The Village of Coconut Grove is referred to as The Grove by locals and as home by my family and I. Cliche as it seems, Coconut Grove is truly a unique place in South Florida, with a rhythm all its own.
As the oldest, continuously inhabited neighborhood in the city of Miami, Coconut Grove is full of charm and joy, boasting Biscayne Bay and lush trees as its backdrop. It’s the ideal scenery for the countless festivals and community activities that go on here.
This village started out modestly with an influx of immigration in 1825 when the Cape Florida lighthouse went into operation and was manned by John Dubose. The Pent, Beasley and Frow families were also among the earliest settlers recorded in Coconut Grove.
The name of the city originated when Dr. Horace P. Porter was said to be renting a house in1873 from Edmond D. Beasley’s widow, who homesteaded 160 acres bay front property. Although Porter only resided in the area for a year, he established a post office which he named Cocoanut Grove.
“Jolly Jack” Peacock, regarded as another pioneer in this area was an Englishman who settled in the south part of the Grove. He convinced his brother Charles, then owner of a wholesale meat business in London, to move to Florida. Charles Peacock, his wife Isabella and their three sons eventually settled in Coconut Grove and in 1882 opened the Bay View House, later called the Peacock Inn, the first hotel in South Florida. Because of the hotel, workers came from The Bahamas to work at the Inn and founded the first Black community in Miami, along Charles Avenue.
The Peacock Inn attracted a variety of visitors including nobility, authors and scientists, many of whom made Coconut Grove their permanent home. Among the settlers was yacht designer Ralph Munroe whose home, The Barnacle, is now a state historic site and 5 acre park. It is the oldest residence in its original location in Miami-Dade county. The first school teacher, Flora McFarlane, also left her mark. As the founder of the Housekeeper’s Club (now The Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove) she impacted the community greatly.
By the early 20th century, prosperity and growth where evidenced by a yacht club, a school, a library and a chapel. Ultimately however, the climate and bay front setting proved to be the most tempting lure for wealthy Northerners who built winter homes including James and William Deering and William Jennings Bryan.
One of the homes, Villa Vizcaya, now a decorative arts museum set in the midst of magnificent formal gardens, was originally the home of International Harvester Vice President James Deering. Deering purchased the bay front property in 1910 and hired architect F. Burrell Hoffman, Jr. to design the house and an Italian Baroque farm village containing a dairy, poultry house, barns, garage, and staff housing. This village enabled Vizcaya to be entirely self-sufficient.
Deering traveled throughout Europe with interior designer Paul Chalfin purchasing furniture and works of art for the house. Construction began in 1914 and 1,000 craftsmen and artisans worked on the house for two years. Deering moved in on Christmas Day, 1916, arriving by yacht. All the furnishings Villa Vizcaya are just as they were in Deering’s time, including such early 20th centuries amenities as a telephone switchboard, central vacuum cleaning system, elevators and fire sprinklers. Deering enjoyed nine winters at Villa Vizcaya before his death in 1925. Deering’s descendants sold Villa Vizcaya to Miami-Dade County in 1952, and in 1970 it was placed on the Register of Historic Sites. (Villa Vizcaya is open for tours.)
In 1925, the city of Miami annexed Coconut Grove but it has always retained its individuality. Artists flocked here in the 1950s and enriched the area with a bohemian vibe that is at the core of this avant-garde neighborhood. Today that same vibe permeates countless, highly acclaimed events such as the renowned Coconut Grove Arts Festival.
No longer just a bohemian village, Coconut Grove now boasts among the most sought after real estate in Miami. With luxury condominiums including Grove Isle, the Grovernor House, Ritz Carlton residences and outstanding, private communities including The Moorings, this area with its waterfront vistas and tree-lined streets continues to temp visitors to stay a while.
Photographs courtesy of Historical Museum of Southern Florida.