By Jeff Blakley
Did you ever go out to Grossman’s Hammock before it became part of Everglades National Park to see the sulphur spring? Did you ever wonder where it got its name? Did you wonder if perhaps the name was somehow a corruption or misspelling of the Gossman surname?
The first time I visited Grossman Hammock was in the late 1960s, before the land to the east of it had been scarified and turned into agricultural land. The land was still pinnacle rock and sawgrass. It was peaceful and very quiet. Not so much any longer, unfortunately.
The hammock got its name from Samuel Frank Grossman (1861 – 1929) who, with his sons Samuel Frank, Jr. (b. 1904) and Marcus Lawrence (1901 – 1998) bought a large quantity of land in township 55 south in 1917.
While browsing through old issues of newspapers, I came across an interesting article in the July 10, 1926 issue of the Homestead Leader, which I will transcribe here.
In the reclamation of the township owned near Homestead by the Grossman family, and in its preparation for vast agricultural developments, many interesting experiences have been the lot of those persons who have undertaken this work.
Samuel Grossman of Cleveland, Ohio, and his sons Samuel F. Grossman and M. L. Grossman, of Miami, are owners of township 55, consisting of thousands of acres of fertile land, into which the Grossmans are now constructing a hard-surfaced road beginning a half mile north of Quail Roost drive.
The road was begun several weeks ago, and, according to Mr. Grossman, they expect to complete the 15-foot highway within two months from the time its construction was started.
In telling of the preliminary steps taken to determine just what they had to deal with in their big tract, M. L. Grossman gave a graphic description of a walking expedition over the property last April.
The father and his two sons, with a surveyor and an old-time hunter who knew conditions pretty well, made a complete tour of the property. In the western and northern sections they found deep, black muck soil and large hammocks which were a mile or so long. In the southeast section of the township, gray marl soil was found.
Mr. Grossman said they encountered plenty of game, with deer, wild hogs, water fowl, alligators, rabbits, wildcats, and ‘coons greeting them as they trespassed into their native haunts.
Relics of former Indian camps were found on the hammock portions of the property, where fruit trees, rough lemons, limes, and bananas told of an attempt to provide food for the campers.
At an abandoned camp on Junction Key were found an old sewing machine, pots, and old Dutch copper kettles which, Mr. Grossman said, probably were 200 years old. Evidences of pottery were seen in this camp. Knowing that the Seminoles were not a tribe which made pottery, the Grossmans realized that some red-skinned tribe had inhabited their land years before the Seminoles were there.
There was no drinking water to be had during the expedition over this big tract of land, Mr. Grossman said, excepting from the sloughs. Often they dug down three or four feet to get to water which they dared to drink. It was in digging ofr (sic) water that the party unearthed a giant jawbone — from the carcass, possibly, of some pre-historic animal. Large holes in the jawbone showed where the teeth had been.
It is their intention to start planting on Junction Key by fall, Mr. Grossman said. Fruits and vegetables will be set out on a 100-acre tratc (sic) first, with plans to enlarge the area of planting as it is found advisable. The glade land isto (sic) be set to tomatoes and other vegetables, such as eggplant, beans, and potatoes, throughout the winter season.
With the coming of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad into this district, the Grossmans expect to construct a spur from the main line into their acreage, to provide for transportation of the vegetables to the markets.
Samuel F. Grossman, Sr. was born in Hungary on October 27, 1861 and immigrated to this country with his parents, Marcus and Anna, in 1863. In 1880, with his father, he started in the paper box manufacturing business, establishing the Novelty Paper Box Company. In 1882, along with 4 other men, he filed the incorporation papers for the B’nai Jeshurun temple in Cleveland, Ohio. In January 1906, the business was incorporated as the Grossman Paper Box Company, according to the book A History of Cleveland, Ohio, published by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. in 1910. The 1900 census described him as a “capitalist”, which seems to be the term used to describe wealthy businessmen in those days.
In 1901, Samuel married Dora Bryan and they had 3 children: Marcus L., Samuel F., and Dora Violet. Marcus L. (Mark) lived in Coral Gables and was a real estate salesman. After the real estate boom crashed in the late 1920s, he apparently returned to school, where he acquired the education necessary to become a construction engineer in New York by 1940. I wasn’t able to find out much about Samuel F., Jr. or Dora Violet.
If you look at David Torcise’s homesteaders map by clicking on the link at the bottom of the right sidebar on this website (you must have Google Earth installed on your computer), you will see Grossman’s Hammock on it. It is in section 55-37-25. The Kendall Gliderport, established by Mary Gaffney, was in a portion of the Grossman Tropical Farms Company’s plat of 55-37-36, recorded in plat book 30, page 54 of the records of Dade County. Samuel Grossman was the president and Marcus was the secretary of the Tropical Farms Company. The Kendall Gliderport was closed after 1998 when the land was acquired by the federal government as part of its plan to enlarge Everglades National Park.
It is unclear which township the Grossmans purchased or even if they purchased an entire township. If it was township 55 south, range 38 east, it consisted of 23,040 acres and stretched from S.W. 184th St. north to Kendall Drive (S.W. 88th St.) and from Krome Avenue (S.W. 177 Avenue) to theoretical S.W. 237th Avenue. But township 55 south, range 38 east does not include Grossman’s Hammock, so it is possible that they purchased township 55 south, range 37 east. Or it is possible that they bought a portion of a township. Without access to the land records, it is impossible to tell.
With the crash of the real estate boom in Dade County, starting in late 1926, shortly after this article was written, the Grossman’s plans were dramatically altered. The property became the site of an oil drilling operation conducted by the Miami Shipbuilding Company in April, 1944, which is the origin of the sulphur spring that was a popular destination after Mark Grossman opened the Mineral Springs and Lake Chekika park to the public in 1954. In 1970, the State of Florida purchased the park for $950,000 ($6.2 million in 2018 dollars) and renamed it Grossman Hammock State Park. In 1991, it was donated to the federal government to be added as part of Everglades National Park.
It is very interesting to read this article from our present viewpoint. When the article was written, everyone was a booster and an optimist who believed in a limitless future. Depressions have a way of returning people to reality, though. The railroad spur from the Seaboard Coast Line was never built, a bitter fight continues between the land owners in the so-called 8.5 square mile area and the Department of Environmental Resource Management in Miami-Dade County, the wildlife is gone and the well was plugged in 1985 to keep its brackish water, flowing from the Floridan Aquafer, from contaminating the drinking water supplies for Miami-Dade County.
Mark lived in Miami until 1990, when he moved to Houston to be closer to family. He died on December 21, 1998 in Houston, Harris County, Texas. His mother, Dora Bryan Grossman, died in 1952 in Miami.