If you just picked up this book, greetings.
If you’re from Miami-Dade, welcome back; if not, bienvenido.
This work discusses those places abandoned, demolished, hidden in plain sight, or that never were – those unsung places that helped shape Miami-Dade into the remarkable county it is today. It is not a sightseeing guide. Many of the places listed no longer exist.
The common thread among all these places is that they have significance in their own right. But if no one knows their past, how can anyone be expected to care when the bulldozers come for those that remain? One hopes that opening discussion on sites that have been eradicated forever may foster interest in those that can still be saved.
It sometimes happens that a remote locale may harbor a surprising past. Alternatively, an ordinary, everyday place may hold a hidden history. Places like these are hidden in plain sight – although they still stand, their backstories are at risk of being forgotten.
This author has endeavored to provide photographs, street addresses, and global positioning coordinates to lend context to these discussions. These tools are useful when comparing current satellite images to aerial photos depicting the former lay of the land.
While it is true that Miami-Dade County is a relative newcomer on the scene of history, in less than two centuries it has seen many firsts, many highs, and many lows. Say what one will about Miami-Dade, one thing is certain: it is a place like no other.
It’s where the civic leaders drop a landmark in a place no one can get to, where scientists forget to remove a ten-story space rocket from the county’s backyard, and where engineers build a railway platform that goes nowhere.
It is, all at once, familiar yet foreign; beautiful but not perfect; always sizzle and sometimes steak – but at South Beach prices. It is concrete and cafecito; where Mary Sue and Fulana exchange chisme in Spanglish; where college jocks burn their tuition money partying at Club Space.
It is a curious, crazy place that sometimes makes no sense.
For this author, it is home.
A BREAK WITH AN UNSAVORY PAST
In 1513, Juan Ponce De Leon was the first European to sail into Biscayne Bay. He reached the settlement of Tequesta (recorded in his journal as “Chequescha”), as the region that would become Miami was then called. Spanish settlement continued throughout the following two centuries. With the influx of Europeans, so too came illnesses previously unknown in the Americas. A large portion of the indigenous population succumbed to disease.
Permanent settlement of the area began in earnest in the nineteenth century. At the same time, the Seminole Indians made inroads into the region, sparking tensions with the U.S. government that would erupt into the Seminole wars.
Dade County was created on January 18, 1836 by the authority of Territorial Act of the United States. It was named after Major Francis Langhorne Dade, who was killed in 1835 during the Second Seminole War. At the time of its creation, Dade County was huge, extending as far north as Palm Beach County and south to the upper keys.
Fort Dallas, a military base on the Miami River in what is now Downtown Miami, represented one of the furthest southern reaches of U.S. settlement in North America at the time. The Seminole wars proved disastrous for the early settlement. Nearly everyone at the fort was a solider stationed there, and the wars caused near-total depopulation of the area.
In the midst of the wars, a plantation owner by the name of William English charted the Village of Miami on the south bank of the Miami River. In 1844, Miami became the county seat. The census of 1850 indicated that ninety-six residents lived there. Formal incorporation of Miami as a city would not occur until 1896.
Fast-forward to November 13, 1997. Over 161 years since the county’s founding, voters changed its name from Dade to Miami-Dade. The change was purportedly motivated by a desire to capitalize on Miami’s international name recognition. The measure was also an attempt to dissociate the county from a dark event in Florida history: the Dade massacre. The Dade implicit in the massacre is the selfsame Francis Dade who lent his name to the county.
On December 23, 1835, two full troop companies under the command of Major Dade left the Tampa region en route to Fort King, in present-day Ocala. Little did they know they were headed into disaster. After five days of marching they found themselves south of Bushnell in central Florida, where a superior force of 180 Seminole ambushers sprang from the hammocks. Major Dade fell in the first volley fired – indeed, it is commonly held that the very first bullet of the engagement struck Dade, killing him while he was astride his horse. That shot was fired by none other than Seminole Chief Micanopy.
The Seminole ambush nearly decimated Major Dade’s troops to the man. Since Dade’s forces were assembled in single-file marching lines standing two abreast, they were easy targets for the ambushers’ guns. Out of the 110 men under Dade’s command, 107 were killed outright in the fighting. Three were injured, and one of the wounded was later caught and killed while trying to flee. By comparison, the Seminole forces sustained three casualties and five wounded.
The voters’ opting to break with 161 years of Dade being known as such was not a decision taken lightly. Even so, without questioning the county forefathers’ wisdom in naming Dade County after a commander whose blunder led to the eradication of two U.S. companies, one might feel safe in positing that the name change was a good thing.
As for Fort Dallas, the building still stands, but not where originally built. What buildings remain have since been moved to their current location in Lummus Park.
JACK TIGERTAIL STOOD PROUD OVER THE ENTRANCE TO THE CITY
Prior to Coppinger’s arrival, development had already begun pressing ever southward. The drainage of the Everglades caused all manner of upheaval for the Seminoles living in the area. Hunting grounds were destroyed; in turn, tribal income from the sale of pelts and hides plummeted. The Seminoles’ traditional way of life was at risk of being completely eradicated. Thus, for some Seminole, working at Coppinger’s seemed like the best way to make a living in changing times.
Enter Jack Tigertail, also known as Chief Willie Willie. Born in Big Cypress Swamp, he lived in the Everglades about twenty-five miles west of Homestead. In 1918, he moved his family to Coppinger’s. Articulate and handsome, Tigertail excelled as the tribe’s intermediary for business affairs. He quickly became a local celebrity. In fact, he was so larger than life that by 1921, he was selected to represent the growing community of Hi-a-le-ah, as the city’s name was written then.
It seemed a natural fit to have Tigertail represent the city’s image. After all, the city’s name had its roots in the Seminole-Creek language. Hialeah means “pretty prairie” or “high prairie”.
An image of Tigertail in Seminole dress was turned into an enormous roadway sign erected at the city’s entrance on First Street (Hialeah Drive) and County Road (Okeechobee Road). Tigertail’s sign served as the proverbial Indian guide. The sign, with arm outstretched, showed the way to Hialeah. His image was also used on promotional materials.
Sadly, his fame would outlive him. On March 8, 1922, Tigertail died under mysterious circumstances. His body was discovered at Coppinger’s with fatal gunshot to the back.
A quandary ensued regarding Tigertail’s burial. Despite having lived in the Seminole community at Coppinger’s, he could not be buried there. Nor could he be buried in Hialeah – James Bright, who developed the city along with Glenn Curtiss, could not secure permission to erect a monument within Hialeah’s city limits. Instead, he was interred at the Miami City Cemetery, making history as the first Indian to be buried there.
The sign was eventually taken down, but not all that is gone is forgotten. Chief Willie Willie’s sign may no longer stand at the entrance to the city, but his legacy lives on in the form of the City of Hialeah’s official seal, which bears his likeness.
Order Your Copy Of Miami Is Missing
Like what you read? This book discusses thirty-five abandoned, forgotten, and vanished historic locations. Photographs, addresses, and coordinates are provided for context.
Discussed in this book:
- The remains of a city wiped off the map
- An abandoned rocket waiting to fly man to the moon
- The infamous "Krome Insane Asylum"
- The lost site of Miami Municipal, Amelia Earhart's departure point
- Opa-locka's vanished golf course, archery club, & aquatics center
- Interama, the futuristic cultural expo that never was
- And many more . . .