History of Palmetto Bay
And There Were Tequestas, Cutler & Perrine; The First Settlers
The Village of Palmetto Bay is located in an area of South Miami-Dade which has included many cultures inhabiting the land for over 10,000 years. Paleo-Indians, Tequestas, Seminoles, Afro-Bahamians, and Anglo-Americans have at different times lived here; each new group literally following in the footsteps of the preceding one. The evidence left behind recounts the evolution of human housing along the Miami Rock Ridge, from stone cave dwellings to Mediterranean Revival style mansions.
A migration of Florida’s first settlers brought them to high ground along the shores of Biscayne Bay. In what is today the Deering Estate property, early inhabitants established a camp 10,000 years ago. In 1985, at the Old Cutler Fossil Site, archaeologists found human skeletal and charred animals remains from that early time. The site further contained fossilized remains from now extinct animals including mammoths, sloths, dire wolves, and saber tooth tigers. The Old Cutler Fossil Site represents one of the most important archaeological excavations in the eastern United States. Prior to its discovery within Deering, most thought human habitation in Florida dated back only 4,000 years. The sensitive artifacts were carefully excavated from the fossil site and are part of the archived collections at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
Tequesta Indians appeared 4,000 years ago, roaming the region as hunters and fishermen. Their quest for game took them to the same high hammock lands (the Indian Hunting Grounds) that attracted earlier peoples. The Tequestas received their name by Ponce de Leon during his maiden voyage to the area in 1513 who estimated their numbers to be several hundred thousand strong. The arrival of the Spanish proved lethal to the Tequestas who had no immunity to European introduced diseases. By the end of the 1700’s, the Tequestas had completely vanished from South Florida.
In 1763, Spain lost Florida to England as a result of the Seven Years’ War. Florida again became a Spanish possession in 1784 through a treaty ending the American Revolutionary War. The United States acquired Florida from Spain for $5 million in 1821. The Seminole Indian Wars erupted in Florida over the Indian removal policies of President Andrew Jackson in the 1830’s. During the Second Seminole War in 1838, the federal government awarded a large parcel of land in South Dade to Dr. Henry Perrine.
The land grant encompassed 36 square miles covering the area that today is a part of Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay and the Falls. Dr. Perrine chose what he considered to be the best parcel of land in South Dade, the historic ridge overlooking Biscayne Bay, for the site of his township. Dr. Henry Perrine wanted to create an agricultural colony to introduce subtropical plants and trees which he had developed a deep interest in while visiting Cuba and Mexico. Congress granted the land with the provision that Dr. Perrine place a settler on each section who would cultivate valuable tropical plants and vegetables.
It was while serving as U.S. Consul in Yucatan, Mexico where Dr. Perrine studied tropical plants to be used for cultivation in the U.S. Dr. Perrine did not live to see his experiment of tropical agriculture and development of the area unfold. While staying on Indian Key, he was killed during an Indian attack in 1840. His wife and three children managed to escape. It was not until 1875 that Dr. Perrine’s son, Henry Jr., returned to reclaim the family lands and again draw settlers to farm.
The same climate and fertile soils that had attracted Dr. Perrine began to attract squatters in the years following his death. These settlers, though, had no intention of following Dr. Perrine’s vision; they chose traditional farming over plant introduction. Several squatters chose to ignore the Perrine heirs’ questionable claims to the land and opened large farming enterprises. It was not until 1897 that the land dispute between the squatters and the Perrine heirs was resolved, so that the valuable farmland could be legitimately sold and settled.
Two such settlers were Francis and John H. Earhart, who owned 2,000 acres of farmland. They established a small farming community nearby which came to be known as “Franjo” in their honor. The road which led to the community became known as Franjo Road and still exists today. Another prominent settler was Thomas J. Peters, who owned and operated a vast tomato enterprise near the present-day intersection of Eureka Drive (SW 184th Street) and US 1. The Peters tomato farm was for years the largest commercial operation in that part of Dade County.
In 1862, the Perrine heirs attempted to secure a patent to the land, but were unsuccessful. Undeterred in his desire to prove the patent, Henry Perrine Jr. seriously pursued settling the family grant land in 1875. He offered free twenty-acre tracts to those who would build a home, clear one acre, and grow one tropical crop. Henry Perrine, with his two children, Carleton and Harry, moved onto the property in 1876. The Perrines set up a tent near the Addison family, who had moved to the Indian Hunting Grounds in 1864 and established a home near the present-day Charles Deering Estate.
In 1883, Dr. William Cutler arrived and acquired 600 acres next to the Perrine land grant. The Town of Cutler, formerly located at the intersection of SW 168 Street and Old Cutler Road, grew quickly. Vegetable farms and fruit groves arose when drainage canals were created which assured the cultivation of crops. A few hardy farmers lived in other settlements in South Dade—Kendall, Larkins and Silver Palm. Henry Flagler brought his railroad to Miami and had plans to extend it through South Dade to Key West. The railroad route chosen by Flagler bypassed the Town of Cutler several miles to the west and dealt a mortal blow to its development. A decade later, Charles Deering bought much of the land in dormant Cutler to build his estate.
Charles Deering was Chairman of the International Harvester Company, which revolutionized grain-harvesting methods. He and his half-brother, James (who built Vizcaya) were spending winters in Miami. Just as earlier settlers had been attracted to the area for its natural beauty, Deering chose to assemble 360 acres on which he built his Moorish style mansion on the ridge overlooking Biscayne Bay. He retained the lush, subtropical hammock (former Indian Hunting Grounds) while planting rows of Royal Palms near the water. Charles Deering lived amid his great art collection and splendid natural surroundings until his death in 1927. It was then when the Deering’s and the Connett’s, who designed and built Thalatta Estate met. We know today that the two families were friends and visited each other often back when there was no C-100 canal dissecting the two properties. The family continued to winter at the estate until it was bought by the State and County in 1985 for $24 million for a park site. Today, the Richmond Inn at the Estate, the last surviving structure of the historic town of Cutler, remains one of Miami’s best examples of early Florida frame-vernacular architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Estate grounds are environmentally protected lands and a historical preserve.
The next significant event came on November 6, 1995, the Alliance of Palmetto South Homeowners Association petitioned Miami-Dade County to incorporate Palmetto Bay. In 1996, after the Boundaries Commission recommended denial of incorporation, the County’s Planning Advisory Board voted for approval. The Board of County Com-missioners (BCC) deferred the petition at its September 1996 meeting. Area residents and volunteer attorneys filed a lawsuit in March 1998 compelling the County to allow citizens within the proposed municipal boundaries the right to vote on incorporation. It was not until April 1999 that the incorporation issue was heard by the BCC. On May 20, 2000, the BCC approved creation of the Palmetto Bay Municipal Advisory Committee to review issues and concerns relating to incorporation.
On February 5, 2002, Village voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of incorporation. Voters approved the municipal charter and the name on September 10, 2002. The Village of Palmetto Bay became Miami-Dade’s 33rd municipality!
Currently, our Village is home to over 24,000 residents. Palmetto Bay is governed by a five-member Village Council and operates under a Council-Manager form of government.