The Rev. Solomon Merrick was a congregational minister when he and his family, which included son George, spent all their money to buy a homestead — sight unseen — in South Florida.
What the Merricks found in 1899 was 168-acres of scrubby land upon which sat a wooden shack and some guava plants. Clearly, there were no colorful pamphlets from a Realtor to peruse beforehand, but the price was fair — $1,100 — and the harsh winters in Duxbury, Mass., had already claimed the life of the Merrick’s infant daughter. The new digs would have to do.
“I imagine they were probably disappointed with what they found,” surmises Marlin Ebbert, a board member with the Merrick House Governing Board. “They probably came expecting farmland and found just guavas growing.”
The Merrick group runs “Sundays on the Porch With George,” a series of seven events at the Merrick House in Coral Gables. The latest, set for Jan. 12, “Solomon’s Fruit Festival,” puts the focus on the family patriarch who turned the land into a lucrative venture.
The senior Merrick planted grapefruit and when the grapefruit took hold, the family’s fortune began to swell. “Once those grapefruit trees started to produce, they became one of the major suppliers to the northeast,” said Ebbert, who ran for a seat on the Coral Gables Commission last year.
George Merrick, then 13, hustled over to what was then downtown Miami via horse and buggy to sell the family fruit. The younger Merrick would soon develop Coral Gables. The Merrick House on Coral Way remains a city landmark. The fields are now the nine-hole Granada Golf Course.
“The whole purpose of these Sunday events is to raise awareness of the home and of the family,” Ebbert said. “We highlighted different members of the family and what their interests were, so that’s why this one’s Solomon’s Fruit Festival.”
At the free event, there will be a cooking demonstration and taste test by chef and author Allen Susser ( The Great Citrus Book; Ten Speed Press; $16), fruit-tree sales, fruit decorating demonstrations, fruit-tree care and grafting seminar with Larry Schokman and Steve Pearson, sweet and savory food trucks, music and kids’ activities.