Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Deering Estate – Miami Florida

I had several attractions on our ‘to see’ list to share with Dawn Marie during our sojourn to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach Metropolitan area…  The adventures began the day after our arrival.

This is a view down the ‘driveway’ toward The Deering Estate at Cutler.  We thought this view was very calming… The estate sits right on the shores of Biscayne Bay. 

Charles Deering lived on this 444 acre property for five years, from 1922 to 1927.  The grounds include what is thought to be the largest virgin coastal tropical hardwood hammock in the continental United States.

This is the beautiful Stone House at the Deering Estate.  In 1922, when Charles Deering decided to reside at Cutler permanently, he began construction of this home.  It was both a residence for the family as well a place to house his collection of fine art and furnishings.  This is a 13,900 square foot fire-resistant ‘fortress’ of poured concrete that was modeled in the Mediterranean Revival Style after 2 castles he had in Spain.

Charles Deering was the son of William and Abbey Deering.  He was born in 1852.  His father, a co-founder of a dry-goods wholesaler in Portland, Maine, gave up this business to manage E.H. Gammon's harvester manufacturing plant in Plano, Illinois.  In 1883, the senior Deering bought out Gammon and moved the plant to Chicago, where he began incorporating a newly-developed twine binder into his harvesting machine.  In 1902, Deering Harvester Company merged with its leading competitor, McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, and thus formed the core of the International Harvester Company. Charles Deering became the first Chairman of the Board of the new company.

The original Richmond house predated Deering’s 1913 acquisition of the property and the rest of the land comprising the Estate.  It was the only building he didn’t demolish. 

In 1896, a Florida East Coast Railroad surveyor, Dr. Samuel Richmond, erected his frame house on the on the high ground of Miami Rock Ridge in Cutler.  It was 16 miles south of the newly chartered Miami.  The home was originally a rectangular, two story structure designed simply to withstand Florida's sweltering heat and heavy rain seasons.

After living in the home for 4 years, and with the backing of the Railroad, Dr. Richmond added a "T" shaped addition to the Bay side of the home and opened the Richmond Cottage - the southernmost hotel on the U.S. mainland. The Richmond Cottage, at this time, still had no indoor plumbing or electricity, but it did feature one of the first telephones in the area. The phone number was Cutler 1-2.  When the Richmond Cottage opened, Cutler served as the only gateway to the outside world for homesteaders living south of Coconut Grove including the Homestead area.  Steamships shuttled passengers and goods between Cutler and Miami.  When the railroad came to the area, the town of Cutler declined and by 1908 the Richmond Cottage closed.

On August 24, 1992, the third most powerful Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the United States struck South Florida.  Hurricane Andrew packed winds of over 170 miles per hour and it "destroyed 25,524 homes and damaged 101,241 others." About all that was left standing at the Deering Estate was the Stone House.  

The waterfront property was devastated by waves that reached as high as the second floor of the buildings. Water rose more than 16 feet above sea level.  The Richmond Cottage was virtually destroyed!  It took 7 years and $7.2 million dollars to restore the location. The Estate officially reopened to the public in 2000. Fortunately, only a nominal portion of the historic art, furnishings, and artifacts were damaged as most had been relocated to safe storage facilities off-site.

Love the palm trees!  What a beautiful setting… Note the family picnicking off to the left of the photo.

Between 1916 and 1918, Mr. Deering built a boat turning basin.  Then he marked a one-mile long boat channel east into Biscayne Bay to offer access to his property from Miami.  He relocated a portion of Old Cutler Road to what is now Seventy-Second Avenue.  He then enclosed the Estate with an oolitic limestone wall.  However, so local residents could still have public access to Biscayne Bay, he constructed a concrete dock adjacent to the south side of the Estate walls.  This area is known as the People's Dock and is still accessible by the public today.

Charles grew up with a great appreciation of agriculture, a keen business mind, and developed a strong interest in the fine arts.  Both Charles and his younger brother James, (1859 – 1925), passionately amassed works by the Old Masters as well as painters of their own day.  In total, Charles amassed more than 4,000 pieces of art and had one of the largest collections of art in the world!  Back in 1922, his art collection was appraised at $60 million dollars!
Note: James Deering collected 15th to 19th century art for his mansion, Vizcaya, which is also located in Miami, Florida.  If you'd like to review my blog on Vizcaya from our 2012 trip, go to  To view the official Vizcaya website, go to


During our visit a couple of Florida Manatees were cruising around the Estate’s boat turning basin.  We enjoyed watching them swimming around and rooting for food in the bottom of this little harbor. (Sorry for my shadow...) 

The West Indian manatee is divided into two subspecies, one of which is the Florida manatee.  The manatee has adapted fully to an aquatic life style, having no hind limbs.  The Florida manatee is commonly reported as being larger in size as compared to other manatees.  The largest individual on record weighed 3,649 pounds and it measured 15 feet long.  This manatee's color is gray or brown. Its flippers also have either three or four nails, so it can hold its food as it is eating.

The Florida manatee is the largest of all living manatees.  Florida manatees are found in freshwater rivers, in estuaries, and in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Florida manatees may live to be greater than 28 years old in the wild, and one captive manatee, "Snooty", has lived for 65 years.  

Laurie caught this photo of a manatee coming up for air after feeding on the bottom where he or she was rooting in the mud.  

Florida manatees inhabit the most northern limit of sirenian (i.e., manatee or dugong), habitat.  For more information on Florida’s manatees just go to

Dawn took this photo of Laurie and I enjoying the perfect south Florida weather with beautiful blue skies, the palm trees and Biscayne Bay.

FYI…the Deering Estate’s house and grounds were featured several times in the 1980s TV series Miami Vice and it was the starting line for The Amazing Race All-Stars TV show in 2007.

