May 26, 2014

What famous American author settled in Coconut Grove in 1886 and lived there for the rest of his life?

Kirk Munroe

The author. Ralph Munroe, photographer. HistoryMiami, 138D.

Not as well known today as some other American authors of the later 19th century, this author was very popular in his own time. Indeed, at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, he was chosen at their favorite author by 10,000 children who attended the fair. He was probably best known for his series, "Stories for Boys,” and authored 36 books and hundreds of magazine articles. After he and his wife, Mary Barr, settled in Coconut Grove in 1886, many of these articles reflected aspects of their new South Florida surroundings, including the Seminoles for whom they developed a deeply felt concern and a mutual relationship of affection and trust. The home they built, called the "Scrububs,” was located near another prominent Biscayne Bay resident who, coincidentally, also had the same last name and who would soon be about the business of building a famous Miami landmark. According to many early Grove settlers, both he and and his wife added much to life about the Bay. 


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May 19, 2014

Who moved to the Miami area in 1870 and proceeded to buy all the bay front land between the Miami River and Coconut Grove?

Brickells-Coconut Grove

The land in question. Detroit Publishing Co., circa 1905. HistoryMiami, 1986-144-43.

Hailing from Ohio this couple arrived in the Miami area in 1870, opening an Indian trading post the following year and acquiring a large tract of land for $3000, bounded by the Miami River on the north and Coconut Grove on the south. According to Emma Gilpin, William was regarded as a real character in the Bay area, enlivening conversation with his vivid accounts of visits to Japan and Australia. Before coming to Miami, he had been a "wild catter" in the burgeoning oil business and had prospered thereby; hence the ready cash for large land purchases and the establishment of a trading post, located at the mouth of the Miami River on the south bank thereof. The trading post came to stand three stories high, crowned by a cupola, rising above the sea of coconut palms by which it was surrounded. Physically and entrepreneurially, it dominated the Miami scene until the late 1890s. Nearby, the Brickells eventually built a handsome residence, graced with classic columns and featuring a large piazza, overlooking the bay. It was built in sections up north and shipped down "for further assembly.” 


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May 12, 2014

Possessing an operatic voice destined to become world renowned, he made his American debut in Miami. Who was he ?


Program for the debut. HistoryMiami, gift of Sandra Burlowe.

In 1965, at the height of her career, Joan Sutherland came to Miami to perform the part she really "owned" at the time, Lucia di Lammermoor, the title role in Donizetti's famous opera. As it happened, the tenor who was to sing opposite her (in the role of Edgardo) developed a throat condition and felt unable to perform. Miss Sutherland was determined that the vacancy could best be filled by a young tenor whom she and her husband, the conductor Richard Bonynge, had heard in Europe. His voice had greatly impressed them. The impresario of the Miami Opera Company at the time, Arturo di Filippi, felt a singer of Sutherland's fame (known affectionately by the Italians as "la Stupenda") called for a tenor of more stature in the operatic world. The tenor in question was, after all, just starting his career in Europe and was unknown on this side of the Atlantic. But Joan Sutherland was insistent, and she got her way. So, the tenor was summoned from Europe and had his American debut right here in Miami at the Dade County Auditorium.



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May 05, 2014

What was not one of the Biscayne Bay area's characteristics which strongly attracted Ralph Munroe to it?

Ralph Munroe

Ralph Munroe (center). Ralph Munroe Collection, HistoryMiami, 84D-1.

In his book, The Commodore's Story, Ralph Munroe recalled his first encounter with the Miami River in 1877. Sailing up from Key West he described it as a beautiful clear-water stream, its banks lined with towering coco-palms and mangroves. Recalling the agreeable surroundings and salubrious climate, he returned in 1881 with his new wife, whose sick condition might, he hoped, be improved thereby. Unfortunately, such was not to be the case. She died and was buried here. In spite of that tragedy, the area had a hold on him which caused him to return each winter, until, in 1886, he made Coconut Grove his permanent home. "My favorable impression of Biscayne Bay was deep and lasting," Munroe recalled. "Undoubtedly, the first element in this was the incomparable climate. Along with this  . . . was the sea-lover's eager appreciation of this sailors paradise, in which storms, fogs, ice and many other marine hazards were either unknown or rare. There was also a keen fascination in the varied humanity drawn to the wilderness." On the other hand, Munroe was far less sanguine about the arrival of Flagler's railroad and the development it promised. While not denying the advantages incurred by the onset of these outside influences, Munroe looked back wistfully to an earlier isolated, unspoiled, sparsely populated period, known as "The Era of the Bay.”


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April 28, 2014

The completion of Flagler's Overseas Railway to Key West brought recession to Miami. What largely alleviated the drop in local employment?


Beginning in 1905, the construction of the Oversea Extension necessitated a series of key-linking causeways and bridges, one of which was seven miles long. A great engineering feat, the "Overseas Railroad" reached its destination in January of 1912. Unfortunately, the completion of this great project meant many men in the Miami area were suddenly unemployed. The local recession was exacerbated by the death, the following year, of Henry Flagler, a man who had been such a positive force in the city's fortunes.  On the heels of these adversities, however, a momentous undertaking occurred at the behest of a wealthy farm equipment manufacturer. This, of course, was the construction of a now famous Miami landmark on Biscayne Bay, surrounded by magnificent formal gardens which, themselves, necessitated a great deal of architectural attention. Besides requiring the importation of stone cutters and gardeners, the project is reputed to have given work to every unemployed man in Miami.

Answer: Villa Vizcaya

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April 21, 2014

When and by whom was Biscayne Bay called "Sandwich Gulf"?

Sandwich Gulf

From Tequesta, no. 35 (1975), p. 57.

At the end of that great European conflict, the Seven Years War (known in the colonies as the "French and Indian War"), Britain emerged triumphant, gaining all French North American territories east of the Mississippi (except New Orleans). Britain had also seized Havana, its harbor and hinterland and, on the other side of the world, Manila in the Philippines. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, also ended over two centuries of Spanish rule over Florida. It became a British possession, surrendered by Spain for the return of the lost jewels in her imperial crown (Havana and Manila). During the period of British control, the coast between St Augustine and Cape Florida was charted in some detail. The Spanish regained Florida twenty years later, at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War. Throughout these times, what is now known as Biscayne Bay, was given different names including "Sandwich Gulf."

Answer: The British renamed the Bay after taking control of Florida in 1763.

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April 14, 2014

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


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.

Answer: J. F. Chaille


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April 07, 2014

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


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.

Answer: Fines, regularly collected, helped fund the city's operating budget.



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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.

Answer: William Wagner

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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.

Answer: The first photo finish camera.

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