April 14, 2014

Who developed a plan which reorganized Miami's system of street identification?

Who

Under a plan introduced in 1920 by a councilman (very much at the insistence of the postal service), the old system of street identification was changed. It was a holdover from the city's earliest municipal days, which left many avenues with alphabetical designations, such as Avenue D or Avenue G. Avenue D became Miami Avenue and street and avenue numbers began at the intersection of that avenue and Flagler Street (with avenues running north and south and streets east and west). Indeed, that pivotal intersection divided streets and avenues into four quadrants - southeast, southwest, northwest and northeast. Miami streets were, thus, labeled according to the geographic quadrant in which they were located. So, you might find yourself on Southeast 2nd Avenue or Northwest 2nd Avenue. In establishing this pattern of street identification, the councilman was actually  following the urban layout of Washington D. C.

 

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April 07, 2014

During Prohibition, how did the activities of moonshiners and bootleggers benefit the City of Miami?

Prohibition

Confiscated bootleg liquor. Gleason Waite Romer, photographer. Florida Collection, Miami-Dade Public Library System.

During Prohibition, it was not difficult to get an alcoholic beveridge in Miami. Local moonshine operations were plentiful and largely uninhibited. Most of the forbidden liquor, however, arrived from offshore sources, such as the Bahamas and Cuba. Its proximity to those sources, as well as a long coastline with numerous inlets deep enough for small rum-running craft to use, made the east coast of Florida, and especially the southern part thereof, a major source of bootlegging activity. Indeed, bootlegging became a major industry in Miami. There grew up a profusion of well patronized speakeasies which carried on a regular and not particularly clandestine business. Enforcement of Prohibition laws by local officials was decidedly relaxed. When the law caught up with such illegal purveyors of strong drink, they readily remitted the requisit fines and, then, continued to operate.

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March 31, 2014

Who built the oldest house still standing in Miami-Dade County?

Oldest House

The house, circa 1925. HistoryMiami, 1988-212-42.

A veteran of the Mexican War, he returned and married Eveline Aimer around 1848 in South Carolina. An unusual aspect of this union is that Eveline was apparently 17 years older than her husband and she was of mixed ancestry, placing their union's legality in doubt (marriage of a white person and a "creole" being, at that time and place, illegal). In 1855, at the outbreak of the Third Seminole War, Wagner, possibly accompanied by one or two of his older sons, came down to the Miami River area to serve as a sutler, supplying the soldiers stationed at Fort Dallas, near the mouth of that confluence, with provisions and other goods. While thus engaged, he began building a house, located by a creek which flowed into the Miami River a few miles upstream from the fort. With the house completed and the Seminole War over (1858), Wagner sent for his wife and the rest of his children. The home became a focal point of frontier life down here. Indeed, in 1873, Schuyler Colfax, Vice President of the United States during the Grant Administration, was entertained at the Wagner home. A Catholic, he even build a small chapel on his property, the first house of worship in the area since Spanish mission days. The house was moved to its current location in Lummus Park (Miami) in the 1970s. Thus preserved, it is the oldest home in Miami-Dade County.

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March 24, 2014

What 1936 innovation at Hialeah Race Track distinguished it from all other race courses at the time?

Hialeah Race Track

War Admiral wins by half-a-length. Hialeah Park, February 18, 1939. HistoryMiami, 1983-084-13.

Initially opening in Hialeah as the Miami Jockey Club in 1925, the track skirted the law against gambling by instituting the fiction of selling "stock" in horses and paying "dividends" to the winners. All within the law, or so the track owners claimed. Sold in 1929 to Joseph Widner, a wealthy Philadelphian, the facility underwent a complete transformation. Beautifully landscaped grounds were capped by hundred foot royal palms which flanked grand staircases leading up to the imposing clubhouse. Meanwhile, with a strong nudge from the money and influence Widner could bring to bear, the Florida Legislature legalized pari-mutual betting at horse and dog tracks in 1931, just in time for the new Hialeah Park's grand opening on January 14th, 1932. For many years, it remained one of the great race tracks of the world; some would say the greatest.

 

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January 13, 2014

What was Flagler's Folly?

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In extending his F.E.C. Railway down to Key West, Henry Flagler was convinced that that port would become a major focus of transoceanic commerce to be opened up by the forthcoming Panama Canal which was, in fact, completed in 1914. Key West did not, however, attract the trade which Flagler had anticipated, and his enormously expensive "overseas" railroad thereto was never a financial success. Running from 1912 until 1935, it was also ill fated due to an engineering weakness which rendered the railway vulnerable to the devastating hurricane of 1935. Largely to please the aging Flagler by completing the project ahead of schedule, the highly regarded engineering firm in charge of the monumental task of construction decided to build the railroad's roadbed on natural and man-made sand dunes, instead of pilings. Although lasting 23 years, the sand roadbed was finally washed away by the pounding surf generated by the fury of the Labor Day Hurricane (September 2nd, 1935).

Answer: The extension of the Florida East Coast Railway from Miami to Key West.

