miami Pioneer Recalls Slaughter of Settlers Close to Miami"
Miami Daily News, 18 October, 1925.
3. Joe Knetsch and Paul S. George, "A Problematical Law: The
Armed Occupation Act of 1842 and Its Impact on Southeast Florida,"
Tequesta, 53 (1993), 74.
4. Monroe County Deed Book "B", page 3.
5. Oby J. Bonawit, Miami Florida Early Families and Records.
(Miami privately printed, 1980): 11. (Hereinafter cited: "Bonawit.");
The Key West Citizen, 2 May, 1927, citing Rosalie Fletcher's death,
states she was the widow of a Mr. Carroll, but no other source
verifies this and it seems unlikely.
6. A more precise date of arrival has not been found. In testimony
(Monroe County Deed Book I, page 211), Fletcher states he,
"...moved there [the Miami River] in 1843." This was likely in the fall
of 1843, for Fletcher is noted as the Clerk of the Monroe County
Court in August 1843, (See: "Exhibit H. History of the Title of the
Egan Grant," Arva Moore Parks archives.)
7. Dr. Benjamin B. Strobel visited the Miami River in September
1829. (Hammond, E.A., "Dr. Strobel Reports on Southeast Florida,
1836," Tequesta, 21 , 65-75.)
8. Bonawit, 8-9.
9. This appeared in The News, St. Augustine, December 30, 1843.
(Agnew Welsh Scrapbook Miami # 17: page 19. Special Collection,
Miami-Dade Public Library, 101 West Flagler Street.) When the
settlement was first called "Miami" is not certain. The earliest
appearance of this name in published print, thus far found, is in The
Acts of the Legislative Council, the General Assembly and the
Legislature of the Territory of Florida, 1844, page 17. This Act,
passed March 9, 1844, established the county seat of Dade County, ".
.. at Miami, on the South side of [the] Miami River, where it empties
into Biscaino Bay." (See: Hudson, F.M., "Beginnings in Dade
County," Tequesta, I [July 1943], 13.) (Hereinafter cited: "Hudson:
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 79
Beginnings") The name "Miami" was likely in conversational use well
before it appeared in print.
10. Hudson: Beginnings, 13.
11. Dr. Thomas Skaggs Gowin, born in today's downtown Miami
in 1911, told the author he swam in crystal clear water from a beach
of fine white sand on the south bank of the Miami River near its
mouth, when he was a child.
12. Letter: J.M. Robertson to E.J. Haines, April 18, 1854, National
Archives, (Hereinafter: "NA") Document R-2, Letters Received by
the Department of Florida, 1854, Record Group (RG) 393, Records
of the U.S. Army Continental Command, Washington, D.C. 20408.
(Hereinafter cited: "Robertson to Haines, April 18, 1854.")
13. The first buildings of Fort Dallas, "three blockhouses," were
erected in February and March 1838. It is likely that during subse-
quent occupations more frame buildings were added, but the stone
buildings, one of which is preserved in Lummus Park as Fort Dallas,
were likely started in late 1848 or early 1849, as they are noted on the
Gerdes map of early 1849. See: Walter S. Graham, "Some Historical
Data," the Miami Metropolis, 20 November, 1896, 7-8. (Hereinafter
cited: "Graham: Historical Data.")
14. The notation "English Mill" appears on a topographical map
prepared by F.H. Gerdes, Assistant Surveyor, U.S. Coast and Geo-
detic Survey, February 1849. Official and Private Correspondence of
F.H. Gerdes, 1849, NA, Washington, D.C., RG. 23. (Hereinafter
cited: "Gerdes, Corres.") On another map of this same area, at the
same time and location is the notation, "Coonty Mill." English
produced both sugar and Bermuda arrowroot coontiee), according to
his claim for reparations in 1858.
15. Parsons' Diary, July 18, 1874, 95.
16. "The Cruise of the Leonard," A.H. Curtiss, Special Correspon-
dent to The Times Union, Jacksonville, 12 December, 1884.
17. Gerdes Corres., Feb. 5, 1849.
18. Coontie, county, koontie, compty, comptee or compete, as it is
variously spelled, is a cycad of the genus Zamia that grew plentifully
throughout the pinelands of Dade County at that time. Its bulbous
root when pulverized, soaked in water and dried gave forth a starchy
powder, often spoken of as arrowroot. It was used to make bread and
various confections, and in the nineteenth century, was the chief
ingredient of Seminole sofki. (Gearhart, Ernest G. "South Florida's
First Industry," Tequesta 12 , 55-57 and Burkhardt, Mrs.
Henry J., "Starch Making: A Pioneer Florida Industry," Tequesta 12
19. Blair D. Conner, PL.S., retired Chief Surveyor of the Dade
County Public Works Department. At the author's request, Mr.
Conner extensively researched the location of the Fletcher place in the
deed and plat books of Dade County. This location is principally
based on a description found in Deed Book A, page 51, and verified
by a deed in Deed Book 12, page 461, that gives as reference "The
20. "Campaigning in the Everglades," Colonel Loomis L. Langdon,
Miami Metropolis, 21 April, 1899, 3.
