There Goes The Neighborhood

Currently Armbrister is working with the city to install historic markers in the area. One would commemorate the Grove's first church, St. Agnes, which was built on Thomas Avenue in 1895 but has since been renamed Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and relocated to Douglas Road. Others would honor the first six settlers on Charles Avenue, schools, and different settlements. She is also writing a book about the history of the Grove's black community.

"The first house here was built 101 years ago. It's up here on Charles Avenue on the south side, built out of pine wood. For the most part, the people who came from the Bahamas, they had carpentry in the blood when they were born, I think, because they have done outstanding work without any professional education, you know. They were also good at fishing and sponging. They came here for a better way of life, the same reason I came here. There wasn't no boom then, but they were building the Grove, clearing property. Old Man Stirrup [realtor and builder E.W.F. Stirrup, Sr.], he had come from the Bahamas in the late 1880s and he stopped in Larkins first -- that's now South Miami -- then he came up to Coconut Grove, where more of his own people had come.

"Stirrup had some money, so he paid the men to start clearing lots. He would get a lot for every lot he cleared, and then he would sell the lot cheap to the black men because he had the idea of everybody owning their own home. His own house -- 1897 he built it -- is the two-story building right behind the bank, the last building at the east end of Charles. Across the street, one of his lots behind the playhouse on Charles Avenue was called Stirrup's Quarters or the Bachelors' Quarters. Nobody lived there at the beginning except men -- they were paying something like a dollar and 50 cents or two dollars a week to stay there -- and the men would come over here and work and get enough money to go back to the Bahamas to get their fiancees or send for them.

"Across the street and down a ways to the west, the house that sits way back was Hiram McCloud's house. He and his wife lived there, and they would have the single women there waiting for the men to get to where they could move into a house. In the meantime they did a lot of laundry there. Back then they called Charles Avenue by the name Evangelist Street, until they named it in the late Twenties after an early settler called Charles Frow. But this street was it. It was the main drag. It was the hopping place to be. Williams Avenue to the north was a back street, nothing but a cow path for years and years. Both Charles and Franklin, the next one over to the south, were rocky, rocky, rocky, nothing but crushed rock -- they used to call Franklin Rocky Road. When I came here, they had eventually gotten 'round to tarring them.

"Coconut Grove formed around seven or eight settlements, I think it was. You had Stirrup's up there, you had Counts's Quarters down here on the corner of Hibiscus and Charles Avenue -- that one belonged to Old Man William Counts. I don't know why they always call him `Old Man,' 'cause he had to be young sometime in his life. Counts, he was one of those rich Negroes who could afford a barn and cars and horses; he had men living there who helped develop his property. There also were some white men -- Mundy and Rice -- they were quarters also -- Mundy Town and Rice Town. Mundy and Rice, they had fruit groves and the black people who worked on the premises would work in the groves.

"Katie Biscayne subdivision was another big one. It was owned by Old Man Stirrup and one of the Burdine brothers, up there where Grand Avenue crosses into Coral Gables. But Katie Biscayne was more for people who could afford better-type housing. The houses they built there didn't have shutters like the ones you push up. They had screens and all, like the white people had. As a matter of fact, Stirrup owned once upon a time part of Burdine's downtown, and believe it or not, the Stirrups could go in there and try on clothes and no other black person could do it. And he owned part of the Coconut Grove Theater, and his children could go but they had to go in the back door.

"Now over in Golden Gate, over there between U.S. 1 and George Washington Carver Junior High, that's where the squatters lived. Charles Le Jeune and George Merrick were building up Coral Gables and were using that property to store their lumber, so people would just take some and build a lean-to or a shack. Well, Le Jeune and Merrick wanted to build Coral Gables, but the blacks down in Katie Biscayne were in their way. So they were given the choice of a shotgun house with a lot next door, or just two lots.

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