George E. Merrick’s poems about Florida

The final sunset of 2021, as seen from our South Florida neighborhood.

This is a short post to share a “poet” I recently discovered. As a Florida transplant, I love learning new details about Florida’s rich history. I stumbled on this page with links to the poems in George E. Merrick’s collection, Songs of the Wind on a Southern Shore.

If you live in Florida, you will recognize all the places, plants, and whatnot Merrick is writing about.

Interestingly, Merrick was not in the business of writing poetry, but a famous real estate developer. He is known for developing Coral Gables, Florida, one of the first planned communities in the United States. He had an early start working in government, and was behind most of the major infrastructure projects in South Florida.

From Wikipedia:

In October, 1915, Merrick was appointed by the governor of Florida to replace F.A. Bryant as the county commissioner in District 1. He spent the next 15 months on the commission championing the building of roads in south Florida, including major arteries that would later serve to connect his well-planned community of Coral Gables with the fast-growing city of Miami. Along with Commissioner Edward DeVere Burr of Arch Creek, the two men ushered the vast majority of all road construction projects in Dade County, including the construction of South Dixie Highway (US 1), the Tamiami Trail across the Everglades, the County Causeway to Miami Beach, Ingraham Highway (later known as Old Cutler Road) along the coast, the Miami Canal Highway and many others. These improvements allowed the population of Greater Miami to quadruple from 1915 to 1921, transforming a pioneer territory into a burgeoning metropolis.

Beginning in 1922, on 3,000 acres (12 km²) of citrus groves and land covered in pine trees which his father had left him, Merrick began carving out a town along the lines of the City Beautiful movement. He designed the new town in great detail, featuring wide, tree-lined boulevards, delicate bridges and sedate urban golf courses. Merrick’s secret was his passionate devotion to aesthetics. He wanted to focus on the finest details of this town not just on the major ideas behind the project. As a result, his team included men of diverse background, such as Denman Fink, an artist, H. George Fink and Phineas Paist, both architects, and Frank Button, a landscape artist. Another important aspect of the planning that was very important to Merrick was zoning divisions. Merrick wanted areas of the community to be set aside as commercial, residential or recreational and he wanted the divisions to be clear [4]

In three years, Merrick spent over $20 million to build a thousand Mediterranean style houses, which complemented the Biltmore Hotel, the country clubs, and the other community buildings that Merrick had also designed and overseen the construction of.[5]

In a 1925 interview with the New York Times, Merrick commented: “Just how I came to utilize the Spanish type of architecture in Coral Gables, I can hardly say, except that it always seemed to me to be the only way houses should be built down there in those tropical surroundings.”[6]

Once he was done building the core of Coral Gables, Merrick decided to branch out creatively. Many people who did not like the Mediterranean Revival Style rejected Coral Gables because its lack of variety. Merrick therefore decided to design small communities, or villages, within Coral Gables with different international influences.[7][8]

Merrick is credited with the establishment of the University of Miami in Coral Gables in 1925 with a donation of 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land and a pledge of $5 million. The following year, just weeks before the start of the inaugural school year, a devastating hurricane on September 17–18, 1926, followed by the Great Depression, ended Merrick’s dreams of further developing Coral Gables.

With time, Merrick fell into heavy debt and by 1928 he was asked to leave the Coral Gables Commission. At this point, he left Coral Gables and moved to Upper Matecumbe Key, where he opened his Caribee Club, not far from the famous Long Key Fishing Camp, on nearby Long Key, an upscale fishing resort, with his wife. Merrick returned to Gables only when he became the postmaster for the county, two years before his death.[9] The monstrous Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, called the “Storm of the Century”, destroyed almost everything on the Middle Keys, including Merrick’s Caribee Club, which was never rebuilt.

Merrick proposed in 1937 “a complete slum clearance … effectively removing every negro family from the present city limits.” and the creation of a new negro village that would be a model for the entire United States.[10]

George Merrick’s former home in Coral Gables, Coral Gables House, is maintained as a historic house museum. The Soloman G. Merrick Building at the University of Miami at Coral Gables was built in honor of Merrick’s father.

Would would have guessed that the father of the modern HOA would have been a poet of all things in his spare time?

It is unsurprising that the origin of planned communities brought with it racial segregation as well. I remember reading about how Henry Flagler burned down some black communities in his effort to develop Palm Beach. This seems to have been a common event in the making of Florida’s poshest communities, where a lot of folks from New York and New England wanted to summer.

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