Miami Stories

A family grows in Allapattah — for nearly 90 years

 

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HistoryMiami invites you to share your story about how your family found its way to South Florida.

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About this project: Miami Stories is a collaboration by HistoryMiami, The Miami Herald, Arva Moore Parks, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and National Conference on Citizenship Chairman Michael Weiser.


As told to her daughter, Valen Mayland

It was January 1926 when we moved to Miami.

Daddy, Dr. George D. Conger, had graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School and brought mother, Annie Laurie Thomas Conger, and my sister and me to the promise of Miami.

I had just turned 4 and my sister, B. Anne Conger (later Cooper), was only 5 months old. My parents bought a 40-foot wide piece of property on Northwest 28th Street near 22nd Avenue. They paid $9,000 for it. They were completing an apartment building when in September the Great Hurricane of 1926 devastated Miami. The roof was blowing off as we sought shelter next door.

Later we heard that my aunt, Grace Thomas, who was only 16, had tied herself to a telephone pole to keep from being blown away. While living on 28th Street a neighbor, James Donn, had planted royal palm trees along the street. He started Exotic Gardens in 1914. By the time we moved from there, I was 9 and was the same height as the trees. Today those trees seem to reach to the sky. Christmas 1929 we cut down our Christmas tree from a field on 36th Street, between 16th and 17th Avenues.

By this time Daddy bought another piece of property on 28th Street with 50-foot frontage for only $1,000.

I attended Comstock Elementary until we moved to 35th Street near 17th Avenue. I went to Andrew Jackson Elementary, then next door to Andrew Jackson Junior High. By the time I was ready for high school, they expanded the junior high to a high school. I was in the first graduating class of Andrew Jackson Senior High in 1939.

By that time there were seven Conger children, all of whom graduated from Jackson High School. The family included Anne Conger (Cooper), G. Drew Conger, Mary Conger (Johnson), Laurie Betty Conger (Cauthen), Phyllis Conger (Hotham), and Merle Conger.

Allapattah was a great place to grow up. The business area along 36th Street had some thriving shops — A dry goods store which later became Jackson/Bryon’s, the Allapattah 5 and 10 with its creaky wooden floors, Live & Let Live Drugs, the Style Shop, Coral Cotton, Smith Drugs, Firestone and Bill Ross’s Frosty Freeze. Later there was a Royal Castle and a Food Fair. Church was an important part of the neighborhood; the Congers were active members of the Allapattah Baptist Church community

Our childhood memories included movies at the Regent and Dade theaters and vaudeville shows at the downtown Olympia and Miami theaters. As a senior in high school, I went horse backing riding in Greynolds Park for PE, near a pineapple farm.

The best memories were driving with daddy on his house calls. We drove to the far reaches of Dade County. At the end of 17th Avenue at 79th Street there was a huge tree in the middle of the street, north of that was a dirt road. He drove as far west as the White Belt Dairy or to Hialeah where there was a hotel, started by pioneer John DuPuis, near the Hialeah waterworks station at Red Road. Baby deliveries were done at home, it cost less money and people often paid the doctor for services with services or goods.

Miami had so much to offer. There were Conger family picnics at Greynolds Park and Haulover Beach. As a young adult, my sisters and I would take the bus downtown to go dancing at the Frolics on Biscayne Boulevard at about 14th Street, where we saw Harry James perform for 50 cents.

About that time my baby brother, the eighth Conger child, Thomas Conger was born. While I was attending University of Miami in the cardboard buildings, we went to USO dances at The Pier on South Beach, the best place ever. It was here in 1942 that I met the love of my life, Val Dziewguc Dayton.

He was sent to northern Africa because of the war but we wrote letters. I graduated from UM and then spent months trying to find a medical school as there were none in Florida at that time. Schools were busy educating the men for the war. I attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) medical school for its two-year program and completed my medical degree at University of Tennessee. Val completed his pharmacy degree from Ole Miss, returned to Allapattah to run Conger Clinic Pharmacy in the office building my father had built on 35th Street, east of 17th Avenue.

It was across the street from the beautiful home he had built for his family in the mid 1930s. It was two stories with beautiful oak floors, a wraparound porch with a terra cotta-tiled floor and an imported Cuban barrel tiled roof. By 1952 I completed my internship at Mount Sinai on Miami Beach and was housed in the old Nautilus Hotel. I joined Daddy’s practice in the 35th Street building as Dr. Helen Conger Dayton.

By then we also had our four wonderful children and we moved into a new house on 30th Street and 21st Avenue. I practiced medicine and delivered babies at Edgewater Hospital on Northeast 49th Street just off Second Avenue, and was one of the first doctors at North Shore Hospital. Daddy and I practiced medicine in Allapattah until the 1980s.

By then there were 21 Conger grandchildren. Today there are 24 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great-grandchildren. All together, there are 40 Conger family members who call Florida their wonderful home.

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