The Deering Estate
Jennifer Quintero is a Junior at Florida International University currently majoring in Sustainability and the Environment and Public Administration with the goal of working in the public sector as an environmental educator and policy maker. She works part-time for the Deering Estate as an environmental educator. During the semester she also interns as a naturalist on campus giving tours and leading volunteers on the university’s nature preserve all in the hopes of bridging the gap between people and nature. When not working she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and learning all there is to know about the outdoors.
The Deering Estate is located in South Florida in the town of Old Cutler. It sits on the coast of the Biscayne Bay. As a public park, museum, and nature preserve, it has a role in serving its immediate community in providing recreation as well as connecting visitors to the art and nature within it. It is home to a myriad of ecosystems including: pine rockland, tropical hardwood hammock, mangroves, sloughs, salt marsh, and all the ecotones that exist between them.
The Deering Estates’ history extends far beyond its designation as a park and museum. The area the estate was founded on was home to Paleo-Indiginous life 10,000+ years ago and the later Tequesta Native Americans. The region was subsequently conquered by the Spanish, who either annihilated or took the Tequesta to Cuba to be used as slaves. By the 1790’s the area began to see its first squatter settlers in what became known as the town of Cutler. Dr. Samuel Richmond was contracted by Flagler in the late 1880’s to survey the area as a geologist for the East Railroad project. By 1895, he had built himself and his family a home (the later Richmond Cottage). As the railroad project was receiving much pushback from the townspeople, Richmond sought to find another source of income and so he turned his home into The Richmond Hotel. He renovated the home and added an extra floor and about ten extra rooms; it acted as a bed and breakfast where people could stay for $2 dollars a night. It was the first hotel between Coconut Grove and Key West, making it very popular; it also had the latest technology in the form of a phone. Meanwhile, the town of Cutler moved west with the railroad becoming the town of Perrine. In 1915, Chicago industrialist, environmentalist, art collector Charles Deering bought the 300+ acres of townsworth property, including the Richmond Cottage. He did this in order to build a winter home and enjoy the region’s natural splendor. The Richmond Cottage would act as his winter residence from 1916-1920. In 1921, he decided to make his permanent home right next to the Richmond Cottage, a replica of his 14th century castle in Marycel, Spain. It was built in a single year, and has hints of mediterranian revival from the red terracotta roof tiles to the greek mediterannian pillars that were custom made to fit the history of wildlife and human existence that exist in the area. He also inlaid a tropical mosaic on the south veranda which has various species of shells, corals, and sea fans among other things collected from the Biscayne Bay. His house windows and doors on the outside were made of brass to stop stop salt spray induced rust and as a status symbol. The windows had iron grill work fastened on the exterior from his original home in Marycel. Within the home, the doors had copper plating to suppress potential fires, in order to protect his extensive art collection. In 1927, Charles Deering passed as an elderly man at the age of 75 years old. The property stayed in the possession of Deering’s youngest daughter, Barbara Deering, until her passing in 1982 at the age of 94. The property was sold to the State of Florida in 1983 for 22.5 million dollars by James Deering Danielson, son of Barbara Deering, grandchild of Charles Deering. This was not before he put it up for auction and almost sold it to the first bidder, a car dealership. Having learned the history and importance of the area, he sold it for significantly less than he would’ve at auction, wanting to keep his family’s legacy alive and South Florida’s history acknowledged. In 1985, the property got the rights to be sanctioned as a nationally registered historic site. In 1986, the park finally opened as a Miami Dade County entity and James Deering Daniels sought out the rumored Deering treasures that remain within one of the two houses. In the meantime, nothing was found and in 1991 James Deering Danielson passes away. The next year, Hurricane Andrew decimates half of the Richmond Cottage. The Stone House also suffered some damage in the east pillars of the veranda. There, however, was significant flooding in the basement of the Stone House. With a cleanup crew hired to dredge out the water and clear out the rotten wood from the basement, they noticed that the rotten wood against the wall unit was not a part of the wall but actually a door! This door had a huge latch which when pushed aside revealed a bank-like vault door. Once that was discovered, the crew switched from a cleaning crew to locksmiths as they tried to open it and see if they discovered the hidden treasure mentioned by James. After hiring an international safecracker by the name of Rocky McGiboney, they found that within the vault was a flooded mess of broken bottles of booze of all kinds. Charles Deering, having lived through prohibition, felt the need to keep this locked away for fear of indictment. Since then, the Deering Estate has acted as a museum, nature preserve, and park for the public continuing to tell the history of South Florida, its inhabitants, and its environment.
The mission of the Deering Estate has two parts in order to uphold the two things that Charles Deering most valued: the arts and the environment. To put it simply the mission of the Deering Estate is to preserve the 1920s era Miami estate of Charles Deering, preserve and protect the natural ecosystems, and promote art and culture to the public.
I believe the Deering Estate is quite accessible. Though the admission fee is 15 dollars, this comes with a tour of the houses and the natural areas. There are also discounts for children under 14, foundation members, and a two dollar discount for seniors and military personnel on Tuesdays. By becoming a member, it becomes more accessible with a student membership being the same price as a single admission and the other memberships paying themselves off with multiple visits. The memberships also include free admission as well as free entry to special events.
The Deering Estate collection is divided into two categories, the first being pieces from Deering’s original art collection and the second being objects. In the Deering family collection you can find paintings by the artist Ramon Casas and items such as Mrs. Deering’s wicker furniture. In the objects collection you can see artifacts from the Tequesta and Seminoles as well as china from the 1880’s as well as early 1900’s
The piece above was created by artist Ramon Casas, an artist from Spain that contributed much to Deering’s personal collection. The art reflects the connection Charles Deering has to Spain, where he once lived. The painting itself is oil on canvas. It was never properly completed, as you can note the figures in the paintings are missing their hand and feet. It was only displayed briefly to the public before becoming part of Charles Deering’s collection.
The pieces above are a set of natural wood carved Spanish Colonial Biltos figures, which were painted to resemble marble statues. The artist is unknown, but the Spanish origin is clear. It came directly from Charles’ home in Marycel, Spain. You can see the Latin names for the Apostles clearly on the base of the figures.
The piece above is considered part of the objects collection, though is technically not an artwork itself. It belonged to Charles’ friend and botanical explorer John Kunkel Small. He used it to create botanical tags for the local flora. Deering, being an environmental steward, hired him to learn about the local ecosystems. His work led to an increase knowledge on South Florida plants that assisted in the recovery of many species.
Carrying on Deering’s legacy of art patronage, the Deering Estate is very big on encouraging different art forms through its establishment of its Artist in Residence Program. The Estate’s temporary collection changes four times a year, representing the art of those Artists in Residence. Recently the park has also had pop-up exhibitions, typically of the work of past Artists in Residence.
The current exhibition STILL NOW, from the artist Rosemarie Chiarlone. STILL NOW tackles the issue of urgent environmental issues, a nod to the work of Charles Deering conservation efforts in the area. The exhibition includes large works created from paper, large paper flags with the message “I require assistance”, and photographs displayed within light boxes. Each of these pieces makes the statement that these issues need to be tackled. Its STILL NOW, these issues aren’t going to just go away.
The Deering Estate hosts a myriad of events year round to showcase the art and environment that the park has to offer. During the holiday season, the museum houses undergo a wide change by the Designer in Residence Alfredo Brito, this season’s keynote event is the Holiday Stroll. The Deering Estate also hosts an Affair En Plein air, where artists are invited to the park in order to support local artists to make a connection to the area. In October, the park hosts Ghost Tours. A tribute to the rumors of the houses’ hauntings. Recently, the park has seen more Short Film Festivals, showing diversity in the mediums of art it showcases to the public. In reference to the Artists in Residence, the park hosts an exhibition night for the opening of each of the four yearly exhibitions. In the spring the park has its Spring Contemporary, an outdoor art event where sculptures are placed around the park for visitors to enjoy, and sometimes even interact with. The Park also hosts Discover Deering on a bi-monthly basis, which invites students to visit the park and learn about its environment, history, and culture while learning about what it takes to be a scientist.
VISITOR: Lorena Cuenca, FIU student
Where are you from?
I was born in Cuba but have been living in Miami for about 16 years.
What brings you to the Deering Estate today?
Today I am here with my ASC class and professor to discuss the historical significance of the estate and those who were here before us. We are also going on a hike to explore the grounds a bit more.
How did you hear about us?
