Many well-known houses have sprung up around Miami over the years. Coming to mind immediately is Vizcaya, the opulent Italian Renaissance-style villa with lush adjacent gardens built on the fringe of Coconut Grove by International Harvester scion James Deering in 1916, and now a must-see for tourists. A few years later in 1922, further south in an area once known as Cutler, Deering's older brother Charles constructed a much more modest estate on a large plot of land, carving out a horseshoe-shaped basin in which to park his yacht. In Homestead a little Latvian man named Edward Leedskalnin quarried 1000 tons of limestone rock from 1920 to 1940 to assemble the Coral Castle in honor of his former fiancée who jilted him at the altar. Then there's the Doc Thomas House. Ask most Miamians what it is and where it's located, and they'll probably offer a blank stare and mutter something about Doc Thomas being a character from the late-Fifties TV show Gunsmoke. Wrong!
Those who know anything about this town's history would say that Arden Hays Thomas, a.k.a. "Doc," was a pharmacist from Southern Indiana who moved to Miami in the 1920s and constructed a frame vernacular-style house in 1931, slightly east of what is now South Miami. Thomas was proprietor of the long-gone O.K. Drug Store and the still-standing-on-South Dixie Highway O.K. Feed Store. In 1974, one year before Thomas died, he willed his house and nearly three acres to the Tropical Audubon Society (TAS), with the provision that his property be preserved and utilized for environmental education. A chapter of the National Audubon Society and Audubon of Florida, the 54-year-old TAS is a nonprofit organization devoted primarily to promoting conservation, education, and enjoyment of the natural world. A major part of its mission to raise ecological awareness has been geared toward birds -- spying and documenting rare specimens and leading numerous bird-watching and bird-counting expeditions. TAS moved into the Thomas house in 1976, making few changes except for adding a botanical garden in 1995. In addition to avian-based activities, the society throws several native plant sales throughout the year.
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This weekend the group will celebrate its 25th anniversary in its headquarters with an open house, featuring guided tours of the abode on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and treks through the garden at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. The fête continues on Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. during the organization's annual picnic and meeting. Visitors are invited to bring a covered dish and gather under the chickee in the garden. There members will choose new directors for the society's board and introduce Maureen Finnerty, newly installed superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, who will deliver a presentation.