Paul George, historian and professor at Miami Dade College, has been giving tours of Coconut Grove since 1988. Now, in honor of its 140th anniversary, he will be conducting a walking tour of the neighborhood this Sunday.
“Coconut Grove is really one of the great places to tour,” George said. “It has the parks, the bay, the bike routes and historic buildings. It’s everything you would want regarding history and architecture.”
The Coconut Grove Business Improvement District in collaboration with HistoryMiami, museum that highlights Miami’s history, is offering the public a free historic walking and bike tour, by reservation only, to honor Miami’s oldest community, established in 1873.
Among the many historical locations being covered, the Barnacle, which will be part of both the walking and bike tour, was built in 1891 and is Miami’s oldest house still in its original location.
“It’s still standing and in great condition,” George said. “It’s the most historical part of the city simply because it’s still there and has lasted for more than 120 years.”
Other sites in George’s walking tour include the old Pan American Airways seaplane terminal and Millionaire’s Row, where many wealthy locals reside.
George has been a professor for 23 years and has a passion for teaching history.
“My favorite thing about teaching it or doing these tours is the look certain people give when learning about a piece of history they had no idea about,” he said. “The excitement on their faces is what makes it very enjoyable.”
While George will be focusing on the history from an architectural context, Frank Schena, eco-historian, will focus more on the environmental aspects of the city’s history in the bike version of the tour on Sunday, Oct. 20.
Frank Schena, originally from Massachusetts, has been working with HistoryMiami for 12 years and will teach guests about the natural history of the city.
“What’s unique about Coconut Grove is that it seems that there was more of an environmental consciousness there than elsewhere in South Florida,” Schena said. “There are more preserved areas because of early residents who really cared.”
Part of Schena’s bike tour will include riding through Alice Wainwright Park, North Grove and South Grove.
Schena will also talk about how early residents in Coconut Grove made a living.
“Because of the environment here, which is different than most other places in the country, people realized that with the different types of soil and climatic conditions, they could grow crops for profit,” he said. “Once people realized what they were really doing here, they started to make money and that created more settlement here.”
Schena credits his desire to conduct these tours to the combination of the natural setting and urban life in the community.
“The idea that you’re in a very large city but can still see unusual plant life, coral reef fish and other animals is unique,” he said. “The natural environment is often interwoven with the urban environment.”