To the rest of the world, everything in Miami-Dade County is known as simply "Miami," but the actual City of Miami is one of the smallest main municipalities of a major American metro area by both size and population. That's because historically the area has a flair for incorporating new towns and cities for any odd reason (a temporary ban on incorporating new municipalities was recently lifted, by the way), and some of the 35 municipalities within the county have some truly bizarre backstories.
We're talking everything form circus dwarves to towns once known as Detroit and the City of Destiny.
Here are our ten favorite backstories behind Miami-Dade towns:
1. West Miami Was Founded by Businessmen Who Wanted to Get Drunk and Gamble
Long before Miami was Vice City, the City of Miami decided to cut back on cocktail hours and close gambling rooms in the city. It was a far cry from the liberal 5 a.m. last call the city employs today. Four local businessmen were not having it, so they formed their own damn city and gave it the totally creative and original name of West Miami. There they could drink and gamble into the wee hours of the morning. Maybe they should have called it East Las Vegas? The city is only about three-quarters of a square mile and is most famous at the moment for giving birth to the political career of Marco Rubio (a former West Miami commissioner) and for kicking a mayor out over allegations he racked up a $70,000 phone bill by calling ladies in the Dominican Republic.
2. Sweetwater Was Founded in Part by a Bunch of Russian Circus Dwarves Looking to Retire
Back in a time before political correctness, Sweetwater was nicknamed "the midget community." The town's official website explains the odd history:
In 1938, Clyde Andrews acquired most of the "Sweetwater Groves" tract and began to market lots. Among his buyers was a troupe of Russian midgets seeking a place to retire after a career with the circus. They built several mini-scaled homes suited to their needs. For years, Sweetwater was known as the "midget" community.
In 1941, Sweetwater held a successful election for incorporation. The new town's first mayor was Joe Sanderlin, the midgets' guardian and manager.
These weren't just any circus dwarves, but members of the "Russian Royal Midgets," who performed for royalty throughout the world. Mayor Sanderlin actually envisioned attracting more little people looking to retire, but today the town is home to people of mostly regular stature.
3. Virginia Gardens Was Founded by Horse Lovers
In 1947, the City of Miami Springs decided to ban horses within city limits. So, much like the drunks in West Miami, they started their own town, where they were free to operate horse farms. It's named for the home state of many of the original residents, and today remains a tiny hamlet that covers about three-tenths of a square mile. Too bad they didn't name it something more appropriate, like Horseyville (motto: Come be our neieieieigh-bor).
4. Opa-locka was Originally Called Opa-tisha-woka-locka
Some towns in Miami-Dade have really uninspired names, but you can't say that about Opa-locka. In fact, its original name, Opa-tisha-woka-locka, was perhaps a bit too unique. It's a Seminole phrase that can be translated to "the high land north of the little river on which there is an old camping place." Town founder Glenn Curtiss (founder of the American airline industry) decided to shorten it, and sadly there is not a flame in the center of town known as the Opa-tisha-woka-locka Flame. Despite the Seminole name, Opa-locka is perhaps most famous for its Arabic-inspired layout and architecture.
5. Islandia Was Incorporated by 18 Registered Voters and Today Still Has 18 Residents
Islandia was the city that never was, and now is no more. In 1960, 13 of the 18 registered voters on the string of islands just north of the Keys decided to incorporate the town. It was once imagined as something of a second Miami Beach, with luxury hotels and a causeway connecting it to the mainland, but much of the land was eventually incorporated into Biscayne National Park. Today, the town has only 18 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. census, and has existed as a city on paper only for years. The Miami-Dade County Commission is in the process of unincorporating the town.
6. Doral Got Its Name From a Combination of the Names of Developer Al Kaskel and Wife Doris
Well, technically, the town, incorporated in 2003, takes its names from the Doral Golf Resort & Spa, which in turn takes its name from a combination of its founders' first names. We should all be thankful Al Kaskel did not marry a woman named Ana. Think about it. Think. Got it? Haha, Anal.
7. Florida City Was Original Named Detroit
In a land promotion, the newly developed area of what's now called Florida City was marketed to people from Detroit, Michigan, and named Detroit, Florida. Edward Stiling and Dr. T.W. Shields, both of Detroit, sold the land to the families, but when the town was incorporated, Shields decided to change its name to Florida City. (Imagined thought process: "What should we call this new city in Florida? I've got it! Florida City! Perfect!"). Stiling opposed the name change and filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block it.
8. Biscayne Park's Founders Made It Illegal to Kill Birds Within Village Limits
Virginia Gardens had its horse lovers, but Biscayne Park was for the birds. On its incorporation in 1933 (after the City of Miami decided to lop it off during the Great Depression), village founders declared the entire sixth of a square mile a bird sanctuary. To this day, it is still illegal to hunt, trap, or kill any bird within Biscayne Park's limits.
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9. The Bal in Bal Harbour Is Made Up
Ever wonder what the hell the Bal in Bal Harbour means? Well, the area was originally known as Bay Harbour, but founders decided that was too boring. So they made up the word Bal instead. It's a combination of the words Bay and Atlantic, because the village is surrounded by Biscayne Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. We can only suspect that the use of the British spelling of harbor can be chalked up to pretension.
10. Miami Gardens Originally Wanted to Call Itself "City of Destiny"
Miami Gardens wasn't incorporated until 2003, but there was an effort in 1996 to incorporate it under the name "City of Destiny." That eventually failed, and we're thankful the Dolphins and Hurricanes today do not play in a place called the City of Destiny.