21. Margot Ammidown, The Wagner Family: Homesteading in
Miami's Pioneer Era 1855-1896, (Miami: Privately printed, 1981),
22. Thomas F. Russell, "Fifty Years Ago, An Article Written About
Biscayne Bay in 1843," The Tropical Sun, Juno, Florida, 28 July,
23. Unable to find a detailed description of Fletcher's house, the
author has relied on descriptions of similar construction at Fort Dallas
at that time and from the narrative in Parsons' Diary. Parsons lived in
the house that Fletcher built from November 1873 to May 1875.
24. Parsons' Diary, January 19, 1874, 22.
25. This is the date the Legislative Council of the Florida Territory
passed an act, "That the County Site for the county of Dade shall
hereafter be at Miami, on the South side of [the] Miami River, where
it empties into Bescaino Bay." (Hudson: Beginnings, 14.). Presum-
ably, shortly thereafter the actual transfer took place and Fletcher's
house became the Dade County Courthouse. From 1836 until 1843,
the seat of Dade County was located at Indian Key.
26. Parsons' Diary, April 1, 1874, 60.
27. Arva Moore Parks, Miami, The Magic City Centennial Press,
1991, 34, (Hereinafter cited: "Parks: Miami.")
28. Robertson to Haines, April 18, 1854.
29. Also known as the "Devil's Punchbowl." (See: Notes on the
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 81
Coast of the United States by A.D. Bache, Superintendent, U.S.
Coastal Survey, No. 45, NA, Washington DC, August 1861.)
30. A. D. Bache, "Notes on the Coast of the United States. ." (See
31. Wright Langley and Arva Moore Parks, "Diary of an Unidenti-
fied Land Official, 1855," Tequesta 43 (1983), 20. (Hereinafter cited:
"Langley and Parks: Diary of an Unidentified Land Official.")
32. Report of the Court of Claims, No. 175, 35th Congress, 1st
Session, Richard Fitzpatrick vs. The United States, May 14, 1858, 3.
33. Mrs. A.C. [Rose Wagner] Richards, "Reminiscences of the
Early Days of Miami," The Miami News, a series of articles begin-
ning October 1, 1903. Richards came to the Miami River community
as a six year old child on March 15, 1858, and is undoubtedly the
single most reliable source for the history of this area in that era.
(Hereinafter cited: "Richard's Reminiscences," with page numbering
referring to a typescript made available by Arva Moore Parks.)
34. E.V. Blackman, Miami and Dade Florida, Its Settlement,
Progress and Achievement, (Washington, Victor Rainbolt, 1921), 16.
35. Marie L. Cappick, "Recollections of Early Days in Miami and
Dade County," Key West Citizen, 1 September, 1924. (Hereinafter
cited: Cappick: "Recollections.")
36. Parsons' Diary, February 29, 1874, 166.
37. P.A. Quinan, Quarterly Sick & Wounded Report, Fort Dallas,
March 31, 1855, RG 94, Records of the Adjutant Generals Office,
1780s to 1917, National Archives.
38. J.C. Dimick to F.N. Page, September 15, 1857, NA, RG 393.
39. This route is pieced together from interviews with Charles A.
Richards in July 1968. Richards was born on the Miami River in
1887 and lived on today's Sunset Drive and, after 1891, on Cutler
Road. Interviews with other early residents of Coconut Grove cor-
roborate this route.
40. Parsons' Diary, February 24, 1875, 184.
41. Parsons' Diary, June 20, 1874, 86. The Miami post office had
been in one of the stone buildings of Fort Dallas until June 10, 1870,
with W.H. Hunt as postmaster. Dr. J.V. Harris bought the Fort Dallas
property, November 30, 1869, and Hunt moved to his homestead, in
Biscayne today's, Miami Shores, taking the Miami post office with
him and changing the name to the Biscayne post office Miami had
no post office until September 22, 1874, when it was reopened in Fort
Dallas as the "Maama" post office. (See: Bradbury, A.G. and E. S.
Hallock. A Chronology of Florida Post Offices Handbook #2, Florida
Federation of Stamp Clubs, 1962, 53.)
42. "Abner Doubleday and the Third Seminole War," Ed. by David
Ramsey, Florida Historical Quarterly, LVIX (January 1981), 323,
43. Richards' Reminiscences, 67-68.
44. Gerdes, Corres., January 30, 1849.
45. Robertson to Haines, April 18, 1854.
46. Neil E. Hurley, An Illustrated History of Cape Florida Light-
house, ( Camino, California, Historic Lighthouse Publishers, 1989),
47. "A Tour of Florida, 1865-1866," by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel
George F. Thompson, Letters sent to Commander 0.0. Howard,
Headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau, NA, RG 109, M 732, R 27,
48. Richards' Reminiscences, 5.
49. Robertson to Haines, April 18, 1854.
50. Thelma Peters, Biscayne Country, 1870-1926, (Miami, Banyan
51. Richards Reminiscences, 55; Thelma Peters, Biscayne Country,
52. Fletcher arrived at this session nine days late but took an active
part by serving on committees, introducing three bills (two relating to
Dade County) and voting on measures before the House. (See: A
Journal of the Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the
Second General Assembly of the State of Florida, at its First Session
Begun and Held in the City of Tallahassee, on Monday, 23d Novem-
ber, 1846. [Tallahassee: "Southern Journal" Office, 1846]) The
author is indebted to Dr. Joe Knetsch, who researched this matter at
the author's request.