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January 06, 2014

How did Carl Fisher greatly facilitate Miami's accessibility by automobile in the 1910s?

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Carl Fisher's close association with automobiles and their use as an increasingly popular means of transportation goes back to his invention of the "Presto Lite,” the first practical headlight for cars. So successful was this night vision enhancement that these lights came to be installed in almost every American car. Ever the promoter, even before he came to Miami in 1912, Fisher expounded on the possibilities of a continuous interstate highway extending from San Francisco to New York. Able to get most of the automakers of the time to contribute toward such a project, Fisher succeeded in raising 10 million dollars, and what became known as the Lincoln Highway completed by 1915.

Once established in Miami, Fisher began to conceive of a similar project running from North to South, with Miami as its southern terminus. And so, Dixie Highway was born. It eventually covered some 4,000 miles from Sault Saint Marie (located in northern Michigan near the Canadian border) through Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and into Florida. In October 1915, a procession of automobiles known as the Dixie Highway Pathfinders, inaugurated the interstate for which they were named, by arriving in Miami, crossing under the specially raised Buena Vista Arch near NE 40th Street and 2nd Avenue.

Answer: He was the driving force in the creation of Dixie Highway.

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December 30, 2013

Why did beachcombing in what is now the Miami coastline prove rewarding in the 1800s?

Munroe-41A

For ships in the days of sail, the Gulf Stream, which flows past the Florida east coast, offered the advantage of speeding one's passage. Dangers attended that route, however, for occupying the coastal shelf from Palm Beach County southward to Key West and the Tortugas are a series of coral reefs with which wooden ships could and often did collide and founder. It was from the potential bounty of such maritime misfortunes that wrecking arose as an important industry along the southeastern Florida coast. Those, so professionally inclined, would sail out to a wreck and salvage as much of the cargo and, indeed, of the ship itself, as was possible, realizing a percentage of the value thereof, as their reward. But many items from such distressed ships simply washed up on shore, providing pioneer beachcombers, isolated at the end of a long peninsula from the outside world, with a wide variety of useful items. Certainly, there are many instances of timbers from wrecked ships or from their cargos finding their way into local construction projects.

Answer: Valuable cargo could be found.

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December 23, 2013

For what purpose was the structure overlooking Biscayne Bay, known as Fort Brickell, established?

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Known variously as "that unnecessary war" or "that splendid little war,” hostilities between the United States and Spain erupted between April and August of 1898. Many eastern seaboard cities feared they would soon be subjected to bombardment by a Spanish fleet. Miami was no exception. Actually, the last thing the decidedly weak Spanish fleet would want was to find itself in the harbor of a major American city, not that Miami, as yet, qualified as such[o1] . Nevertheless, there was much apprehension and, to allay these concerns, "Fort Brickell,” a small, two gun fortification, was constructed, overlooking Biscayne Bay, to defend the community. It never saw action. 

Answer: To forestall a Spanish attack during the Spanish-American War


 [o1]The Miamians in their panic also forgot that Biscayne Bay was too shallow for any war ship to enter. Government Cut and a deep water channel were still six years into the future.

 

Just another side comment that requires no text changes.

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December 16, 2013

Who first brought electricity to Miami?

Who

Electrical generation in the United States grew exponentially during the 1880s and 1890s. For purposes of illumination and supplying motive power, it was clearly the wave of the future. Not long after the arrival of Henry Flagler's first train to Miami in 1896, that community was officially incorporated as a "city.” But, of course, in actual size it was hardly what we would call a village. It had no electrical service. So, when Flagler opened his large grand hotel, the "Royal Palm,” in 1897, nothing would do but the local introduction of generators which would produce electricity for his 400 room hotel and, incidentally, for the growing town around it. Some years later, Carl Fisher extended electric service from Miami to Miami Beach, where it would help "illuminate" the aggressive development there undertaken by Collins and Fisher. A corporate name familiar to all South Floridians, Florida Power and Light, was born with the merger of Flagler and Fisher's two original companies on December 28th, 1925.

Answer: Henry Flagler

 

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December 09, 2013

Who was a landowner on Miami Beach in the 1880s and what did he do there?

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In the early 1880s, what we know as Miami Beach was simply a barrier island, featuring swarms of mosquitoes, acres of sand spurs and a shore dominated by thick mangrove growth.  Although the island had once hosted an Indian presence, it has been abandoned well before Henry Lum sailed up to Biscayne Bay from Key West during the winter of 1881-1882. Hailing from New Jersey, Lum bought a tract just north of Norris Cut and started raising coconuts. The enterprise caught the eye of his acquaintance Ezra Osborn, also of New Jersey, a well-known engineer of the time. Forming a company for the purpose of raising coconuts, the men proceeded to secure all the vacant beach lands from Cape Florida to Jupiter. Coconuts were imported from various Caribbean locales and gangs of men used to working on such coastal projects were brought in from New Jersey. The expenditure for this sizable operation was over $100,000.  But the project ultimately failed due to poor soil quality, occasional frosts, and the destruction of young plants by rats and rabbits. 

Answer: Henry Lum, who attempted to raise coconuts.

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