The Villagers came together as a group 50 years ago to help save this historic site from demolition to make way for a grocery store. Located at Douglas Road and SW 8th Street, Coral Gables.
One of only four completed entrances to the city of Coral Gables, the Douglas Entrance, “La Puerta de Sol” (Gate of the Sun), stands today as a testament to the preservation efforts of the local community, especially The Villagers. George Merrick planned eight entrances, and of the four completed, the Douglas Entrance was one of the most elaborate. Built between 1925 and 1927, the Mediterranean Revival style structure was designed by Coral Gables legends Walter DeGarmo, Phineas Paist and Denman Fink as Miami’s first mixed-use project to include residential, commercial and cultural uses. It is one of 12 Coral Gables sites on the National Register of Historic Places.
LIGHTKEEPER’S COTTAGE ~ Cape Florida Lighthouse
After the restoration of the Lighthouse by Dade Heritage Trust, The Villagers took on the project of restoring the Cottage and developing a living museum depicting the life of the family who would have lived there in the 19th century. The Villagers significant contribution was the first to qualify for a matching grant from the State of Florida, enhancing the project’s scope. Work began in 1996 and in addition to the restoration work and museum exhibits in the cottage, the detached kitchen was re-imagined as a video theater, an educational video produced, and signage added along the Cultural Trail of historic gardens.
Completed in 1998, The Villagers were honored by the State of Florida, Friends of Florida State Parks, Dade Heritage Trust and Harbour Lights for superb results in preserving the living history of the early lightkeepers and their families.
The Lightkeeper’s Cottage is a significant part of the Cape Florida Lighthouse located at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on the tip of Key Biscayne.
Built to watch for pirates terrorizing the coast, Cape Florida is the only lighthouse to have been attacked by Indians. Seminole Indians attacked and burned the wooden staircase of the original 65’ whitewashed brick tower. The site played pivotal roles throughout history, including during the Second Seminole War and the Civil War. Those who climb the 190 steps to the watch room are rewarded with unparalleled views. Built in 1825 and reconstructed with metal stairs, it was eventually elevated to its current height of 95’. The lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors can tour the lighthouse Thursdays to Mondays from 10-11 AM and 1-2 PM. It can be crowded on weekends since only 20 are allowed at a time. The Lightkeeper’s Cottage is staffed by volunteers and tour times vary. Lighthouse grounds/gardens are open 9-5. Park admission is $8 per car, $4 for a car with a single passenger, $2 by foot or bicycle.
THE HOUSEKEEPER’S CLUB ~ WOMEN’S CLUB OF COCONUT GROVE
Ties between The Villagers and the Women’s Club have always been strong. The Villagers have been enthusiastic supporters for many years, restoring Club facilities, installing new windows so the facility could be air conditioned, and bringing the property into compliance with modern building codes.
The Housekeeper’s Club was founded in 1891 by Flora McFarlane, a pioneer settler and school teacher. When few women lived in the area, The Housekeeper’s Club served as a social and cultural center for the community and played an important part in the early development of Coconut Grove. An integral part of the group’s mission was to expand education through an emphasis on literacy.
The first clubhouse was built in 1917 on land donated by Commodore Ralph Munroe and charter members included women from Coconut Grove’s pioneer families of Munroe, Frow, Peacock and Newbold. The present building, designed by Walter de Garmo, was built in 1921. The Club was the first federated woman’s club established in the State of Florida. In 1957, Housekeeper’s Club of Coconut Grove members officially changed the name of the organization to the Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove.
The Villagers fought for the Barnacle Extension and have provided ongoing support for restoration, repair and updating projects including boathouse restoration, painting, a fire prevention system, and the restoration of wicker furniture, oriental rugs and pictures. Support through the decades has built a close relationship between the organizations and Villager members have also enjoyed annual holiday tree trimming at The Barnacle for close to 30 years.
Ralph Munroe, a friend of pioneer William Brickell, purchased 40 acres of bayfront land for $400 in 1891, to build his homestead. Commodore Munroe, formerly a Staten Island boat builder, built the home using lumber salvaged from shipwrecks and designed the bungalow-style house with wide verandas to encourage bay breezes. The Barnacle is the oldest home in Miami-Dade in its original location. In 1908, when his family needed more room, the house was lifted and a new story built underneath. The Munroe family lived in the home until 1968. Now part of The Barnacle Historic State Park in Coconut Grove, it is listed on the National Register.
A naturalist and photographer, Commodore Munroe not only lovingly protected his land but documented much of early Miami through his photographs. With a burgeoning boat business, Munroe designed 56 boats (two are on display at The Barnacle) and started the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, serving 22 years as its first Commodore.