53. H.M. Pickett, K. L. Rice and Henry M. Spelman, HI, Florida
Postal History and Postal Markings During the Stampless Period,
Florida Federation of Stamp Clubs, Handbook # 1, Palm Beach
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 83
Stamp Club, 1957, 28. Also see: Bradbury & Hallock, endnote #41
above. Pickett, et al in the first reference above states Robert [R]
Fletcher was postmaster in 1950, but Agnew Welsh states George W.
Ferguson was Postmaster at that time and that the post office was at
his store on the River just west of today's NW 12th Avenue. (See:
Welsh Scrapbook, Miami, # 17, pages 14 & 15.)
54. Joan Gill Blank, Key Biscayne: A History of Miami's Tropical
Island and the Cape Florida Lighthouse, (Sarasota, FL, Pineapple
Press, 1996), 31 and 59-60.
55. Graham: Historical Data, 7-8. Graham gives 1849 as the date
English began the stone buildings, but see endnote 13, above.
56. Report: 1st Lieut. Lewis 0. Morris to Major Genl. T.S. Jesup,
July 1, 1855. Records of the Quartermaster General, NA, R.G. 92,
57. James W. Covington, "The Indian Scare of 1849," Tequesta 31
(1961), 53-63. (Hereinafter cited: "Covington, Indian Scare.")
58. Robertson to Haines, April 18, 1854.
59. Covington, Indian Scare, 61.
60. W. M. Straight, "Fort Dallas, a Most Salubrious Post," Journal
of the Florida Medical Association, 69 (August 1982), 710-711.
61. Records of Betty Bruce, Key West Historian, in possession of
her daughter, Linda Carter, Key West, FL.
62. Charles Samuel Swartout Baron (a.k.a. Charles F Barron) was
probably born in Virginia in 1803. He married Mary Wilhelmina
Ziglar (1809-1875), April 22, 1830; they had no children. Prior to
coming to the Miami River community he practiced in Knoxville,
Tennessee. He lived at the Punch Bowl property much of the time
between 1851 and 1861. After leaving the river, he practiced medicine
many years in Key West. He was an active member of the Key West
Medical Society, its President (1878), and an "honorary" member of
the Florida Medical Association (1875-1888). He served as Surgeon at
the U.S. Naval Hospital (1872-1875) and U.S. Commissioner. He was
appointed Judge of the Probate Court of Monroe County in February
1871 and served until his death, November 8, 1888. He was an active
member of the Dade Lodge No. 14 of the Free and Accepted Masons
63. Langley and Parks, "Diary of an Unidentified Land Official,"
64. "Registers of Lighthouse Keepers, 1845-1912, Microfilm
Publication, M 1373, Roll 3, NA, Washington, D.C.
65. Thomas W. Taylor, Florida's Territorial Lighthouses,
1824-1845, (Allandale, Florida, T. W. Taylor, 1995), 115.
66. "Instructions for Light-Keepers of the United States. Stations
With Two or More Keepers." Washington city (sic), Treasury Depart-
ment, October 14, 1852.
67. Robert Francis Fletcher served as Assistant Keeper at the Cape
Florida light under his father and for a time, his father's successor,
Dr. Baron, until he resigned after 1855. On March 31, 1859, he was
appointed Assistant Keeper under his grandmother, who was Keeper
of the Key West Lighthouse at Whitehead spit. Apparently he served
there until shortly before he enlisted in the Confederate States Army.
68. Card Index to Lighthouse Correspondence, RG. 26, NA,
Washington. This Index to letters received and sent by the lighthouse
service is briefly annotated for each bit of correspondence. In 1921, a
fire in the Department of the Treasury destroyed almost all of the
indexed Letterbooks for the period under study, but the index sur-
vived. (Hereinafter cited: "Index to Lighthouse Correspondence.")
69. Index to Lighthouse Correspondence, April 6, and May 8,
70. On the "Registers of Lighthouse Keepers, 1845-1912," (see
endnote # 63 for full reference), p. 117, there is a notation by
Fletcher's name, "removed January 17, 1855." However, on all other
lists of Keepers the date of removal is May 21, 1855, which is the
date of his successor's appointment.
71. James W. Covington, The Billy Bootlegs War 1855-1858.
(Chuluota, Florida, The Mickler House Publishers, 1982), 2-3.
(Hereinafter cited: "Covington: Billy Bowlegs War.")
72. Covington: Billy Bowlegs War, 26-27.
73. Covington: Billy Bowlegs War, 2.
74. Capt. B.H. Hill to Lieut. S.M. Vincent, January 8, 1856.
Washington, HA, R.G. 393, Florida, 1850-1858. Johnson's mill was
likely near the bay, east of Douglas Road and just below the intersec-
tion of Main Highway and Douglas Road in Coconut Grove.
75. Memoirs of Reconnaissance. Compiled by Major Francis N.
Page. Washington, NA, Department of Florida, War Departmant,
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 85
R.G. 393, Records of the United States Army Continental Com-
76. Parks, Miami, 36-37; U.S. Army Post Returns for Fort Dallas,
Florida, The Months of December 1856 and January and February
77. "Old Settlers of Key West," The Miami Metropolis, March 19,
78. "Oldest Resident Gives Saga of Early History of Miami," The
Miami Daily News, ca. March 1933. (Hereinafter cited: Saga, Miami
Daily News, March 1933.)
