City of South Miami
History of South Miami
South Miami's Beginning
Although Native Americans had doubtlessly roamed the area for centuries, the recorded history of South Miami began at the turn of the century when the rich farmlands of South Dade lured pioneers down through Little Hunting Ground (later known as Coconut Grove) to Big Hunting Ground (now known as Cutler).
In 1897, W.A. Larkins, an early pioneer and founder of South Miami, brought his family into the lush wilderness at the southernmost end of the wagon trail that is now the Ingraham Highway. He started a small dairy and a year later established a post office near what is now Cocoplum Circle.
Upon the completion of the Miami to Homestead extension of the Florida East Coast Railroad in 1906, Larkins bought the property west of what is now Red Road and south of Sunset Drive and established the first grocery and general supply store located in the area. Additionally, the US Government moved the post office to that location, and the surrounding community was named Larkins in honor of its Postmaster.
Growing Population & City Development
By 1917, the population of Larkins had swelled to 350. As with much of Florida, the real estate boom of the Roaring 1920s had a large impact on Larkins. Land values reached an all-time high when a 10-acre tract sold for $100,000. The epicenter of the boom was near the original Riviera Theater, which is more commonly referred to today as the Shops at Sunset Place.
Beginning in the mid-1920s, many citizens of Larkins expressed a desire to incorporate their burgeoning community. In March of 1926, a group of qualified voters met and voted affirmatively to annex an area of approximately 6 square miles. This section of land was bounded on the east by Red Road, on the south by S.W. 104th St. and Kendall Drive, on the west by Ludlam and the Palmetto, and on the north by Bird Road.
The First Town Council
The citizens of the newly incorporated area named the new municipality the Town of South Miami and elected Judge W.A. Foster as mayor and J.L. Paxson, J.W. Barrs, John Myers, W.G. Stang, R.L. Martin, J.B. Janes and Harold Dorn as Aldermen.
The town council immediately went to work. Within weeks, they established a town seal; formulated a town code; rented a building to be the town hall; purchased a fire truck; and appointed a health officer, engineer, and an attorney.
The great hurricane of September of 1926 dealt a punishing blow to the Town of South Miami. Only the courage and determination of its citizens permitted the town to survive the disaster. Although the town requested federal assistance, asking Congress to "relieve the people of their income tax for the current year", none was received. To make matters worse, the Florida East Coast Railway station burned down, leaving the town without a station for many years.
Many citizens became dissatisfied with the municipality's status as a town, feeling that the "town" was being ignored by the State and Federal Governments, and began calling for a change to a "city". Therefore, the Town of South Miami prepared a new charter and presented it to the Florida Legislature during its 1927 Session. The Florida Legislature approved the charter, and on June 24, 1927, the Town of South Miami ceased to exist and the City of South Miami was born.
The early 1930s signaled the beginning of what was probably the most turbulent and uncertain period in South Miami's history. Financial problems and local dissension generated a temporarily successful movement to abolish the city in 1931. In fact, all city functions were suspended for approximately six months until the courts intervened and ordered the city to resume operations. On May 17, 1932, Judge Worth A. Trammell ordered the mayor and council to resume city business because no one had made any provisions to retire the city's debts! Interestingly, one of the largest debts was to the LeFrance Fire Engine Company, from which the city had purchased a fire engine six years earlier. South Miami may be the only city in the nation to be saved by a fire engine with no flames in sight!
Resizing South Miami
In 1933, in an effort to lessen municipal responsibilities and to appease many concerned citizens, South Miami's total area was reduced from its original six square miles to just over three square miles. Later, in 1937, the city's size was reduced again, as many dissatisfied northern residents sued out of the city. These actions created most of the irregular boundaries that still characterize South Miami today.
During World War II, South Miami's development temporarily slowed, but the post-war period brought exponential growth. The tremendous impacts of growth soon caused the city to realize that its original charter was inadequate. Consequently, a committee was appointed to study the existing charter's shortcomings and recommend improvements. The committee recommended an entirely new charter providing for a city manager-commission form of government. The new charter and form of government were instituted on July 31, 1953, upon the approval of a citizen referendum.
Since the 1950s the city and its charter have experienced several changes, but have largely remained true to the pioneers' vision. Today, much like the post-war period, the City of South Miami is experiencing tremendous growth and redevelopment, as people have recognized the unique "small-town" atmosphere of the "City of Pleasant Living". The city stands poised to lead by example in the next millennium.