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Facts about South Miami
South Miami is a Miami suburban city in Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States. The population was 10,741 at the 2000 census and as of 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau was 11,932.
South Miami's central business district is directly served by the Miami Metrorail at the South Miami station on Sunset Drive, connecting the suburb to downtown Kendall, Downtown Miami, and Miami Central Station at Miami International Airport.
South Florida had been roamed by Native Americans (Tequesta, Calusa, and Jaega), probably for centuries, before white pioneers advanced through Little Hunting Ground (later known as Coconut Grove) to Big Hunting Ground (now known as Cutler, Florida).
Wilson Alexander Larkins (1860–1946) was 36 years old when he, his wife (Katie Estelle Burtashaw) and five children, and their livestock arrived in Fort Dallas (now the Lummus Park Historic District of Miami) in 1896. He purchased property west of Red Road and Sunset Drive, where he built a home and barn. He also built the first general store east of that area in 1898 at what is known today as Cartagena Plaza or Cocoplum Circle(actually in Coral Gables, Florida), and as the community grew, he established a post office in the community. Larkins became the first Postmaster, a role he held for sixteen years; he named the area Manila, but the majority of the settlers, who began building homes around his store, preferred the name of "Larkins" in his honor.
A depot was placed along the Florida East Coast Railway in 1904, and in the same year, John Moses Dowling (1842–1927) built the first house within what is now South Miami city limits. His son-in-law opened the first store on the west side of the tracks, called the White Palace Grocery.
Other prominent historic families have historic buildings and streets named for them, such as Dorn Avenue (Southwest 59th Avenue) and the Shelley Building, among others. Harold W. Dorn and his brother Robert moved to the area in 1910; their primary interest was growing mango and avocado. Mary E. Dorn was the first president of the Cocoplum Thimble Club, the first Women's club in Larkins. In 1925, the Dorn brothers built the Riviera Theatre at 5700 South Dixie Highway; in 1934, Charles T. Fuchs moved his Holsum Bakery from Homestead to South Miami on the land where the Riviera Theatre had been.
The first African-American to purchase land in the Larkins area was Marshall Williamson, who moved there from Madison, Florida. He built his home at 6500 SW 60th Avenue and allowed it to be used for church services even before the construction was completed. In 1916, he donated land for the St. John's AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church, one of Larkins's first churches and the first church in the black community; it is located at 6461 SW 59th Place. Later, Williamson also donated land for the J. R. E. Lee School. Because of his generosity, the black neighborhood became known as Madison Square, after Williamson's hometown. Williamson died in 1972. Named after him is Marshall Williamson Park, at 6125 SW 68 Street.
In 1926, area residents wanted to incorporate their area, and because of the booming city to the north of them, they chose the name of "Town of South Miami". The original town boundaries were Red Road on the east, Kendall Drive to the south, Palmetto Road to the west (now Palmetto Expressway), and Bird Road and Miller Drive to the north. The year 1926 also saw the first street lighting and the first incoming class of freshmen at the newly chartered University of Miami campus, which abuts the city of South Miami eastern boundary along Red Road (SW 57th Avenue). Also founded with a university theme that same year was the Cambridge Lawns neighborhood of South Miami, situated just 0.7 miles (1.1 km) from the university campus. The neighborhood's Cambridge Lawns Historic District, some 30 homes in the Tudor Revival and Mediterranean revival style completed in 1928, were granted historic recognition by the City of South Miami in 2005.
Also in 1926, South Miami received extensive damage from the 1926 Miami hurricane. The Town's leaders asked Congress to "relieve the people of their income tax for the current year," but federal assistance was not forthcoming. The Florida East Coast Railway station burned down, leaving the town without a station for many years. Residents suffered storm damage again from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and from Hurricane Bonnie (1998).
On June 25, 1927, W. A. Forster was sworn in as South Miami's first Mayor.
In 1933, the original six square miles of South Miami were reduced to just over three miles (5 km) due to an effort to reduce municipal responsibilities. The city's size was reduced again in 1937, and many of the northern city residents sued to get out of the city. This is why the city of South Miami has the most irregular boundaries of any city in Miami-Dade County today.
Of mid-century South Miami, local historian Donna Shelley writes:
In the mid-1950s, South Miami was at the crossroads between town and country. It was where you could buy hay for your horse and a tux for a social event. The economy was booming post World War II: a bank was established, the First National Bank of South Miami, new buildings were constructed, a hospital established (South Miami Hospital) and the community prospered. The Holsum Baking Company, which moved to South Miami from Homestead in the 1930s was an important contributor to South Miami's growth. Many long-time residents recall waking up to the olfactory stimulation of bread being baked at the Holsum bakery on the corner of Sunset Drive and Red Road.
Construction of the current City Hall building was approved by referendum in 1955. Designed by architect Henry George Fink, the governmental seat on Sunset Drive was dedicated in October 1956 by Mayor Paul U. Tevis.
Jack Block was elected Mayor of the city in 1968, and was thereafter re-elected every two years until 1984 when, as he told interviewer Gregory W. Bush, "I started to not enjoy it as much." In that interview, for the University of Miami Oral History Program, he gave snapshots of South Miami history when he told Bush (a history professor at the University of Miami),
I moved here March 6, 1956 and lived in the same house. I love this city. There are times you get aggravated with what is going on. It's a friendly community. Do you remember when they had the riots down in Overtown back at Nixon's first inauguration? They had the Convention down here. Everywhere in town there were riots going on. In the city of South Miami we had a big barbeque which was held in the black area in one of the black parks. Where the Jaycees and myself, I cooked ribs all night long, and all the white people were there serving the black community. And we had no problems. When there were police problems the black community would get hold of me and tell me, "There's a car load of people coming in from Coconut Grove," and we could tell the police. That's the way this community is. It's a close-knit community. Black people living with white, you don't get that anywhere else.
In 1990, Catherine (Rutherford) McCann (1933–2009) was elected as South Miami's first female Mayor, and was re-elected in 1992. She was responsible for the clean-up of South Miami after Hurricane Andrew; the Miami Herald wrote, "She had an encyclopedic knowledge of the South Miami city charter. She pushed for affordable housing and responsible development."
In 2000, South Miami joined other municipalities in the country in forming city partnerships to help foster cultural and economic development between cities around the world. South Miami is a member of Sister Cities International and formed relationships with the cities of Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos Islands and Basseterre in Saint Kitts and Nevis.
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