79. Saga, Miami Daily News, March 1933.
80. Richards, Reminiscences, 39.
81. Dorothy Dodd, "Volunteers Report Destruction of Lighthouse"
Tequesta XIV (1954), 67-70.
82. "Civil War Diary of Robert Watson," Transcript in the posses-
sion of the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park, Fort
Oglethorpe, Georgia, Entry dated, November 27, 1861.
83. Robert F. Fletcher's Confederate Service Record, Co. Regiment
Florida Infantry, NA, Washington, D.C.
84. Staubach, Colonel James C., "Miami the Civil War,
1861-1865," Tequesta, LIII: (1993), 46-51, and passim.
85. Richard's, Reminiscences, 43, 4647.
86. George E. Buker, Blockaders, Refugees & Contrabands, Civil
War on Florida's Gulf Coast, 1861-1865, (Tuscaloosa, University of
Alabama Press, 1993), 36-41.
87. Richards' Reminiscences. 46-47.
88. The Sagamore was a wooden hull, screw gunboat, 158' over
all, 28' beam and 12' depth in the hold. She had one stack and two
schooner-rigged masts. She was coal fired and armed with one 20
pdr., two 24 pdrs. and one 12 pdr. Total complement, 114. [Dictio-
nary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. VI, (Washington, GPO,
89. Illustrated is the U.S. Gunboat Marblehead, sistership of the
Sagamore, with a cutter alongside.
90. Cutters were ship's boats with square stems, 24-32 feet in
length, propelled by 814 oars and, when appropriate, a sail.
91. Richard's Reminiscences, 47.
92. Walter Keeler Scofield Papers, #437, July 18, 1863. The
original is in the Manuscripts and Archives Collection of Yale Univer-
sity. Copies of the pages used in this paper are in the Florida Collec-
tion of the Miami-Dade Public Library.
93. John Taylor Wood, "Escape of General Breckinridge." Pub-
lished in: Famous Adventures and Prison Escapes of the Civil War,
(New York; Century, 1893).
94. Journal of the Proceedings of the Convention of Florida
Begun and Held at the Capital of the State at Tallahassee, Wednes-
day, October 25, 1865, Tallahassee, (Office of the Floridian. Printed
by Dyke and Sparhawk, (1865). Fletcher's name appears in the list of
duly elected county representatives but not in the lists of those sworn
in, those signing the Constitution, or elsewhere in the document.
95. Jerrell H. Shofner, Nor Is It Over Yet: Florida in the Era of
Reconstruction, 1863-1877, (Gainesville, University Presses of
Florida, 1974), 44.
96. Arva Moore Parks, "Miami in 1876," Tequesta XXXV (1975),
97. Harris was born in the Abbeville District of South Carolina,
May 28, 1839. At age seven, he moved with his parents to Columbus,
Mississippi. He graduated from the University of Mississippi with
high honors in 1859 and he earned his medical degree from the
University of Louisiana on March 20, 1861, He enlisted in the
Confederate States Army as a private in April 1861. After the battle
of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, he was commissioned Assistant Surgeon.
On January 7, 1864, he transferred to the Confederate States Navy
and was stationed at Mobile, Alabama, and attached to the Confeder-
ate States steamer Nashville until the end of the Civil War. He
resumed with his wife, Mary Perkins Harris, to Columbus where he
managed a cotton plantation and begot two sons, J. Vining
(1865-1936) and Lewis A. (1869- ). Later, in 1873, Harris and his
wife had a daughter, Martha Watkins (1873-1955).
Seeking a healthier climate, he bought the Fort Dallas Tract
(November 30, 1869) and took up residence (March 1870). He
farmed about ten acres with subsistence crops and sisal hemp, built a
road from the river to the bay, and operated a small store at Fort
Dallas. He became a favorite of the Seminoles when he successfully
treated three for typhoid fever and on another occasion successfully
operated on a warrior with an accidental arrow wound in the groin.
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 87
They made him an honorary member of the tribe. When the false
alarm of an Indian uprising was carried to the Miami River commu-
nity in the summer of 1873, the settlers scurried to Fort Dallas,
believing Harris could protect them.
After returning to Key West (December 1873), he entered into the
practice of medicine and surgery. He continued his practice until 1909
except for a period (October 1889-February 1891) when he was
living on his sisal plantation near Fort Myers. A note signed by Betty
Bruce, Key West historian, in the Harris file of the Monroe County
Library at Key West states that he was the first doctor to operate for
appendicitis in Key West and that the patients of his first three such
operations survived. In 1875 he served as Health Officer at Key West.
He was an active member of the Key West Medical Society and a
member of the Florida Medical Association (1892-1911). He was a
staunch Democrat and served in the State House in 1877. Appalled at
the custom, then in practice, of the "good old boys" selecting candi-
dates for the State Senate and House seats, he succeeded in getting a
Constitutional amendment requiring Primary Elections, thus allowing
all voters to decide the slates. He served as Superintendent of Public
Instruction (1877), Chairman of the School Board (for many years)
and Collector of Customs at Key West (1885-1889).
Until his death, Harris was an active member of the United Confed-
erate Veterans and received a pension from the State of Florida, $100
per annum, beginning October 16, 1907. He died of uremia, Novem-
ber 21, 1914, aged 75 years and is buried in the Key West Cemetery.
