Even more interesting than the origins of Miami’s neighborhoods are those of our individual cities. Many Miami-Dade cities were inspired by the real estate land boom of the 1920s, when soaring dreams met big wallets resulting in some crazy stories and well, some ideas that worked. We took a look at the origin stories of eight of Miami-Dade County’s cities.
How Eight Miami-Dade Cities Got Their Names
Myami, Miamuh, Meeamee, however you like to pronounce it, the fact is that it’s home. Incorporated on July 28, 1896, we were almost named Flagler after the man who brought his Florida East Coast Railway to present-day downtown Miami. Thankfully, he put a stop to that. Instead, the new city was named after the Miami River, which comes from the Calusa word Mayami, meaning big water. Understandable since most early development depended on that “big water.” Long before incorporation, however, our swampy town was commonly referred to as Biscayne Bay Country. Now, it’s 400,000 strong with an ever-growing skyline.
Aventura’s a bit of a strange one. Not so recent legend has it that one of the original developers said to another, “what an adventure this is going to be,” in reference to the developing a city. And aventura is Spanish for adventure. Believe it or not the city began as swampland. Owner and founder of the renowned Turner Associates, Donald Soffer, drew up the plans for this one of a kind posh city, including the founding Turnberry Isle in the 1970s. It is one of our later, and fancier, additions, the city only incorporated in 1995.
Coral Gables’ father George Merrick named the city after his beloved childhood home of the same name, which was made out of coral rock and topped with a tiled, gabled roof. HistoryMiami notes that the home’s design was similar to the summer home of former president Grover Cleveland, an interesting combo of Northeast meets Florida design. Merrick set out to create a city in the Mediterranean revival style on his 3,000 acres of land. Today, that house he grew up in, Coral Gables Merrick House, is on the list of National Register of Historic Places. The City Beautiful remains as one of the county’s most beloved communities.
Doral was always destined to be a golf destination and it really has nothing to do with Trump. The city was named after its two founders, [Dor]is and [Al]fred Kaskel — and that’s why it’s not pronounced like coral. The husband and wife team built a golf course and resort in 1962 and began hosting the annual Doral Open. For a long time, it remained an idyllic farming community. Many locals remember cows all along NW 107th Avenue. Doral officially became a city in 2003, and in the last decade has seen a substantial residential growth, due in part to the large influx of South American immigrants. With its office developments, Doral’s daytime population now grows to 150,000, according to some local estimates. It is set to become an even bigger hotspot with the upcoming development, Downtown Doral.
Hialeah’s name is an amalgamation of a few Muskogee Indian words that roughly mean pretty prairie. Other native tribes had similar meanings of the word, and the Seminole equivalent translates to high prairie. Essentially, the city is on slightly higher ground, good for farming and well, entertaining. Shortly after being founded by Glenn Curtiss and James Bright in 1921, it was immediately put to use as Miami’s entertainment hub, with such attractions as the Hialeah Park Race Track and its pink flamingos, greyhound races, and jai-alai games. Hialeah became even more popular with visits from Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Amelia Earhart. The city has endured quite a bit of change since those days. It is currently the cultural epicenter of middle-class Cubans and Cuban-Americans, where the official unofficial language is Spanish. Of most interest is this weekend’s launch of a new The Leah Arts District, putting the city again on the entertainment track.
Here’s another Florida East Coast Railway success story. Expanding Flagler’s railroad down to Key West, this became a stop along the way and immediately opened up for homesteading. Internally, it was named Homestead Country for shipping and supplies purposes, and the name stuck for a bit. Eventually, the name was shortened to Homestead. But, life was already brewing when the railroad arrived. Built in the same year, Cauley Square operated as a mini town for the workers of the FEC, with a bar, grill, offices, and naturally, brothels. The cottages were also used as homes for workers.
This small city was founded by aviation great Glenn Curtiss. The site on which the city sits originally carried the Seminole name Opa-tisha-wocka-locka, but Curtiss shortened it to Opa-Locka. A direct translation of the word suggests, “a big island covered with many trees.” Inspired by the exotic Arabic sounding name, Curtiss added Moorish stylings to his city plans, specifically taking cues from Arabian Nights. Prior to the 1926 Miami Hurricane and with the help of architect Bernhardt E. Muller, the city had achieved 105 Moorish style buildings and even a zoo. Can we change it back to Opa-tisha-wocka-locka?
Sweetwater may now be known as Little Managua and home to Dolphin Mall, but the city, which was incorporated in 1941, has an interesting history. Dating back to the early 1920s, the Miami-Pittsburgh Land Company purchased the land and immediately dubbed their real estate project Sweetwater Groves. The 1926 Miami Hurricane hit and caused extensive damage to the area, placing a permanent hold on any elaborate plans. After some years, Clyde Andrews acquired the land and flipped it into individual plots. A group of retired Russian “little people” were among the buyers, and they built miniature homes to fit their needs. In the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Nicaraguan immigrants made Sweetwater their home and forever changed its demographics. It made headlines again in 1996, when 69 animals were found dead. Many residents blamed it on the Chupacabra, a mythical goat sucker.
Mandy Baca is the author of The Sizzling History of Miami Cuisine: Cortaditos, Stone Crabs & Empanadas and Discovering Vintage Miami.