Miami Stories

Growing up in the Redlands

Growing up in South Dade in the early years was a great time. I was born in 1923 at home in Redland. My father came to Florida from West Virginia in about 1917. My mother came from Massachusetts.

My father tried tomato farming for about a year, and failed. He then began growing avocadoes. We had about 25 acres where our home was built. My brother John was born in 1920. When I was 5 years old I was sent to Redland Elementary School. They put me in the first grade class, and when I transferred to the Homestead Elementary the next year, I was put in second grade.

We took the bus from Redland to Homestead. We walked about a fourth of a mile to catch the bus. I had great teachers; including Neva King Cooper, who was my sixth grade teacher.

We used to swim in the many rock pits around Homestead. There was a particularly good one west of Avocado Drive. They kept digging out more coral rock for construction, making the pit larger. The town also had a pool east of of Eighth Street.

On weekends, we would go to the beaches around Miami. A favorite was Tahiti Beach. I think it was near Coconut Grove. There was an admission charge, but it was a great place for us little ones. We also swam at the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables.

My aunt lived in the Gables. When I was about 5, we spent a few weeks on Miami Beach in an apartment near Eighth Street. It was a short walk to the beach. When I was six, I was sent to summer camp in Alabama with my brother. The camp was owned by L.B. Sommers, who was the principal of Homestead High School. Later he founded the Miami Country Day School with C.W. “Doc” Abele.

In 1938, we rented a house on 88th Street in Surfside. We were a few blocks from the Surf Club. It is hard to believe that in those days so many places, including large hotels in Miami Beach, were restricted based on religion or race. Key Biscayne and Crandon Park came a little later. Virginia Beach was created for the non-white residents.

We had an annual festival in the Spring in Homestead. The fairgrounds were west of Route 1 off of Campbell Street. A lot of the farmers and growers had exhibits, as well as the commercial establishments. There were sideshows, rides and other amusements for the younger crowd.

My father always had a booth to show his nursery and grove planting business. (He, like many others, became a real estate dealer during the boom years of the 1920s. He had an office in Miami at 28 S.E. First Ave. It, of course, closed at the end of 1929). This festival in Homestead lasted for many years, and I think it was replaced by the festival at Fruit & Spice Park.

When I entered seventh grade, I moved across the street to Homestead High School. When I became a freshman I got a job at Brown’s Drug Store. I worked there after school and weekends until I graduated from Homestead High in 1940. My brother and I took music lessons for several years. I played the clarinet, while he played the trumpet.

I was in the high school band. We always marched in the Orange Bowl Parade and played at the Orange Bowl games. This was quite an honor for us kids from Homestead.

In 1935, one of the worst hurricanes struck the Florida Keys. There were many fatalities and the railroad to Key West was destroyed. The roadbed and the bridges were converted into a highway that was opened in 1940.

My Aunt & Uncle and my Mother and I drove to Key West and spent the night at the La Concha Hotel. We also went to the Aquarium, and that was about all there was to see. It was a very small town in those days. It was quite a trip.

I spent one year at college and returned to Homestead. I worked at the Dixie Drug until 1942. A friend and I went to a camp to study sheet metal work, so that we could get a job in the aircraft industry. We got a job with an aircraft company in Miami. I lived in a boarding house on Southwest First Street.

I enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942, and spent three years in the service. I was in North Africa and Italy. I was discharged in 1945 in Boise, Idaho, and went to Connecticut to visit an old classmate.

I stayed in Connecticut after I found employment with a department store. I retired in 1980. We still go to Florida in the winter. We rent a condo in Venice. I still visit Homestead now and then. I plan to go down there again soon.

The Homestead High School still has a reunion every year. The last class was in 1950, so it probably will end soon. I miss my old classmates, and each year there are fewer. It is true that everything changes with time, but that is the same all over this country.