Many Lives, Many Masters

Just because Miami, at a little more than 100 years old, is so young, doesn't mean its history is any easier to figure out than that of an older town. Our callow condition notwithstanding, misconceptions abound. Ask any Miami buff what purpose was served by the small limestone and wood building located near the Miami River in Lummus Park, and he'll likely say it was soldiers' barracks on a stronghold known as Fort Dallas. True, but that's not the only role that historic structure, perhaps Miami's oldest, has played in this city's development. Apparently it has served aa slew of purposes, survived several historical events, and miraculously withstood the test of time.

The building was constructed in 1842 originally as slave quarters on the plantation of Colonel William English, nearly a mile south of its present site. English's uncle Robert Fitzpatrick sold it to him after an aborted attempt to create a plantation system in fledgling Dade County. Enduring several Seminole Wars, presumptuous squatters, and what have you, the small structure, aside from housing the military at various moments, did stints in later years as a trading post, county courthouse, post office, boarding house, and tea house. Set for demolition in 1925, it was rescued by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Miami Women's Club and was moved to Lummus Park. To the consternation of many, the edifice doesn't get the recognition it deserves. In the 1980s it became a haven for the homeless. In the 1990s it was shielded from the public behind a padlocked fence. In fact it's only moment to shine comes when the Dade Heritage Trust throws its yearly Miami RiverDay celebration in conjunction with the six-week-long commemoration of our county's history known as Dade Heritage Days.

William Keddell, an artist and teacher at the TROY Community Academy, which assists at-risk teenagers on probation in the juvenile court system, took a keen interest in the former slave quarters when he lived near the park. "It bothered me that this building sat there unused with such historical prominence," he explains. His idea: educate his students on the importance of the site and have them give free tours to school groups or curious members of the public during the weekdays in February, which also happens to be Black History Month. A minor part of the structure's past as a place to take tea could be revived as well. For a small donation hungry tourists could enjoy tea and cakes prepared by TEEN CUISINE, a catering service run by the TROY students at the Miami-Dade Juvenile Justice Center.

That plan was hatched a year ago. Reality intruded, though, and caused delays. But on the evening of Thursday, February 1, Keddell's vision at last will come to fruition. A monthlong exhibition supplemented by photographs and text will kick off with presentations by FIU professor Marvin Dunn and Miami-Dade Community College professor Paul George, plus a tribute to local historian Arva Moore Parks. Keddell hopes the festivities develop into an annual event, but he is happy that the building will have a moment in the spotlight, sort of. "There's not much electricity out there; there's none in the building," Keddell admits. "We're doing candles and things like that!"

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman