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, Sr. (1861 – 1934) who bought township 55 south, range 37 east in 1925. With his sons Samuel Frank, Jr. (b. 1904) and Marcus Lawrence (1901 – 1998), he formed the Grossman Tropical Farms Co. to develop the property.
While browsing through old issues of newspapers, I came across an interesting article in the July 10, 1926 issue of the Homestead Leader, which is transcribed 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 for 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 tract first, with plans to enlarge the area of planting as it is found advisable. The glade land is to 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 Frank 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, working for the Novelty Paper Box Company.1 In January 1906, the business was incorporated as the Grossman Paper Box Company.
His parents, Marcus and Anna Solomonson Grossman had five children: Rosa, wife of Louis Glick; Emma, wife of Benjamin Wiesenberger; Malvinia, wife of Henry Bauman, Samuel F., Jr., Louis Joel, and Nathan. Louis Glick became the vice president and treasurer of the Grossman Paper Box Co. in 1905.2 Marcus and his wife are buried in the Mayfield Cemetery in Cleveland. Despite what the entry in the book about the history of Cleveland says, Emma Wiesenberger was not dead in 1910 – she was living in Miami, Florida with her son Mark in 1920 as a “widow.” The enumerator spelled her surname as “Wiesenberg.”
In 1882, along with 4 other men, Marcus filed the incorporation papers for the B’nai Jeshurun temple in Cleveland, Ohio. Marcus started out as a street peddler after arriving in this country and then accumulated enough capital to open a novelty store. The Grossman Paper Box Co. started in the back of the novelty store as the Novelty Paper Box Co.3 Upon his father’s death in 1892, Samuel assumed control of the company and grew the company until it occupied a large building at 1729-1745 Superior Street. The 1900 census described him as a “capitalist”, which seems to be the term used to describe wealthy businessmen in those days. Samuel F., Sr., died in Miami in 1934.
In 1901, Samuel F., Jr. married Dora Bryan and they had 3 children: Marcus Lawrence (1901-1998), Samuel F. (1904 – ) and Dora Violet (1906-1999). Marcus L. (Mark) lived in Coral Gables and was a real estate salesman. After the real estate boom crashed in the late 1920s, he worked for the U. S. government as a contractor, erecting buildings in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the U. S. Virgin Islands. One of his buildings, the post office in St. Thomas, is a national historic site.4 In 1940, he was a construction engineer in Queens, New York.5 Samuel F. Grossman, who moved to Los Angeles, assumed his mother’s maiden surname, Bryan, and used his middle name so that he was known as Frank Bryan. Dora Violet married Marvin Brooks, who was a civil engineer and a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. An amateur archaeologist, he excavated some of the archaeological sites in Grossman Hammock in the 1950s.6
Samuel F. Grossman, Sr. first became interested in Dade County in 1918 but did not purchase land at that time because he considered the price too high. By 1925, though, he became convinced that farming in Dade County could be a profitable venture and he purchased township 55 south, range 37 east, which runs from Kendall Drive down to S. W. 184th St. and from S.W. 237th Avenue west to theoretical S.W. 297th Avenue.7 In May of 1926, he advertised for “10 white laborers” to work for $3 per day and board to work in the Everglades.8 Grossman’s company, the Grossman Tropical Farms Co., built roads and planted cucumbers, squash and tomatoes on about 360 acres of scarified and drained land in section 36.
When the real estate frenzy subsided with the onset of the Great Depression, the farming operation came to a halt. In 1929, all of the property taxes on the Tropical Farms Co. subdivision were past due and appeared on a tax delinquency list published in the Miami newspapers.9 What happened to the property after that time is unknown, but by the early 1970s, Mary Gaffney, a renowned aerobatic pilot, established the Kendall Gliderport on part of what had been the Grossman Tropical Farms Co, property. 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.
The crash of the real estate boom in Dade County altered the Grossmans’ plans dramatically. In 1944, an oil drilling operation conducted by the Miami Shipbuilding Company was established. They drilled the well which suppled the water for the small lake 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.
- A History of Cleveland, Ohio, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1910, p. 119
- A History of Cleveland, Ohio, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1910, p. 654.
- A History of Cleveland, Ohio, S. J. Clark Publishing Co., 1910, p. 119
- Obituary for Mark Grossman, published in The Miami Herald, December 27, 1998
- U. S. Census of Queens, NY
- This information was generously supplied by Mark Myers, one of Mark Grossman’s grandchildren.
- Miami Daily News, February 20, 1927, p. 8
- The Miami Herald, May 15, 1926, p. 31
- The Miami Daily News and Metropolis, July 8, 1929, p. 23