The Deering Estate
Jennifer Quintero is a Senior 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.
In the town of Palmetto Bay, sitting on the Miami Rock Ridge, overlooking the Biscayne Bay, you can find the Deering Estate. As one of Miami-Dade County’s heritage parks, the Deering Estate acts as a museum, preserve, and historical site for the public. It connects people with the environment through the presence of its various ecosystems such as tropical hardwood hammock, pine rockland, mangroves, sloughs, salt marsh, and all the ecotones that exist between them.
While the park itself has only been around since 1983, the Deering Estate’s history extends back a good 10,000 years to when Paleo-Indians inhabited the region alongside long-extinct megafauna. Not much is known about these people and their culture, but the park acts as an archeological site for their remains and the cultures that followed. The later Tequesta resided in the area, leaving behind the Cutler Burial Mound and many of their fossils and artifacts, telling us of their nautical diets and way of life. When the Spanish began to colonize the region, we saw the decline in their numbers due as they were carted off to Cuba as slaves or killed through sickness or violence, leaving no one behind. Prior to the rapid industrialization that overtook S. Florida, credited to Henry Flagler’s railroad, the region was home to the original town of Cutler. Here is where one of the most notable structures of the Deering Estate, the Richmond Cottage, comes to fruition. Richmond and his family established their two-story home and the now last remaining structure of the town of Cutler, due to his work as a railroad surveyor to Flagler, who decides to take his railroad west and inland. As the people of Cutler moved west to follow the railroad and to the town of Perrine, Richmond sought to make extra income by converting his home into a hotel, where one could stay a night for $2 dollars with breakfast, lunch, and dinner included. In 1915, Charles Deering, industrialist, conservationist, and art collector bought 400+ acres of land encapsulating the land that was once Cutler and the Richmond Cottage, which became his winter residence. In 1921, he decides to make this residence permanent and called for the construction of the Stone House, a replica of his 14th century castle in Maricel, Spain. Charles lived in the home until he passed away in 1927, and left the property to his 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. He did so to preserve and acknowledge the region’s importance in South Florida’s history and ecology. In 1986 the park officially opened to the public as a museum and nature preserve under the management of Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces department. Since then, the Deering Estate has been pivotal in maintaining the ecology of the land intact, promoting art, and providing the public with a means to connect with South Florida heritage.
The mission of the Deering Estate is dual natured in order to best represent what Charles valued most: 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.
The Deering Estate, being a public park, is actually quite accessible. While the admission fee is higher than most parks at 15 dollars, it provides a complimentary tour of the houses and the natural areas. There are discounts available for children under 14, foundation members, and a two dollar discount for seniors and military personnel on Tuesdays. Memberships increase accessibility, with a student membership being the same price as a single admission and the other memberships paying themselves off within a few visits. The memberships 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
Ramon Casas was an artist from Spain that contributed much to Deering’s personal collection. The art is very indicative of the connection Charles Deering has to Spain, where he once lived. This is reflected in the architecture of the home itself, which utilizes Mediterranean Revival style.
The piece above is very fascinating as it was a restoration effort of pre 17th-century stained glass. The process is shown step by step in video, guiding guests through the effort that goes into preserving art. The piece is titled “Flight into Egypt” and its date of origin is unknown. It was kept in the Stone House during Deering’s lifetime and remained in the family until it was gifted to the park. Many similar artworks were destroyed throughout Europe during the Reformation and World War I, making its presence that much more important to preserving history.
The museum displays many of the fossils and artifacts discovered on the property. These are key in showing the history of the people and ecology of the land before Charles Deering and even the town of Cutler. The ones above were collected by the Cutler Fossil Site, which continues to show us more about the history of South Florida
The current exhibition is Spring Contemporary: Homemaking. This exhibition highlights concepts such as home, identity, site and community. The featured artists include: Maya Billig, Amalia Caputo, Don Lambert, Frozen Music, Daina Mattis, Sterling Rook, and Tom Scicluna. The Spring Contemporary utilizes paintings, sculpture, photography, performance and sound installations. It is a representation of Charles’ legacy as a patron of the arts.
The Deering Estate has a myriad of special programs ranging from art to environment to community outreach. Some of the most prominent programs include the annual Holiday Stroll, which highlights the historic holiday decor curated by Designer in Residence Alfredo Brito. Affair En Plein air is an art focused event that invites local artists to make a connection to the area through artistic expression. Approaching the spooky season, the park hosts Ghost Tours. A tribute to the rumors of the houses’ hauntings. In order to diversify the mediums of art showcased to the public, the park has been hsiting Short Film Festivals. 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, the main exhibit of this season. The Park also hosts multiple environmental education based programs, inviting students of all ages to visit the park and learn about its environment, history, and culture while learning about what it takes to be a scientist.
VISITOR: Danilo De la Torre, FIU student
Where are you from?
What brings you to the Deering Estate today?
I came here today to see the mangroves as I am planning a clean-up with an FIU environmental organization.
How did you hear about us?
I heard about the Deering Estate through multiple peers who have all highly recommended I come. Mostly people in the environmental and activism sector.
How often do you visit Deering or parks like it?
I visit Deering at least once every few months, and I tend to visit others in between.
What were your expectations? Were they met?
I did not expect how it would be at all! It was beautiful, I saw some manatees over on the bay, and the mangroves were spectacular to trek through once I went and did a clean-up there. My expectations of the Deering Estate were surpassed.
What would you like to do the next time you visit?
I would like to take another tour through the House and even go on a couple of trails to learn more about native species here in South Florida.
Do you think the Deering Estate offers good representation of South Florida’s culture and history?
I believe that the Deering Estate offers an okay representation of South Florida’s culture. Seeing how rich South Florida’s culture is, one place cannot simply represent everything there is to know about down here, and the Deering Estate is no exception. In terms of history, I learned a great deal about the history of South Florida through the house tour, and learned about the Native American tribe, the Tequesta, and how they lived down here as well.
PORTRAIT: Tamara McDonalds, Associate Registrar and Unofficial Historian
How did you find out about the job opportunity at the Deering Estate?
I found out about my job through the county jobs web page.
Did you ever see yourself doing what you do now?
I did not expect to do what I do today. I enjoy history and I’ve always been drawn to finding ways to communicate to a diverse audience using media.
Do you think working here has helped you advance towards your ultimate goals? If so how?
I have made a conscious effort take on new challenges much as possible with my work to build firm understanding of the curatorial, museum education and collections management aspects of museums.
What would you say is the best thing about working at the Deering Estate?
The best thing about working here being able to work with a variety of cultural programs and traditional museum offerings and research.
What would you say is the worst?
Worst is Hurricane prep time, it’s an exhausting time.
What would you change about the Deering Estate if you could?
I would include more guest lectures and workshops on history, museum careers, and art history for high school and college students.
What would you want visitors to know about the Deering Estate?
The site has a much longer history than people realize because it has been in use for thousands of years.
How does the Deering Estate fit into the larger narrative of South Florida’s history and culture?
I believe the Deering Estate can be a strong connection for locals to understand the broader South Florida history and culture in a unique almost storytelling perspective that makes it easier to put the puzzle together of the events and people that ultimately establish the communities, landmarks we know today.
“Miami Museums: Miami Historic Landmarks: The Deering Estate.” Deering Estate, 13 Nov. 2020, deeringestate.org/.