Then Laurie took this photo of Dawn and me.  Note the wedding or promotional photos being taken along the turning basin to the right of the photo.  With it palms, the water and the handsome structures, the Deering Estate is a popular spot for weddings and other events.

This is a photo of some of the mangrove forest along the historic mangrove coastal trail.  The trail pre-dated Deering’s ownership of the property.  There is archeological evidence of Native American habitation of the land from over 10,000 years ago.

The 444-acre Estate encompasses globally endangered pine rockland habitat, among the largest blocks of this ecosystem remaining in the United States.  It also includes coastal tropical hardwood rockland hammocks, mangrove forests, salt marshes, a coastal dune island and the submerged resources of Biscayne Bay.  The Estate is one of the few remaining Environmentally Endangered Lands in Miami-Dade County and is cared for and maintained by a full-time Natural Areas Management crew. 

Rare and native plants thrive at the Estate, including orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and more than 40 species of trees. A variety of wildlife, such as gray foxes, spotted skunks, squirrels, snakes, butterflies, and birds inhabit the area.

Laurie took this photo of a tidal creek along the mangrove trail. 

The Estate, which is really now a park, includes a couple of other more ancient points of interest.  The Cutler Burial Mound is a prehistoric mound on the property.  It is one of the few surviving prehistoric mounds in Miami-Dade County. The mound is about 38 feet by 20 feet at the base, and about five feet high.  Unfortunately the mound has been disturbed repeatedly.  Bones and artifacts were removed.  Some of those bones have been returned and reburied in the mound. It is believed to contain 12 to 18 burials of Native Americans.

Then there is the Cutler Fossil Site… In 1979 a sinkhole on the property was found to contain bones of Pleistocene animals associated with bones and artifacts of early humans.  The site was eventually acquired by Miami-Dade County, and it’s now part of the Charles Deering Estate Park.

This vault door was installed in the basement of the Stone House to protect Deering’s wine collection.
We were a bit disappointed with the furnishings and exhibits in the stone house and the Richmond home.  Sparse would be the word I’d use.  On the other hand, the park doesn’t have to spend a lot of money protecting and maintaining a lot of valuable artifacts….

Deering wasn’t protecting his wine from thieves…even though it was a very valuable collection.  The vault door was intended to keep water out of the wine cellar during hurricane season.  It didn’t work…and at one point the cellar flooded and almost all of the wine was ruined.

After Charles’ death in 1927, his immediate heirs owned the Estate for more than half a century.  The property was put up for sale after the last heir, Charles' daughter, Barbara Deering Danielson, (painting above the fireplace), passed away.  In 1985, the Nature Conservancy brokered the deal that allowed the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County to purchase the property.

Note: If you’re not familiar with The Nature Conservancy, I would highly recommend that you check it out.  It’s run by former businessmen who work with business, conservation and governmental bodies to preserve our natural heritage.  The Nature Conservancy works in more than 30 countries, including all 50 states of the United States. The non-profit Conservancy has over one million members, and has protected more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide. Website:

This photo provides a partial view of the impressive main ballroom…or the 'living room' of the stone house.  As there are storage cabinets along one wall, this is obviously a well-used room for wedding receptions and other events.

The Stone House features 18-inch thick, reinforced concrete walls, covered in limestone veneer to imitate the rugged exposed stone of Tamarit…an area in Spain.  The house also features a Cuban barrel tile roof, antique wrought iron window grilles, as well as bronze and copper clad doors, Romanesque arcades of hand carved columns, pointed Gothic and Moorish arches accenting large central windows themed after both castles in Spain.

This vaulted shell studded archway is a key decorative feature along the outside of one side of the Stone House.  We thought that it was quite creative!

Laurie loves porches and rocking chairs…hence this photo of some rockers on the porch of the Richmond House facing Biscayne Bay.

Plans for the Stone House did not include kitchen or dining areas. Consequently, the Richmond Cottage, or "Wood House" as the family often called it, remained the focus for food presentation and dining at the Estate. Back in the day, first and second floor walkways connected the Stone House and Richmond Cottage.

One final photo… This is a view from between the two houses looking out at the boat turning basin and Biscayne Bay.  It is truly a multi-million dollar view!

The Deering Estate Park at Cutler is located at 16701 Southwest 72 Avenue in Miami, Florida.  Phone: 305-235-1668.  It only cost $12.00 per person to tour the Estate...or to have a nice family picnic.  For more information, you can go to

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for some warm and sunny weather!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. The views of Biscayne Bay are fabulous. This is an interesting estate along with the grounds and mangroves. I can't imagine owning that many acres in Miami. However, I'm not surprised about the kitchen being in another house. The same is true of the Edison Home in Fort Myers. They also have covered walkways between the different segments of the houses. Fascinating tour David. Thanks for taking us along.

  2. Terrific post and great photos. I used to live in Florida and was living in Key Largo when hurricane Andrew hit. I'll never forget the complete destruction of the area you visited and how it has been rebuilt.

  3. What a stunning home! I am really enjoying your Miami getaway posts.


  4. Thanks for the excellent tour guys.

  5. what lovely post David, I love the pictures, and the food???? Im only kidding you!
    I love the picture of you and Dawn, so sweet!!! xxx

  6. Hi There, We are home from George's fabulous birthday trip. I will blog about it tomorrow. It was truly a trip we will be talking about for a VERY long time!!!!

    Wonderful post about Deering and his estate... I loved reading all of the history and background. Thanks for all of the info...

    Sad what hurricanes can do... BUT--people in Florida live with that possibility every single day... Still don't like it though.


  7. The pictures with your wife and daughter are so sweet. This is a dream place, gorgeous! That picture of the turtle is precious! A great virtual tour David.

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