The Harris High School bears his name in honor of the years of
service as Chairman of the Monroe County School Board. A bronze
bust of his likeness is in the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture
Garden in Mallory Square recognizing his many contributions to the
development of Key West.
98. J.V. Harris to A. A. Croom, Comptroller, Tallahassee, FL.
Quoted from a letter in support of Harris' Civil War Pension Claim. It
is not dated but his claim was submitted July 15, 1907.
99. Arva Moore Parks, Where the River Found the Bay: Historical
Study of the Granada Site, Miami Florida, Florida Division of
Archives, History and Records Management, 1978, 113.
100. Parks, "Miami 1876," 108.
101. Parsons' Diary, May 3, 1874, 72.
102. Cappick "Recollections."
103. An exhaustive search by Tom Hambright, Floridiana Librarian
of the Monroe County Public Library, has failed to disclose death or
cemetery records on Dr. Fletcher, although it is believed he died and
was buried in Key West. His name appears on the Key West census of
1870 but not on that of 1880. No probate records have been found.
104. Welsh, Agnew, "Odd Incidents of Early Days Worth Telling,"
Miami Daily News, 26 July, 1925.
105. Arva Moore Parks, "The Wreck of The Three Sisters, "
Tequesta (1971), 19-28.
106. Agnew Welsh, "First a Tent, Then a Cabin, Now Miami the
Magic City," Miami Daily News, 1925. See a clipping in the Agnew
Welsh Scrapbook Miami #17, 10,11,12. This appears to be based on
interviews of Adam C. Richards by Welsh.
107. On today's map (According to Arva Moore Parks, "Ned
Beasley and Coconut Grove," Update, June 1977, 8), on the north, the
Beasley homestead extended west along Grand Avenue from Southwest
Twenty-Seventh Avenue to McDonald Street, then south to St.
Gauden's Court and was bounded on the southeast by Biscayne Bay.
108. Horace Philo Porter was born in Ellington, Connecticut,
February 6, 1838. He attended the National Medical College, Washing-
ton, D.C., 1858-1859. He "... took his last year..." at Yale College of
Medicine, graduating in July 1861, according to "The Obituary Record
of Graduates of Yale University Deceased during the year ending June
1, 1911." He married Smith Blakeslee and had three daughters. On
September 17, 1861, he enlisted as Assistant Surgeon in the 7th
Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. He served honorably
at several posts and, on the request of the Governor of Connecticut was
promoted to Surgeon of the 10th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, May
1, 1864. After serving as Surgeon-in-Charge of several Union hospitals
he received an honorable discharge on November 5, 1864. After the
war, his widow seeking a pension, stated he lived in Connecticut, Ohio,
Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Texas. She makes no
mention of Florida. Before coming to south Florida he practiced
medicine in Ohio and Michigan and after leaving Florida, he practiced
for varying periods in Kansas and Texas. In 1888, while living-in
Kansas, he applied for an army service pension. The examining
Life In A Pioneer Settlement 89
physician, Samuel Murdock MD, after describing typical physical
findings of alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver stated:
...he says (and I believe truthfully) there is a marked susceptibility
to the influences of alcoholic stimulants [and] ... that prolonged
malarial poisoning [and] sunstroke ... and the vicissitudes of camp
life over three years, during the late war, stand preeminently in a
causative relation to his present ailments. [See an affidavit of Dr.
Samuel Murdock about Porter's health, May 8, 1888, in the files of
Mrs. Arva Moore Parks]
Dr. Porter was granted $17 per month for the following disabilities:
chronic diarrhea, sunstroke and slight paraplegia. Later, in an applica-
tion to increase his pension, claiming service connected "chronic
diarrhea and hemorrhoids," he stated:
There is a marked inability to make those physical, mental and
social adjustments that a professional man must make to succeed
and which necessarily requires a frequent change of location to
enable him to make a living [in] practice.
Porter died at his home in Butler, Missouri on December 12, 1912.
109. Parks, Miami, 43; also Arva Moore Parks, "Coconut Grove
Before the Railroad," Update, December 1975 and Arva Moore Parks,
"The Commodore," Update, June 1977.
110. Cochran, Jerome, Sketches of Yellow Fever on the Gulf Coast
of Florida, (Privately Printed, Montgomery, Alabama, 1881), 13.
111. Richards, Reminiscences, 89.
112. Parsons Diary, December 3, 1873, 11.
113. Penrose, Thomas X., "Yellow Fever On Board the US.S.
Ticonderoga, at Key West, Fla., August 1874," US. Navy Sanitary and
Medical Reports, 1873-1874, Vol. III, 471-478.
114. Parsons Diary, September 5, 1874, 109.
115. William M. Straight, "The Frontier Physician of Dade County,"
Journal of the Florida Medical Association 52: (July 1965), 479-485.
