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Historical Museum of Southern Florida

Coral Gables : The City Beautiful

Topography and Tequestas

Coral Gables sits on high ground, a critical fact in earlier times when many of the nearby areas were prone to severe flooding during the lengthy rainy season. High ground meant pine trees, coontie plants, and game, such as deer and panthers. The areafs topography, flora and fauna attracted native populations who hunted and grubbed the diminutive coontie or comptie plant, which grew near the base of pine trees.

The Gables also possesses glades, or low-lying, flood-prone areas. The most notable glade envelopes a large portion of the Granada golf course, near the Coral Gables Country Club.

The inland location of the future Coral Gables, far away from Biscayne Bay and its freshwater springs, discouraged significant settlement or a long term presence in the area by Native Miamians, called Tequestas by the Spanish, and the Seminoles, who came later.

The First Settlers

Numerous pioneers obtained homesteads of up to 160 acres in the area of todayfs Coral Gables. Among them were William Harrison and Sarah Louise Gregory, who homesteaded their acreage from 1893 to 1898. They cleared and farmed part of the land, built a log cabin and raised guavas on one of the acres.

In 1899, Solomon G. Merrick purchased this property from the Gregorys for $1,100, his entire salary for a yearfs work as a Congregational minister in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Merrick decided to leave New England with his family for the wilds of southeast Florida, among Americafs last frontiers, for a couple of reasons. Shortly before purchasing the Gregory homestead, one of Merrickfs young daughters, Ruth, succumbed to membranous croup amid a New England winter. His own failing health prompted him and his wife, Althea, to move to a warmer climate.

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The Merricks of Coral Gables

By the turn of the new century, the Merricks, a family that consisted of Solomon and Althea and their five children, were ensconced in their new home. Initially, the family occupied a wood frame house on the site of todayfs Coral Gables Merrick House. By 1903, they had begun to build an oolitic limestone house, incorporating the wooden house into the new structure. A talented artist, Althea Merrick is reputed to have designed the house in an architectural style influenced by New England and South Florida elements. Completed by 1906, it was called "Coral Gables" for the coral rock construction and Ludovici tile gabled roof, and after "Grey Gables," the Buzzardfs Bay, Massachusetts, summer home of much admired, former president Grover Cleveland.

The Merricks were extremely enterprising people. Within a few years of their arrival, they were cultivating grapefruits and other crops on several acres west of the home. Mrs. Merrick established a school in the log cabin that harkened to the Gregory era. She called it the Guavonia School, a name they already applied to their homestead. Around 1901, the Reverend Merrick became pastor of the fledgling Union Congregational Church in Coconut Grove, several miles southeast of the Gregory homestead. He came and went to the church over the most primitive of trails. Such was the remoteness of the Merrick homestead, that when the family was mentioned in the Miami Metropolis, the areafs lone newspaper, they were said to reside in Cocoanut Grove.

 

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From an exhibition at the
Historical Museum of Southern Florida
February 19 - May 30, 1999