Reopening Fort Dallas Park.

July 1st, 2019

Historic Fort Dallas park was designated a city park in 1983. Currently it is abandoned, fenced off, and in need of a major renovation. The Miami River Commission is urging City of Miami officials to reopen the city-owned park, located at 60-64 SE Fourth Street. Fort Dallas houses several major historic buildings on its property. Learning from Miami invites you to journey into the history of Fort Dallas Park and learn about how the City of Miami was born on this former military base.

 

In 1836, Lieutenant L.M. Powell built a naval fort at the mouth of the Miami River at Biscayne Bay to prevent Cuba and the West Indies from trading with the Seminole Indians. Lieutenant Powell named the property Fort Dallas, in honor of Commodore Alexander James Dallas, commander of the United States naval forces in the West Indies.

Lieutenant F. M. Powell commanded the fort for two years. It was later taken over by U.S. Army Colonel William S. Harney of the 2nd Dragoons who led an attack against Seminole Chief Chakaika in 1840. By 1842 the hostilities between the settlers and the Seminoles had receded and the troops departed.

 

Fort Dallas 1871. Photo courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Fort Dallas 1871 at the mouth of the Miami River. Photo courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

The property was later sold to Colonel William F. English, who built a plantation and had big plans to develop a town he called Miami. Colonel English enticed settlers to move to the area promising extremely fertile soil for crops.

By 1844 he had constructed two solid stone buildings: a house for him and his family, and the longhouse which was used as slave quarters. English’s plantation was well established and thriving by 1849 when word reached the settlement that Seminoles had attacked U.S. Inspector William Russell at Indian River. English fired off a letter to Key West asking for protection for the people of Miami, while evacuating everyone to the Cape Florida lighthouse.

The estate was then seized by the U.S. Army during the Second and Third Seminole Wars in 1849. They found the original log buildings of Fort Dallas in need of repair, so they occupied English’s stone buildings while improvements were made. With troops in his buildings, English decided to go to California in search of gold. He hoped to find his fortune and return with enough capital to build his dream city.

The soldiers continued to build up the fort, and by 1855 it had become a substantial compound. The most significant achievement of this period was the construction by the troops of a road connecting Fort Dallas to Fort Lauderdale in 1856.

Most of the other settlers had returned during English’s pursuit of gold, but Colonel English never made it back to Miami. In 1855 he accidentally shot and killed himself while dismounting from his horse near Sacramento, California.

When the wars came to an end, the fort was left unoccupied yet again. After the Army left, the area served numerous purposes, including a post office, a trading post, and even the Dade County Courthouse.

 

Fort Dallas 1904. Photo courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Fort Dallas 1904. Photo courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Seminole Gambling Club and the Longhouse:

In 1891, Julia Tuttle purchased the property. Shortly after her death in 1898, her son Harry leased the property to a group who ran it as “The Seminole Club” – a gambling establishment. In 1904, Tuttle’s son renovated the longhouse, adding a porch and center gable. It was later rented out as a single-family home and a tea room.

There were plans to demolish Fort Dallas, but thanks to a committee led by the Miami Woman’s Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution the building was saved. In 1925, The coquina stone building was then disassembled in sections and moved just over a mile away to Lummus Park on the north side of the Miami River.

While none of the original structures located at Fort Dallas are still standing, one of the last “Palm Cottages” built in 1897 to house the workers of Henry Flagler was moved from the South West corner of SE Second Street and Southeast First Avenue to Fort Dallas park in 1983. Flagler is considered “The Father of Miami.” The park is currently closed, but you can see the Palm Cottage from the Riverwalk.

Renewed interest in Fort Dallas Park came up in recent talks about redevelopment of nearby city-owned riverfront currently occupied by the Hyatt Regency hotel and the James L. Knight Center. Hyatt has proposed a major redevelopment but wants a new lease and control of the convention center.

Hurricane Irma in 2017 destroyed a city dock hugging the shore of the park. The city is seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild the dock.

-Ursa Gil

Sources:

The Park the City Forgot. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://biscaynetimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1819:the-park-the-city-forgot&catid=78:brickelldowntown&Itemid=242

Miami River Commission pushes to reopen Fort Dallas Park. (2018, February 06). Retrieved from https://www.miamitodaynews.com/2018/02/06/miami-river-commission-pushes-reopen-fort-dallas-park/

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