Surrounded by sky rises full of condos and cars busily whizzing past, a humble, white cottage sits quietly along Coral Way and Brickell Bay Drive.
It’s the former medical and surgical offices of Miami-Dade County’s first doctor, Dr. James M. Jackson. Now, it’s home to the Dade Heritage Trust, an organization that works to preserve Miami’s rich historical buildings and neighborhoods.
“It’s right here in the middle of Brickell, so we can teach people who visit about Miami’s history and the importance of preservation,” according to Christine Rupp, the executive director of the Dade Heritage Trust.
Exploring the Dade Heritage Trust
“Miami is a very transient city and preservation is tough here,” Rupp admits. “Everyone’s from somewhere else and they don’t carry ownership, history, and heritage. The more we can do to engage the public and residents in Miami about the importance of saving historic places, the better we serve the public.”
This is largely the reason why Dolly MacIntyre founded the Dade Heritage Trust in 1972. “Preservation gives us roots. Growing up, I was a nomad. My dad was in the Navy so we moved all the time. After I came here to study in college, I got sand in my shoes and never left.”
As she grew older, she joined The Villagers, a group of women who were working to preserve the Douglas Entrance in Coral Gables. The 1924 Douglas Entrance was threatened with demolition, about to be replaced with a supermarket, according to MacIntyre.
In fighting for its preservation, MacIntyre realized she “was putting down roots. When a place that has been part of your life disappears, you feel disoriented. When you used to turn left at the Douglas Entrance, and now it’s gone, in some ways you don’t know where to turn anymore. This is a larger metaphor for showing that when we preserve history gives us roots, and direction, helping us understand where we came from, and sometimes where we’re going.”
On September 22, 1972, the Douglas Entrance was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and since then, the trust has worked hard to preserve historical sites all across Miami. They’ve held campaigns to preserve the 1825 Cape Florida Lighthouse in Key Biscayne, Dade’s oldest house, the 1859 Wagner Homestead in Downtown, as well as the 10 A.D. Miami Circle in Brickell. The Trust has also worked to preserve the 1917 Dice House in Kendall, and two buildings in Little Havana— the 1921 Hubbard/Alvarez Bungalow and the 1905 original Miami High School.
For their latest project, they’re working to save the Miami Marine Stadium. “We’re with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to develop and restore the stadium into something meaningful for the community,” Rupp said. “We hope to develop more educational programs, like walking and bike tours, to engage the community to teach them about this rich heritage.”
And the tour starts with the Dade Heritage Trust’s office itself. “People walk by and they are intrigued by the office and they stop in and ask about the building,” Rupp said.
Floating a house down the river
In 1905, Dr. Jackson built two white buildings right next to each other — one was his medical office and the other was his home. Both buildings were originally on Flagler Ave. in Downtown Miami, where the historic Alfred I. DuPont building currently stands.
In 1916, Dr. Jackson and his wife decided that Downtown Miami was getting too busy, so they put the office and house up for sale. “The person who wanted to purchase it wanted to tear it down, so Jackson made a deal with another gentleman. His name was H.T. Whaler, and he was the city’s first jeweler,” Rupp said.
In 1916, Whaler and Jackson wheeled both the house and the office building down Flagler Street, put them on barges, and floated them across the river to the current location today. While the house was later demolished, in 1975, the medical offices were added U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It was later acquired by the City of Miami, and in 1978, it became the offices of the Dade Heritage Trust.
From medicine to history
The front lawn is landscaped with native plants from the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Plants line the walkway up to the office, while broad porches surround the building. Cozy rocking chairs flank the front door.
The office is divided straight down the middle. “In a very segregated Miami, Dr. Jackson saw both black and white patients. He was pretty liberal and believed that everyone should be treated fairly when it came to medical practices,” Rupp said. “There were two waiting rooms, there was a waiting room for blacks and a waiting room for whites, and that’s the reason for the division down the middle.”
The former “Blacks only” waiting room now serves as an information center, furnished with a couch owned by Jackson himself. On the right, the former “Whites only” waiting room features a large book with several original maps of Miami in the early 1900s.
“You’ll see that as the boundaries of the city changed … they would just take a piece of paper and paste over the old map,” Rupp observed.
At the center of the office, an old operating table, a bookshelf full of dated medical text books, a microscope, and a medical bag fill the room, paying homage to the building’s history. Old medicine bottles line the walls. Old stethoscopes and surgical instruments from the 1900s rest in a showcase in the corner. “I’m not sure that I want to know what some of these were used for,” Rupp joked.
Deeper into the office, Jackson’s former library now serves as the library of the Dade Heritage Trust. And Jackson’s old office? Well, that’s where Christine Rupp sits, with a portrait of Jackson appropriately hanging overhead.
“This space has a wonderful history,” Rupp said. “Our idea is to open it up to the public … and teach people about how the knowing history contributes to a community’s quality of life and well-being.”
It has certainly piqued the interest of Paige Finkelstein, a medical student that the University of Miami Miller school of Medicine. Finkelstein who, works at Jackson Memorial Hospital as an M.D/M.P.H. student, lives across the street from the building.
After she found out that it was Dr. Jackson’s house, she “thought it was fascinating, they still had all of his original supplies. … I didn’t realize medicine had been in Miami for so long and to see the evolution of medicine is interesting.”
She’s planning on helping Rupp categorize all of the old medical instruments in the house, and connect more medical students with the Dade Heritage Trust. “Dr. Jackson must have been pretty important to name a huge hosptial after him. It’s important to learn the history of the place and to know your roots and traditions.”
The Dade Heritage Trust is open from Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the intersection of Brickell Bay Drive and SE 12th Terr.