By Jeff Blakley
The most significant obstacle to historians striving to tell the story of South Dade is the fact that in this area, as is still true of all of South Florida, the demographics were very fluid. People came and went with astonishing rapidity. When they left, they took their stories with them, of course. It takes a great deal of research to find and put together the surviving fragments of the lives of those who came and then left.
While reading the December 9, 1915 issue of the Homestead Enterprise, I saw this short note on page 4: “Mrs. Vermilye and sister Mrs. Day, of New York, arrived last week to spend the winter with Mrs. Vermilye’s son, F. M. Vermilye, of Silver Palm.” Having never encountered the Vermilye surname before in my study of the history of South Dade, I was naturally curious.
“Mrs. Vermilye” was Julia E. Vermilye, the wife of Dr. William Edward Vermilye, but I was unable to identify Mrs. Day. She could be either Gennet or Catherine Murdock, sisters of Julia Vermilye. They were visiting Julia’s son, Frederic Montgomery Vermilye.
Frederic was born on February 21, 1865 in New York City. Little is known about his childhood, other than he attended the Greylock School in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1880 and Williams College, also in Williamstown, in 1886. His grandfather, William Montgomery Vermilye, with his brother Washington Romeyn Vermilye and George Carpenter, founded Carpenter & Vermilye, a New York brokerage company that was well known for selling bonds for the United States to finance the Civil War.1 In 1857, Carpenter & Vermilye was located at 44 Wall Street.2 In 1859, it became just Vermilye & Co. and in 1905, it was renamed Dillon, Read & Co.
Frederic M. Vermilye was the president of a railroad contracting company in New York but spent most of his time at Sutro & Kimbley, a brokerage company at 32 Wall Street.3 He married first, Kate Jordan, a writer and dramatist, in 1897 but she divorced him in 1904.4 In 1908, he married Catherine M. Wyman in Philadelphia but they were divorced in 1911. He married, for the third time, Joanna Hamilton, on Nov. 21, 1919 in Greenwich, CT but he died less than two years later, on March 1, 1921, at the age of 56.
Frederic M. Vermilye’s connection with South Florida started when he enlisted in the Army and served “honorably and faithfully” in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.5 In April of 1913, he stayed in Miami for a “month or more … made a number of investments in local real estate …[and] expects to make other investments upon his return ninety days hence.”6 Frederic sold a parcel he purchased in Homestead in early 1913 to John C. Baile in October of that year.7 This land, 20 acres, was located 660′ north of North Canal Drive on the east side of Tennessee Rd.
Apparently, the sale to J. C. Baile wasn’t closed for some reason, so in May of 1914, Frederic sold the land to the Bay Biscayne Co., whose president was William B. Ogden.8 William Butler Ogden was a very wealthy man from Baltimore whose father, Mahlon D. Ogden, founded the firm of “Ogden, Sheldon & Co., … [which] became by far the largest and most important real estate firm in the city [Chicago], the members of the firm themselves being large owners of real estate.”9 In 1870, Mahlon had real estate worth $50,000 and a personal estate worth $150,000.10 Of his 15 children by two wives, only 5 survived his death in 1880. No doubt, those children received sizeable inheritances. Wm. B. Ogden, one of those surviving children, was named after Mahlon’s brother, William Butler Ogden. In 1908, he bought the estate of Edward J. Brown in Lemon City for $14,000, remodeled the house and named his property the Tee House Plantation.11 12 J. C. Baile was Ogden’s estate manager and allegedly a brother-in-law, though that has not been documented.13 It is likely that some of the capital for Baile’s Campo Rico farm east of U. S. 1 in Goulds came from Ogden.
Vermilye’s third wife’s sister, Mary Louise Hamilton, spent the winter with Wm. B. Ogden at the Tee House in Lemon City in 191414 and then became the first wife of Wm. B. Ogden’s son, Wm. B., Jr. Vermilye was adjudicated bankrupt in September of 1917 15 but that didn’t prevent him from being issued a license to sell real estate in 1919.16 Being able to profit from buying and selling real estate, as so many others were doing, no doubt enabled him to improve his financial condition greatly. It also helped that shortly before Frederic married Mary Louise Hamilton’s sister, Joanna, Ogden gave him a parcel of land as a wedding present because he was in financial straits, owing a great deal of money to him.17
Shortly after Frederic’s death on March 1, 1921, his real estate holdings were put on the market to settle his estate. One of those parcels was the grove in Silver Palm. Emma A. Howard, the wife of Edson C. Howard, of Fox Lake, IL, bought the property. Edson and Emma Howard were the owners of the Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake, IL, a wealthy suburb of Chicago and a destination for well-to-do tourists. The Howards first came to Miami in 191618 and lost no time in buying and selling properties,19 accumulating a considerable fortune. Edson died in 1926 at the age of 83 at the Mineola Hotel. Emma lived until 1940. Because they were hoteliers, they became friends with Webster and Gertrude Caraway, who ran the Berwick Hotel in Miami, at 1208 12th St., which is now Flagler St. In 1921, Webster offered to trade his $9,000 equity in an 8-room brick building in the Broadmoor subdivision for a grove or the “right kind of cruising boat.”20 On March 21, 1921, Caraway deeded the Broadmoor property to Emma Howard for $9,500.21
Caraway took the proceeds of that sale and bought the Vermilye property in Silver Palm from Emma A. Howard for $3,000.22 Very shortly after closing that sale, he sold a portion of it to George A. Dolan, who improved it by “cleaning up and tractoring (sic) his new grove.23 In November of 1924, Webster Caraway moved onto the remainder of his property, located on Tennessee Rd. between S.W. 240th St. and Silver Palm, part of Charles W. Hill’s homestead claim, to put it “into the best of condition before putting it on the market.”24
George was enumerated in Miami in 1920 as an auto mechanic who worked in a garage.25 In 1923, the Miami Herald published a piece that stated that George had been in Florida for four years, the last three of which had been in Dade County. He was the “owner of a prosperous garage at Silver Palm and also takes care of a grapefruit and orange grove near that citrus center.”26 That garage was the one which William Anderson had opened in May of 1920, near his mercantile store at the corner of Newton Rd. and Silver Palm Dr. It was initially managed by Edward F. Albury (1894-1944) but he left to pursue other ventures.27 Anderson may have hired Dolan to take Albury’s position. By 1924, the Dolans had moved back to Miami, to the Allapattah neighborhood.28 They lived there until the hurricane of 1926 struck Miami. George and most of his family were injured in that storm.29 That led them to decide to move back to Illinois for in 1930, the family was enumerated in Pana, Christian County, IL, where George worked as a “car repairer” in a garage.30
Vermilye, who had no children, left no mark on the history of South Dade. He is buried at Woodlawn in Miami. His wife Joanna had been admitted to the bar in Illinois31 but when she came here, she worked as a law clerk in Miami until she could pass her bar exam. She later moved to West Palm Beach, where she practiced law until she died in 1953. She is buried at Woodlawn in West Palm Beach.
The history of South Dade is the history of those who came and left. Those who stayed for longer than 5 years are a tiny portion of those who came here, intending to make this their “permanent home,” a phrase that is encountered very frequently in the local newspapers of the first decades of the 20th century. That rootlessness, which is not unique to this area at all, explains a great deal of why and how this area has developed over the years. Without roots or a place to go to learn about the history of this area, the people who live here make decisions that are important only to themselves, not paying much attention to the larger “community.” They could do nothing else.