Matheson Hammock, Dade County’s First Public Park

Parks provide relaxation and enjoyment of nature. They are a place for organized sports, play, for civic ceremonies and cultural events, and for education. On this edition of Learning from Miami, we invite you outdoors to explore the origins of Dade County’s first public park.

American industrialist William J. Matheson and his son Hugh gifted Dade County nearly 85 acres of tropical hardwood hammock forest located off Old Cutler Road in Miami. The land was donated with the stipulation that it be used only for the enjoyment of the community, as a botanical park and that it be “preserved and protected in a wild and natural condition.”

Landscape architect William Lyman Philips was employed by the county to design Matheson Hammock Park. Philips was a prominent landscape architect who designed several iconic locations in Florida, including the Venetian and Rickenbacker Causeways, the oolitic limestone gardens at the University of Miami, and Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.

Labor to build Matheson Hammock was provided by a public conservation group called the Civilian Conservation Corps, which worked with Philips to clear the property for public use. The CCC built several buildings and a picnic shelter inside of the park using coral and limestone rock.

During the summer of 1930, Matheson Hammock Park officially opened and became the first public park in Dade County. Five years later, the county bought 420 more acres of land adjacent to the park. Matheson Hammock Park grew by 500 acres, including a mile of property overlooking Biscayne Bay. The park was more than a green space; it also featured a marina, an atoll pool, and a wading beach.

Today, a visit to Hammock Park and Marina is like stepping back into the 1930s. The park still contains several of the original coral and limestone structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, including a now-abandoned plant nursery and a station house. Miami-Dade County is currently seeking funding to restore and re-purpose the abandoned structures.

-Ursa Gil

References

https://www.miamidade.gov/parks/library/matheson-hammock-history.pdf

https://tclf.org/pioneer/william-lyman-phillips

Matheson Hammock Park Is An Oasis In Our Miami-Dade Backyard

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