Miami Gardens / Opa-locka

Miami Gardens

Miami Gardens farmhouse played a pivotal role in Miami’s early dairy industry

 

ldixon@MiamiHerald.com

The two-story house is quaint, with its blue-paneled garage door and matching awnings. A circular garden sits in the front yard, with a red rose perched against a black wood trellis with blue risers.

It’s easy to drive by and almost miss. Yet the home in Miami Gardens has a history worth noting — its Italian immigrant owner played a pivotal role in starting Miami’s dairy industry in the early 20th century.

The Enrico Dairy Farmhouse, in the Norland neighborhood at 18450 NW 12th Ave., was built in 1926, and is the city’s oldest building. It once housed the Enrico family, who immigrated to the United States from Scarmagno, Italy, a city near Turin, by the French border.

Savino “Sam” Enrico eventually moved to what is now Miami Gardens in 1911 after spending about a decade in Michigan working as a coal miner. He and his family established their dairy farm, and Enrico delivered milk door-to-door to residents before the family business expanded.

Cows apparently lived on the first floor of the home while the family lived upstairs, ever close to their prized herd. As time went on, the farm expanded into the surrounding land, and the house underwent several renovations.

Enrico eventually became one of the founders and organizers of the Miami Home Milk Producers Association. He passed the business onto his son, James, and saw it expand to Okeechobee and Palm Beach counties. By 1950, Enrico had 500 cows producing milk for his association, according to an advertisement in the The Miami News.

In 1975, the DePaoli family — cousins to the Enricos — donated the property to the Archdiocese of Miami. In 2009, Miami Gardens purchased the land and, in 2012, Miami-Dade County designated the house historic.

The house remains in decent shape, but has a leaky roof and a few structural concerns. The building also has to be modified to be made handicapped-accessible, said Brandan DeCaro, the city’s capital projects director.

“There’s a couple of joints that are broken and there’s a couple of things we have to fix right away to ensure that the house doesn’t deteriorate,” said DeCaro.

The city plans to use the house as a mini-museum to showcase pictures, documents and original advertising from the city’s push for incorporation in 2003. It also plans to display historical documents from before then, including a history of North Miami-Dade. There are also plans for events on occasions such as Black History Month and for guided tours around the home and the property.

Because of the historic designation, said DeCaro, the city’s options are limited on changing the house’s façade. But city leaders want to take advantage of the surrounding land and perhaps create a botanical garden. The house sits on about 15 acres.

Funding is also an issue, according to DeCaro, because the improvements and renovations will cost about $150,000. The city has applied for grants from the Florida Division of Historical Resources, but it has been unsuccessful so far. DeCaro said the city’s proposed general-obligation bond, which will be put to a vote in April, would designate funds for the project.

The house has survived much, including the hurricane of September 1926 that turned much of Miami Beach to rubble, although it did lose its roof to the storm. The unique building still has multiple cables that were meant to tie down the roof as protection against future hurricanes.

“We’re lucky to have obtained that property — it has given us the opportunity to preserve the building,” said Jay Marder, a former Miami Gardens planning and zoning director.

Ryan Hershberger, one of the last living links to the Enrico family in South Florida, grew up in the house after the farm was gone. He said his grandmother, Dominica DePaoli, always talked about the house’s rich history and unique location.

“In the the early days, my grandmother would tell me about the rattlesnakes that were on the property. They had rattlesnake skin they would show off to guests,” said Hershberger, who lives in Hollywood.

The land behind the house, still filled with trees, was so expansive that it once stretched east to U.S. 441 and the Golden Glades Interchange and covered nearly 1,000 acres, according to the city.

“That land was unincorporated; there was nothing out there — just barren land. You have to think of the area before [Interstate 95] or the Turnpike and all the residences,” said Hershberger.

Miami Gardens hopes to include Hershberger in a larger historic education series that would feature displays from the University of Miami’s Collaborative Archive from the African Diaspora and presentations from city founders and former council members.

“The family took a risk to settle there and to start a life there coming from Italy as immigrants, and they were successful in that location and that legacy is left in Miami Gardens,” said Hershberger.

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