Revolutionized by the advent of inexpensive nails, precut, sawmill lumber in standard sizes, and a form of construction known as “balloon frame,” the high ground of the Miami Rock Ridge seemed a suitable homestead for Florida East Coast Railway surveyor Dr. Samuel H. Richmond. In 1896, Dr. Richmond erected his balloon frame house at Cutler, 16 miles south of newly chartered Miami and one of the most prolific settlements in South Florida. The Richmond Family home was originally a rectangular, two story structure designed simply to withstand Florida’s sweltering heat and heavy rain seasons.
After living in the home for four years, and with the backing of the Railroad, Dr. Richmond added a “T” shaped addition to the Bay side of the home and opened the Richmond Cottage – the southernmost hotel on the U.S. mainland. The 1900, three-story addition added several rooms to the house, including several upstairs guest rooms, a downstairs check in room, a sitting room, a large central hallway, and a parlor. A two-story veranda wrapped around the front of the Richmond Cottage, and weatherboard replaced board and batten siding. The Richmond Cottage, at this time, still had no indoor plumbing or electricity, but it did feature one of the first telephones in the area. The phone number was Cutler 1-2.
The year the Richmond Cottage opened, Cutler served as the only gateway to the outside world for homesteaders living south of Coconut Grove. Steamships shuttled passengers and goods between Cutler and Miami: The Comfort made one daily trip and the Lake Worth made two. As railroad supplies began arriving at Cutler’s three wharves, the area experienced a surge of growth and development. Within a few years, the town included homes for 25 pioneer families, two general stores (Brown & Moody and Tweedell Bros.), a church, a school, a sawmill, and daily mail delivery. Ironically, though, the same railroad that brought the town such prosperity also lead to its demise. Eventually, the railroad began sending supplies down its own tracks, bypassing Cutler’s docks, and a railroad labor camp called “Perrine,” became the new focus of transportation in the area. Cutler began to decline. By 1905, its post office had closed. By 1908, so had the school and the Brown & Moody store. The Richmond Cottage closed, and only a few residents remained in the once booming Town of Cutler.
In 1913, wealthy Chicago industrialist, environmental preservationist, and avid art collector, Charles Deering, purchased the property from Miami Bank Trust. Eventually, he demolished all of the town’s buildings expect for one – the old Richmond House and Cottage. He began renovations of the Richmond Cottage and for more than a decade, he pieced together other bits of land purchased from residents, speculators, corporations, real estate firms, and banks to create his then 380-acre estate at Cutler.
By 1916, Mr. Deering had completed renovations of the old hotel and turned it into his winter residence. The exterior facades were modified to give the house a New England Neoclassical look, with complete columns, cornice, and Chippendale railings. Between 1916 and 1918, Mr. Deering built a boat turning basin and marked a one-mile long boat channel east into Biscayne Bay to offer access to his property from Miami. He relocated a portion of Old Cutler Road that was located inside the boundaries of his property to what is now Seventy-Second Avenue. He then enclosed the Estate with an oolitic stone wall. So local residents could still have public access to Biscayne Bay, Mr. Deering constructed a concrete platform or dock adjacent to the south side of the Estate walls. This area is known as the People’s Dock and is still accessible by the public today.
Support buildings were also added to the property in 1916. These included the Carriage House where the Deering vehicles were stored; the Power House where the generators and tanks were kept; and the Pump House that housed the water tanks that fed the intricate irrigation system that Deering created to deliver water throughout the property. Today these buildings house our Artist Village, Artist in Residence Studios, and an indoor/outdoor classroom.
Mr. Deering built a Chinese Bridge on the relocated Old Cutler Road in order to cross over Cutler Creek. Restored in 2002, its bright colors represent the sky (blue), the earth (yellow), and fire (red) – traditional Chinese colors used in construction of important buildings.
In 1922, Charles Deering decided to reside at Cutler permanently. He hired contractor Sandquist & Snow, Inc. and Phineas Paist to construct an addition to the residence for the family as well as house Mr. Deering’s collection of fine art and furnishings. At the northeast point of the Richmond Cottage, construction began for a 13,900 square foot, fire-resistant fortress of poured concrete modeled after two castles he had in Sitges, Spain and featuring Spanish inspired, Mediterranean Revival Architecture.
The Stone House featured 18-inch thick, reinforced concrete walls, covered in limestone veneer to imitate the rugged exposed stone of Tamarit. It also featured a Cuban barrel tile roof, antique wrought iron window grilles, bronze and copper clad doors, Romanesque arcades of hand carved columns, pointed Gothic and Moorish arches accenting large central windows themes after both Marycel and Tamarit. Mr. Deering installed sophisticated weather monitoring devices. These included a weathervane with wind speed indicator, a barometer, thermometer, and a platinum pointed, copper lightning rod. Mr. Deering was convinced that draining the Everglades would alter South Florida’s weather, and he used his instruments to monitor climatic changes.
Plans for the Stone House did not include kitchen or dining areas. The Richmond Cottage, or “Wood House” as the family often called it, remained the focus for food presentation and dining at the Estate. First and second floor walkways connected the Stone House and Richmond Cottage. Most of the major Stone House construction was completed in just 11 months. With little trim or ornamentation anywhere, the house was still unfurnished when Mr. and Mrs. Deering moved in. In spite of the bareness, blank walls and floors were covered with a sizeable collection of fine rugs, antiques, paintings, and tapestries. At the time, Mr. Deering was said to own one of the largest collections of privately held art and antiques in the world. Artwork and furnishings on the Estate included over 4,000 pieces and had an estimated value of $62 million.