116. Parsons' Diary, April 4, 1874.
This Page Blank in Original
From Rising Sun To
Miami in Boom and Bust,
by Aretta L. Semes
In 1923 we left our home in Palmyra, New Jersey, to strike
out for a new land. My parents, little sister and I were part of a vast
caravan from many parts of the nation coming to Miami, the "New El
Dorado," in quest of opportunity and even weather. Very little of the
area was known by my folks or others heading for the "Gold Coast,"
except that they had heard of the wonderful opportunities that lie
ahead. We headed into we knew not what, yet with courage and hope
we would find this newly developed land where life would be beauti-
ful and there would be opportunities galore, a new home and chances
OUR DESTINATION REACHED 1923
After a grueling, tiring trip down the East Coast of the United
States, traveling through storms that left muddy, rutted roads through
Editor's Note: In this fascinating first-person account of Boom-era
Miami, Aretta L. Semes brings to life the frenetic rhythms of the area in the 1920s,
when its population increased more than fivefold, land prices skyrocketed to
seemingly impossible heights, and new subdivisions, often bearing unique
architectural themes, arose overnight in the hinterlands as masterful developers/
promoters vied for the patronage of vast hordes of visitors and new residents.
Semes' essay also recalls the "downside" of the era: the bust followed quickly by
the catastrophic hurricane of September 1926, and the ensuing economic depres-
For detailed information on the era, please see Kenneth Ballinger, Miami
Millions, the Dance of the Dollars in the Great Florida Land Boom of 1925
(Miami, 1936), Paul S. George, "Brokers, Binders, and Builders: Greater Miami's
Boom Of The Mid-1920," Florida Historical Quarterly LXI, (July 1986), and
Frank B. Sessa, "Real Estate Expansion and Boom in Miami and its Environs
During the 1920s, (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1950).
jungle-like territory, we finally reached it: our destination Miami,
Florida! We had become part of a "caravan" that preceded us en route
to the new city being developed in the southernmost state of our
country, a city and region destined to become a glorious fast growing
area in a beautiful subtropical climate. It was in the Fall of 1923
when we arrived in what would be our future home state. Here
opportunities to "grow" with a new city were most exciting. We, too,
had a dream!
On our first day in the "Magic City," (the moniker Miami has
borne since its beginnings), our hearts were full of gratitude for a safe
car trip through hazardous conditions and thanks for the privilege of
The growth of the twenty-seventh state had been rapid since
the late nineteenth century. Nowhere was this growth more pro-
nounced than in the southeast sector of the state. Miami was a
wilderness area until Henry M. Flagler's Florida East Coat Railway
entered the settlement in 1896. Incorporated as a city in that year,
Miami grew quickly, counting 30,000 residents by 1920.
Miami by now was on its way to becoming a well-developed
city, and stories were heard everywhere about the difficult work and
planning that had taken place in order to build this "Garden of Eden."
The history of this great city is most fascinating! People who have
seen southeast Florida only as a developed, beautiful area find it
difficult to visualize or even realize the conditions under which the
early development was accomplished. The area had been a wilderness
where rattlesnakes and wild animals were in command of the land,
and alligators made their home in the swampy regions and rivers,
coming ashore to lie in the warm sun. Now the dream of Flagler, the
"Father of Modern Miami," was materializing, and the city he
envisioned was on its way to becoming one of the beautiful cities of
the world. My folks were very thankful they had brought their family
to this interesting, fascinating city still with "growing pains," but
promises of better things to come.
ARRIVAL IN MIAMI
We had been expected at the Brawn home, an attractive two-
story Victorian structure on Northeast Second Avenue near Flagler
From Rising Sun to Daunting Storm 93
D addy ;a Mrs.
Ruth, Daddy, Aretta, Mr. and Mrs. Elliott in front of the Chrystler, 1925.
Street. It was late when we met Mr. and Mrs. Brawn the evening of
our arrival and could prepare to "settle in" after a tiring trip. "We're
in Miami we made it!" But before we could settle in for the night we
had to see what all the colored lights were a block away we needed
to stretch our legs, too, so we decided to walk to this colorful spot.
Well, it was really lovely! It was the "Band Shell" in Royal
Palm Park, a most popular gathering place situated in front of
Flagler's Royal Palm Hotel where people were enjoying the music of
a popular orchestra. Many small colored lights, rather like Christmas
tree lights, were strung from palm tree to palm tree that were spaced
between many rows of green painted benches arranged rather in an
amphitheater style under the stars. The "Shell" was the stage for the
band. As time went on we were to hear outstanding bands and orches-
tras performing here including Caesar La Monica and many other
We wanted to see as much as we could, so the first thing the
next morning we walked into the center of town. To our left we saw
the beautifully landscaped Royal Palm Hotel located on the north
bank of the Miami River. It was a tall frame structure, nestled in a
tropical setting of palms and flowers. It was designed with a verandah
across the front elevation and from side to side. We were to learn that
never a day passed that guests weren't enjoying the Bay breezes and
the lovely garden atmosphere, rocking back and forth in the comfort-
able rocking chairs that dominated the verandah.
Of course, in the days that followed while we were at Mother
Brawn's, we became acquainted with the surrounding area. About a
block north was situated the lovely White Temple Methodist Church.
On East Flagler Street and Northeast Second Avenue stood
the Halcyon Hotel, a unique building built of limestone and designed
with towers topped with terra-cotta tile roofs. It looked rather like a
French chateau. Across from the Halcyon Hotel was the Airdome
Theater. By 1923-24, the streets in the center of town were lined with
one and two-story buildings housing different businesses with real
estate offices occupying many structures. With the growth taking
place the real estate business was fantastic! Another outstanding
building of unique architecture was the Bank of Bay Biscayne. This
building was on the northwest comer of the intersection of Miami
Avenue and Flagler Street. It was built by the Ft. Dallas National
Bank, which collapsed with the panic of 1907. Later, the Bank of
Bay Biscayne occupied it till it folded in the Great Depression.
