It’s crazy, informative, quirky, and fun, all rolled into one hectic experience.
I look forward every year to The Villagers’ Historic Hunt.
For more than 30 years The Villagers have held their Historic Hunt in various parts of Miami-Dade County. This year, they sent hunters to the far-south Redland area. For those who haven’t explored this part of greater Miami – it’s known for agriculture. The long straight roads are lined with farms and nurseries, many with exotic tropical plants. Here and there are wonderful berry farms and amazing fruit markets. Stopping for a strawberry shake is always at the top of our to-do list when we are anywhere nearby.
But the Hunt didn’t allow any time for malingering – we had just two hours to find 10 sites and answer the clues. Historical gems were still to be found where you would least expect them. We visited the 100+ year-old Redland Farm Life School, Art Deco-inspired Seminole Theater (The Villagers donated funds to restore the iconic marque), and the pink St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church with its gigantic black church bell sitting like a sentry on its front porch.
My favorite find was the Lilly Lawrence Bow Library, now the Homestead Redevelopment Center. To get to this limestone rock building, we drove through the entrance of Pioneer Village – a charming residential area of Homestead I didn’t know existed.
Most hunters were captivated by the beautiful Buddhist Temple (there really was a sign on one of the buildings that proclaimed “Welcome to Buddha Land”). The sprawling campus certainly has an important place in our modern-day history.
We finished in third place, but having so much fun with friends, sharing new experiences, and learning fascinating historical facts, we all felt like winners.
Miami is a young city, and many visitors and residents don’t realize the rich and interesting history found within the boundaries of Miami-Dade County. We’ve grown and we’ve grown fast.
Whether people have come to speculate, study the incredible natural surroundings, immigrate for a new chance, or hobnob with the rich and famous; Miami has, and does, have it all.
March and April are always Dade Heritage Days. Together with other like-minded historically-oriented organizations, the Dade Heritage Trust sponsors and highlights a wide variety of tours, guided walks, movies, special events and more. You could keep busy practically every day with the selection available, learning about the fascinating history and characters of the area.
Each year, we try to make it to at least one different area of the county to explore. This year we chose to attend a special event, the “Taste of Historic Downtown Miami.” A progressive trip through Miami’s architectural heritage, we visited eight locations while sampling specialty cocktails, tasty snacks and listening to a smorgasbord of musical styles. It was a typically beautiful April night, and a fun way to see how the buildings have been restored and re-purposed.
My favorite was La Epoca Department Store, an original Walgreen Drug Store from 1936 in the Streamline Moderne Style. Once promoted as the largest in the chain, with an 88 foot soda fountain, the inside stills retains the dramatic feel and look of an ocean liner. Today this site is part of the Downtown Miami National Register Historic District.
We rounded out our weekend activities by participating in The Villagers Historic Hunt. The Villagers is a volunteer group formed in 1966, dedicated to the restoration and preservation of historic sites in the area. This year was their 25th annual hunt and although we did not repeat any of our past winning efforts – we had a blast.
The theme was “Entertaining Miami” (which was also the theme of this year’s Dade Heritage Days), and the creative clues led us to 10 sites originally used as theaters, some well-known, some still in use as theaters. We traveled from the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach (now an H&M store), through Miami and Coral Gables before finishing at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Coconut Grove. Our team learned a few new things and had a lot of fun along the way. The event is open to the public, with funds raised going to historic preservation. Stay tuned next year for advance information and come join us!
To Learn More: For a downtown Historic walking tour, a map with key sites and information is available. Contact the Downtown Development Authority or www.dwntwnartdays.com