Open Wednesday to Monday (closed Tuesday), 9 AM – 5 PM; $2 admission, children 5 and under free; home tours $3, $1 for children 6-12, 5 and under free. Tours at 10 AM, 11:30 AM, 1 PM, 2:30 PM, on a first-come-first-served basis; for groups of 10 or more call the Ranger Station 305.442.6866.
MONTGOMERY BOTANICAL CENTER
Working closely with Montgomery Botanical Center, The Villagers helped preserve historic structures on the property. The Montgomery home has been air conditioned, and buildings for visiting scientists and archival storage have been improved. Work has also been funded for restoration of the iron and wooden door entry to the home.
Colonel Robert H. Montgomery was one of the founding partners of the accounting firm, Lybrand, Ross Bros. & Montgomery, known today as PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers). He wrote more than 40 books about accounting practice and tax law. In addition to being a lawyer, accountant, and book collector, Colonel Montgomery was a lover of plants. In 1936, he founded Fairchild Tropical Garden, just 1 mile north in Coral Gables, naming it in honor of his friend horticulturist Dr. David Fairchild. He and his wife, Nell, donated the 83-acre tract of land for the Botanical Gardens as well as money for developing the plant collections.
Nell wanted to perpetuate her late husband’s name in association with the plant and palm collections and the estate as well as provide a site for research. She created The Montgomery Foundation, Inc., in 1959, as a private, non-profit, operating institution devoted to advancing the science of tropical botany by building research-oriented plant collections. In 1998, the name was changed to the Montgomery Botanical Center.
Upon her death in 1990, she left the balance of her estate and an endowment to maintain the property to Montgomery Botanical Center.
Tours are available by appointment.
THE KAMPONG ~ Dr. David Fairchild’s Study
The Villagers 25th anniversary project was a major restoration of the limestone barn and study. Additional support has followed in recent years.
First owned by Jolly Jack Peacock, and then by J. W. Ewan, the property was purchased in 1892 by Captain Simmons and his wife, Eleanor Galt Simmons, MD, the first woman doctor in Miami. Dr. Galt Simmons built a barn of native limestone, which served as her office as well as the stable for her burro and carriage.
Horticulturalist and plant collector Dr. David Fairchild bought the property in 1916, and in 1928 built his retirement home, naming the property The Kampong (Malay word for village or cluster of houses for an extended family). He added a study/laboratory to the barn and used the grounds as an introduction garden for specimens collected on his many international expeditions.
After the death of the Fairchilds, the property was purchased by the Sweeneys who later gifted it to the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
The Fairchilds hosted many famous visitors at The Kampong, including Marian Fairchild’s father Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Firestone, Henry Ford, Barbour Lathrop (who financed some of Fairchild’s collecting trips), Wilson Popenoe, and others. The groundwork was laid for the establishment of Everglades National Park in meetings held at The Kampong with now-legendary conservationists Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Ernest Coe. In 1929, David Fairchild became the first president of the Tropical Everglades Park Association.
MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS COTTAGE
In addition to a significant contribution for restoration, Villagers worked to help inventory and pack Marjory’s books and clothing.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an environmentalist, feminist, WW1 veteran and journalist. She wrote The Everglades: River of Grass in this home and is widely credited with radically changing the public’s perception of the role and importance of the Everglades. Her activism helped gain its designation as a national park. From 1926, until her death 70 years later at 108, she lived in Coconut Grove in a one-story Masonry Vernacular cottage (by architect George Hyde) featuring an eclectic combination of Medieval and Tudor Revival details. Remarkably unchanged, the home is now the property of the State of Florida and is a National Historic Landmark.
The home is not open for tours, but can be seen from just off Douglas Road at 3744 Stewart Avenue in Coconut Grove.
THE OLD SCHOOLHOUSE ~ Plymouth Congregational Church
Adopting the schoolhouse as a preservation project more than 20 years ago, The Villagers have supported restoration and maintenance ever since. It has been restored as an 1890’s one-room schoolhouse and includes the original school bell. Through the years, The Villagers have also provided a docent, complete with period costume, to serve as the schoolmarm for tours.
At the urging of Isabella Peacock, an early settler, this simple one-room schoolhouse was built as a Sunday school in 1887. Using salvaged lumber from shipwrecks, the schoolhouse was built on land located across the street from the Peacock Inn between McFarlane Road and Mary Street. In 1889, the School Board rented the building to use as the first Coconut Grove Schoolhouse, the only school to serve the area for the next five years. Miss Flora McFarlane, a pioneer homesteader, was hired as the first teacher. After the structure was sold in 1894, it was used as residential and commercial property.