By the early 1920s the area that was drawing adventurous
people from all over the United States was a thriving city of 30,000
people. It was now an encouraging realization of Henry Flagler's
dream. The city he envisioned was "on the map." This was the
"Magic City" we entered in September 1923.
What excitement to come to such a bustling area from our
small home town of Palmyra! The rhythm of life here was so differ-
ent. I was eleven years old and yet this new city and all that made it
exciting to me. I entered Riverside Elementary School for sixth grade
and the following year I attended the newly constructed Shenandoah
Junior High. Many schools were being built. The county could not
keep up with the school age population with the recent influx of
families arriving to find the "future of their dreams!"
Many of the stores built in the early 1900s were still in
business in 1923. Frank T. Budge Hardware, the Red Cross Drug
Store, and Burdines Department store were the three earliest business
firms that now were very busy stores. They were located on Flagler
Street, the main artery.
From Rising Sun to Daunting Storm 95
designed buildings with
arcades that stretched
from street to street with
small businesses on
either side. The Seybold
Arcade was one of the
first constructed. I
remember the large ice
cream emporium on the
Southeast corner of the
Seybold Arcade. It was
open the full length of
the store. The Red
Cross Drug Store stood
along the side of the
arcade, and there was a
long soda fountain
along the wall side.
cream tables with
marble tops and Victo-
rian "ice cream style" Mother Edna.
chairs adorned the
space, and seldom was
there a vacant one! In addition to the table seating, there was the long
soda fountain seating, where in later years I loved to stop and sip a
coke or enjoy a milkshake.
When I first came to Miami the land was covered in places
with palmettos, a plant that grew in clusters and contained dark green,
pointed fronds. The underside of their broad fan-like fronds was a
great hiding place for snakes. The stems of the fronds made fine sticks
on which to roast marshmallows or hot dogs over a hot bed of coals.
One would strip the stems smooth and make an arrow point on one
end. Many times we used these at beach parties. Young people would
gather to have a "weenie roast" on the golden sands of Miami Beach.
It was one of the fun activities of high school friends a dip in the
surf then gather around the "pit," singing songs and roasting some
goodies to eat.
Those who had not gathered or prepared the palmetto sticks
would dig a hole in the sand, perhaps five to ten inches deep, scooping
it out with their hands. Then charcoal briquettes would be placed in it
together with small slivers of wood. It didn't take long for the "coals"
to be just right.
Our favorite spot for our beach parties was about Forty-
fourth Street, before Harvey Firestone's home had been built there.
Today the Fountainbleau Hotel occupies the north side of Forty-fourth
Street at the ocean.
Miami Beach was a peninsula until a cut was made in the
early 1920s at Bakers Haulover, which separated the waters of
Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean in the northern region of Dade
County. The island that was to become Miami Beach, one of the most
beautiful islands in all the world, was developed out of a dense
growth and mangrove swamp.
Carl Fisher and the Lummus Brothers, together with John
Collins, were instrumental in turning it into a "Garden of Eden." In
the early years before development of the island, Miami pioneers had
interest in the land east of Biscayne Bay. They often arrived there by
rowboats through the heavy mangroves swamp that lined the shore.
Turtles laid their eggs in the sand, and it was a great sport to collect
Men toiled day after day in knee-deep mud with alligators
abounding. Rattlesnakes were there as well as on the mainland, along
with other wildlife. It was treacherous work endeavoring to conquer
the almost impenetrable wilderness, but work went on and the dreams
of the "Men of Vision" became a reality.
In 1923 Miami Beach, too, was a beautiful city, on the edge
of the blue-green water of the Atlantic Ocean, bordered by golden
sands and bathed by the breezes of the Gulf Stream.
From Rising Sun to Daunting Storm 97
My parents purchased a home in "Shenandoah," a lovely
section of southwest Miami. The home was partially furnished and
cost $11,000 at that time a rather high price. However, less than
one year later, during the great real estate boom, my folks were
offered $50,000 for it by a stranger who simply knocked on the door
to ask if it could be purchased. My father refused to sell. (It was in
the back of his mind to hold the property a while in hopes of selling it
for an even higher price).
The City was growing! So many people arriving; families
with school children causing the schools to become over crowded.
Tremendous building was taking place. Some homes were built too
fast resulting in what was known later as "jerry built," or poorly
1925, THE FLORIDA REAL ESTATE BOOM
This was the year Miami was really booming. So many
people had come to the City to get in on the "good times." Flagler
Street was "alive" day and night with music, salesmen and their sales
pitches and people everywhere. The feeling was one of excitement,
gaiety, glamour, and big business!
Storefronts had been converted into open-air type sales
offices rather like patios, beautifully decorated. Some developers
employed bands whose music filled the ears of prospective buyers and
curious passersby. Music was everywhere all the snappy and
catchy popular tunes of the early '20s. I don't remember how many
developers maintained offices in the two block area along Flagler
Street between East First and Third Avenues, but two outstanding
showplaces (sales patios) that remain with me were the ones of Coral
Gables and Miami Shores.