I heard about Deering through Professor Bailly. He teaches this seminar and decided to bring us out here for our first class trip and one of our final classes as well.
How often do you visit Deering or parks like it?
I have been to Deering twice now but I usually like to visit a park a couple times a month just to stay in touch with nature when I can.
What were your expectations? Were they met?
I was expecting to enjoy myself today and my expectations were certainly met. I had a lot of fun on the hike while learning about the estate’s history.
What would you like to do the next time you visit?
I would honestly love to learn more about the different species of plants and animals that make Deering what it is and how those who work here have been working toward protecting and preserving them.
Do you think the Deering Estate offers good representation of South Florida’s culture and history?
Definitely. I think Deering Estate has such a rich history, one that I would have never learned about had I not visited. I think all Miami residents should visit at least once in their life.
PORTRAIT: Jared Guerra, Deering Estate Interpretive Program Leader
How did you find out about the job opportunity at the Deering Estate?
How I came to find out about the opportunity to work at Deering was really a chance of luck as I was already working in a similar department in Miami Dade College’s Environmental Center as a naturalist and received a call from a friend who asked if I was interested in working for MDPROS. I felt it was a much better opportunity to rise in my field and educational experience of environmental and scientific education.
Did you ever see yourself doing what you do now?
I honestly always wanted to work for county parks and have volunteered in many different parks over a span of 9 years meanwhile working for different trades and scientific disciplines; so in a sense I did kind of see myself going up this route.
Do you think working here has helped you advance towards your ultimate goals? If so how?
Working at Deering Estate has given me many other acquired skills that I needed to further develop in areas where I was not gaining the sufficient experience, knowledge, or time for. In Deering Estate I have been able to implement more ideas and open up and relate more about my vision of the work I wish to do. It is an amazing experience working with a team of like minded and like heart intellect sharing a grand passion.
What would you say is the best thing about working at the Deering Estate?
There isn’t really a best part about working at Deering because when you think you have top off a high point something new and exciting either discovered or realized and it’s back to feeling like when you first arrived.
What would you say is the worst?
MOSQUITOES! Even then mosquitoes are actually pretty neat because they also ironically contribute to the moving wildlife whether its bats, birds, and other bugs eating them or the fact that much of the other wildlife is trying to scurry along to avoid them.
What would you change about the Deering Estate if you could?
Changes are tough to pinpoint in a park of this fashion because of the many different departments that exist in them. I see things that others may not because of the changes to their vision its may carry. For instance, many of the weddings and birthday parties I have seen that have not been the most well kept from environmental impacts and even when expressing the recommended rules and laws of the park are still broken and go unpunished. The fishing of many of our areas just outside of endangered protected wildlife habitats are constantly being poached out for more than just legal fish. We would need to enforce and become just that much more strict but I realize that it comes with the consequence of becoming a less desirable park to visit thus the war continues to keep this natural gem of wildlife habitats alive and well as we leave the doors open to our patrons.
What would you want visitors to know about Deering?
Whether it is Charles Deering’s or the park’s initiative, I would like everyone to see that no matter what culture or idea, our languages can all be appreciated under a single roof.
How does the Deering Estate fit into the larger narrative of South Florida’s history and culture?
Deering Estate’s overall history of human existence is testament to the larger narrative of evolutionary adaptation. In the almost 11,000 years that passed we have found humans to nomadically transcend with the paleo-indigenous, migrate in and out with Tequesta, and eventually squatter and settle in the era of the Town of Cutler, to finally become the privately enshrined estate of Charles Deering.
The Deering Estate is the hidden gem of South Florida. This works both for and against its favor. While the park provides the public with accessible programming and events, not many people know about it. Even then, the Deering Estate tells the story of South Florida in more than one way. Through its museums you can learn about the history of the Deering legacy, but on a tour you can learn so much about the Native Americans and the natural history and the greater narrative of the area. On a natural areas tour you can walk through all of its ecosystems and see South Florida’s natural landscapes how you would’ve seen them when the Spanish first arrives. The Deering Estate is somewhere that those who live in South Florida can connect back with their land and their ancestors. Its definitely a place I would recommend any resident and visitor alike.
“Miami Museums: Miami Historic Landmarks: The Deering Estate.” Deering Estate, 13 Nov. 2020, deeringestate.org/.