In 1969, James Ryder of Ryder Systems purchased the historic building for $75,000 and presented it to Plymouth Congregational Church in 1970. It was moved to the church grounds, where it stands today. The school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Villagers helped fund restoration of the lobby and the lighting in iconic Courtroom 6-1.
When it was finished in 1928, the Dade County Courthouse was the tallest building south of Baltimore and reported to be the tallest municipal building in the U.S. Still in use today, the 27 story Neoclassical building covers a full city block in downtown Miami. Historic Courtroom 6-1 looks like it’s right out of a movie set and was the scene of many infamous trials including those of Al Capone (not guilty) and Giuseppe Zangara (guilty) who tried to assassinate FDR, instead injuring several and killing the Mayor of Chicago. Judge Collins, who presided over both trials, was tried for embezzlement and bribery, resigning his post after a deadlocked jury. In more contemporary times, many sensational murder cases, as well as the landmark tobacco case, were tried here.
Tours are run by History Miami. Twice annually the courthouse is included in their “Crime Tour” and, if the tour falls on a Friday, Courtroom 6-1 entry is included. Private tours may be arranged by calling 305.375.1621. Courthouse tours are available for school children on Fridays; call the Education Department at 305.375.1625 to schedule.
PINECREST GARDENS ~ Parrot Jungle
The Villagers project was for restoration of the original building entrance.
The original Parrot Jungle entrance was built in 1936 as part of a “Mom and Pop” tourist attraction. The owner mortgaged his home to raise funds and buy the site of a nudist colony to create the popular tourist spot. When Parrot Jungle was sold to new owners and moved to Watson Island, the Village of Pinecrest, along with Miami-Dade County bought the attraction for a community park. Fourteen of the 22 acres are designated historic.
WILLAIM JENNINGS BRYAN MUSEUM MAGNET ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Villagers supported restoration of the courtyard, fountain, and renovation of the auditorium stage. After the second project for William Jennings Bryan School, the auditorium was renamed “The Village Gallery” in honor of The Villagers.
DADE HERITAGE TRUST
As a part of The Villagers work in historic preservation, members regularly advocate for local issues. In fact, members of The Villagers were the catalyst behind the development and 1972 creation of the Dade Heritage Trust (DHT), Miami’s largest historic preservation organization. The Villagers have remained closely associated with the Trust, often funding educational programs and workshops. Members have also been involved in leadership roles.
In addition to a strong advocacy role, the DHT has restored Dr. Jackson’s Office (DHT headquarters), the 1857 Wagner homestead, the Dice house, Old Miami High, and the Cape Florida Lighthouse. They have also been instrumental in saving many of Miami’s important places, such as the Miami Circle.
A major gift from The Villagers funded a colorful replica replacement marquee now rising above the outside of the theater and visible from anywhere along the main business street.
From its start in pieces on a freight train from Miami in 1916, the newly assembled Homestead Garden Theatre operated three short years before being renamed the Homestead Movies and then the Seminole Theatre. In 1921, the theater was closed and a new theater opened in downtown Homestead, taking the Seminole name with it. A series of misfortunes beginning in 1940 included a devastating fire that burned the theater to the ground, rebuilding only to close in 1979 due to financial difficulties and another brush with annihilation from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It took preservationists until 2015 to bring the theater back to life when a completely restored theater opened its doors as a new cultural hub for the Homestead community.
VILLAGE OF BISCAYNE PARK
The Villagers supported the efforts of the Biscayne Park Foundation for restoration of an historic 1933 WPA Log cabin used as a Village Hall/community center. Specifically, the group funded restoration of the floors, windows and doors.
THE MERRICK HOUSE ~ Coral Gables House
Acquired by the city of Coral Gables in 1976, and renamed Merrick House, the home and property underwent a major restoration, which included a donation from The Villagers. The refinishing and upholstering of wicker furniture and restoration of a 1920 oil painting by Denman Fink “Glades, Trees, Birds” have also been funded by The Villagers. Of interest, the design on the front gable of the Merrick House has been adapted as the logo of The Villagers.
The boyhood home of George Merrick, founder of Coral Gables, was built by his father the Rev. Solomon Merrick, in 1910, and has been restored to its original 1925 appearance. Reverend Merrick was pastor of the Congregational Church in Coconut Grove. The house of coral rock and Dade County pine was called “Coral Gables” after its red-tiled, gabled roof.
After the 1926 hurricane and financial reverses, the family ran the home as Merrick Manor, a boarding house. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Currently the home is undergoing some additional renovation, but will soon be re-opening to the public for tours.