The salesmen in some of the "patios" were dressed in white
trousers with red blazers and they sported straw hats with red ribbons
as bands. It all presented a uniquely attractive picture one very
colorful. Brochures were given out with every salesman stepping into
the crowd on the sidewalk endeavoring to lure as many people as
possible to take the special company bus to see their development. At
this point there would be a big tent where folks were often treated to a
dinner or buffet and entertained with spectacular shows. There was
excitement, color, music and "barking" by salesmen.
I always enjoyed going with my folks to the center of town
after dinner because at night each of the patio-style offices was aglow
with twinkling lights and a decor meant to beckon the passerby. The
overall look of Flagler Street was glamorous and brilliant. Activity
seemed to continue 'till late at night. Those who weren't selling
property or trying to were buying, and millions of dollars changed
hands for papers called "binders;" property never really legally
recorded until the last one to hold the papers. Sometimes, as soon as a
parcel of land was purchased, it was resold only again on a "binder"
at a profit. Much of Dade County land was tied up legally for years
Things were going along well for the sales forces and their
promotional regalia. Nineteen twenty-five was outstanding and a year
not to be forgotten by those in Miami at that time. Many people and
their money were parted with interest in the "New Florida" before it
was even realized, particularly in the Dade County area.
Everyone dressed lovely, even to go shopping in downtown
Miami. I don't believe a lady would venture downtown or be seen on
Flagler Street without a hat and gloves with her dressy outfit. Clothes
cost a fortune, but folks were "in the money in 1925!" Even children
dressed nicely, wearing the finest clothes.
It was truly a time of affluence. The general attitude of people
was friendliness and happiness. This was the time our Chrysler
Brougham sedan was purchased and did we feel proud!
The population had increased so beyond the facilities pro-
vided in the schools that portable classrooms were erected on the
grounds. Even in its opening year Shenandoah Jr. High needed
portables. The city and county could not keep up with its growth.
Folks poured into Dade County by the hundreds weekly!
It wasn't long before the glamour of the real estate boom
waned, and the hustle and bustle of promoting Miami came to a
From Rising Sun to Daunting Storm 99
Parade in front of the Halcyon Hotel at the corner of Flagler Street
and Northeast Second Avenue, early 1920s,
standstill! The boom was dying by June and July. Rumors of fraudu-
lent deals on land sales were appearing in newspapers throughout the
U. S., and people who had made purchases were now refusing to
make payments. Nothing was glamorous anymore! Speculators were
leaving action had been too fast and furious. Money was being
withdrawn from banks, and they were closing. The "Boom" was over!
Now the popular word was "The Bust." This was the "Florida
Depression," which preceded the 1930 national depression. The
"high" of the terrific business of 1925 and early 1926 for the area,
like a balloon, finally burst! The Florida Depression had hit like a
THE BIG BLOW, 1926
Nineteen twenty-six was a year of "double trouble." To add
misery to the weakening Boom, South Florida was hit by the strongest
hurricane in many years. On September 18, Miami and South Florida
experienced the ravages of nature to the already saddened area. It was
something I'll never forget! Miami and all of South Florida the
new found land of blue skies that had held hope for so many folks had
now become a land of devastation by a killer hurricane that turned
those blue skies into black clouds.
The day had been lovely the evening most enjoyable. What
was to come was so unexpected! Mother, Daddy, Ruth and I had been
invited to the home of friends, the Harts, in Coral Gables for the
evening. In fact, our family was one of several who were guests. The
adult conversation leaned, of course, to the financial conditions of
things in Miami the "Boom" that was now fading and the rapidly
I do remember a man, a friend of the Harts, coming in about
11:00 p.m. with news that created a new subject of conversation. He
had been to Miami and heard rumors of a devastating storm that was
approaching our state, so he verified the rumors by going past the
Federal Building at Northeast First Avenue and First Street, where the
weather bureau was located, and saw a black and red flag waving in
the breeze atop the roof. In those early years that was the only way
weather news was transmitted to the public. This was a hurricane
warning flag. He decided to hurry home, about ten miles away from
downtown, and en route stop to tell friends in Coral Gables.
Everyone at the party thought he must be kidding such a
thing wasn't possible! A hurricane? No way! The last major storm to
hit the area arrived in 1906. Why Miami hadn't been hit by one in
many years! And the night was so beautiful! So folks, including us,
took their time departing and when we did say our "good-byes" and
stepped outside, no one could believe such a report, for it was in the
minds of all that with the presence of a gorgeous full moon and clear
sky that it was just impossible no storm could be coming our way!
The only other thing noticeable about the beautiful night was a large
halo around the moon. The stars were brilliant and thousands upon
thousands twinkled in the sky. There must be some mistake -
nothing could be further from the truth, everyone kept saying.
We got into our Chrysler sedan and waved goodbye to the
friends as others, too, were going to their cars. The night was just too
beautiful to go straight home, Daddy said. In fact, it was without a
doubt the brightest, prettiest night we had seen since our arrival in
Florida three years past. So we rode the "long way home," winding
our way through the streets of Coral Gables. We rode past lovely
homes, some still lighted. We drove on west where the moon was
shining on the high red top grass that grew on the vacant property. We
rode for some time before Daddy turned the car on an easterly course