Surrounded by a canal, an airport, and railroad tracks, the City of Miami Springs is a calm oasis of small-town America nestled in Miami-Dade County. Conceived in 1922 by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and his partner James Bright (they're also responsible for Opa-locka) as a reaction to building run amok in their nearby development Hialeah, the area was constructed according to strict building and zoning codes around a golf course. Originally known as Country Club Estates, the town included Bright and Curtiss's own spacious homes, a huge hotel, a lush country club, and a slew of lower-priced single-family houses designed in the Pueblo Revival style.
The Curtiss-Bright vision has changed much in the last 77 years. The underground springs from which the city took its name and that once provided all of the county's water are still there, albeit a bit more polluted. The golf course and club remain, as do many houses. Bright's home is gone. Curtiss's mansion, vandalized and burned repeatedly, is now just an empty shell. The onetime hotel was reborn as the Fair Havens Center, an elderly-care facility. Just down the street from the old barbershop exists a Supercuts. Next to the Charmette Modeling Agency and Academy, established in 1954, sits a sushi bar.
While the City of Miami Springs only recently began to appreciate the value of its history and structures, most residents have long been aware that they live in a special place. The small privately funded Miami Springs Historical Museum is testament to that fact. Founded in 1987, the same year the city's historical society was formed, the museum is located on the second floor of the Miami Springs Pharmacy owned by John Stadnik, who kindly donated the space. There, in four musty wood paneled rooms and a hallway, curator Mary Ann Goodlett-Taylor has created a unique repository, containing memories of an idyllic time and place.
Born in Hialeah in 1929 but a Miami Springs resident since 1933, Goodlett-Taylor is the perfect person to run things. She grew up in a Pueblo-style house. Her father worked as a chauffeur and gardener on the Curtiss estate from 1933 to 1943, then spent the rest of his career at nearby Pan American Airlines. Like many a South Florida native, she pronounces the word Miami, "My-AM-uh." She has seen buildings destroyed without regard for their significance and proudly reports that the city boasts seven structures designated as national historic sites. Remembering the halcyon times when Miami Springs residents could own livestock and ride horses on a bridle path that circled the golf course, Goodlett-Taylor declares wistfully: "Those were good old days. I look back and think how fortunate I was."
Springs residents should consider themselves lucky to have Goodlett-Taylor. A font of fascinating information about Glenn Curtiss, James Bright, the town, its buildings, and the people who have lived and live there, she works alone on a shoestring budget (sometimes with a volunteer) hanging paintings, taking and sorting photographs, organizing scrapbooks, arranging furniture, filing newspaper articles, and tirelessly talking about the city and its founders. She's thrilled to lead visitors through the museum, squatting energetically like a woman half her age to describe a photo and providing enlightening off-the-cuff explanations of the tiniest Miami Springs-related detail.
And details are plentiful. The walls of two rooms are covered with paintings and photos of significant Springs structures. Another contains aviation-related materials, such as model airplanes, memorabilia from Eastern and Pan Am airlines, and pieces devoted to astronaut Ken Mattingly, who grew up in the town. The largest room pays tribute to Glenn Curtiss and houses scrapbooks, thousands of clippings, original hotel furniture, and posters telling stories about Curtiss and Bright. Hialeah and Opa-locka even get their due on a more humble scale: in the hallway.
A confirmed pack rat, Goodlett-Taylor won't turn away donations to the museum. "You never know what's going to show up," she laughs. She admits, however, that one day she'd love to see the collection displayed in a larger space. Not in a spanking new structure, but perhaps in the entire building currently accommodating the pharmacy, which in inimitable small-town fashion still delivers prescriptions. "This would be the ideal place for it," she says. "It's not that we want to stop progress, but we do like our little hometown atmosphere."
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