By Jeff Blakley
Anyone who grew up in the Homestead area earlier than 1970 knew Henry Brooker, Jr. and the Brooker Lumber Company. In those days, Brooker’s was the only game in town when it came to building supplies and household goods. Brooker’s was a hold-over from the days of the general merchandise store that existed all across this country earlier in the 20th century.
In this post, I’m going to try to sketch an outline of the Brooker family, which is a tall order since the members of the family were intertwined with so many other families in the Homestead area.
There were three Brooker brothers: Henry, Edward Franklin, and Thomas Potter. Their father was John L. Brooker, who appears in the 1880 census of Palmetto, Manatee County, Florida, married to Margaret with sons Henry and Eddie. Their mother was Margaret Mathis. Margaret was born in Manatee County, Florida on April 15, 1859, the daughter of Mary Ann Williams and James Washington Mathis. Mary Ann and James divorced sometime in the early to mid-1860s and Mary Ann then married Edward Whidden. In the 1870 census of township 36 of Manatee County, Mary Ann’s daughters, Augusta and Margaret, with the surname of Whidden, are living in the household of Edward and Mary Ann Whidden. Edward is a stock raiser and Mary Ann is keeping house. In the 1885 Florida Census, there is an Edward Whidden in Kissimmee, Brevard County, but no wife or children are shown. In the 1900 census of Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Edward and Mary A. Whidden appear, along with two of Mary’s grandchildren, Thomas Brooker and Cora Brannan. Cora Brannan was the daughter of Mary’s daughter Emily Augusta and her husband Eli Brannan. Edward’s occupation is “cowboy”, which is consistent with his occupation as a “stock raiser” in 1870 in Manatee County. In addition, Maggie Miller, a step-daughter and Annie Randolph, an adopted daughter, are living in the household. Maggie Miller may be of some relation to Mary’s daughter, Margaret Mathis Brooker Miller, but the identity of Annie Randolph is not known at this time.
Margaret and John L. Brooker parted in the mid- to late 1880s either divorced or he met an untimely end between 1885 and 1889, when Margaret married Edward C. Miller. Family records show that Margaret had three sons and a daughter by John L. Brooker: Henry, born in 1877; Edward Franklin, born on 19 April 1879, Leila Blanche, born on September 19, 1884 and Thomas Potter, born on 28 December 1885. After marrying Edward Miller in 1889, Margaret had two more children: Cecil Earl, born on 24 December 1894 and James Howard, born on 2 Nov 1904. Cecil and James were born in Jupiter. Cecil died in Jacksonville so the fact that there is an Edward Miller buried in the St. Augustine National Cemetery in Jacksonville likely means that the man was Cecil’s father.
Edward C. Miller homesteaded land in sections 25 and 36 of T40S, R42E in Brevard County, receiving his patent on May 17, 1905. He didn’t stay on his land long, though, because in 1910, he and Margaret were in Miami, living with their sons Cecil and James, where they operated a hotel. Margaret Miller died on June 16, 1917 and the obituary, published on June 17, 1917 in The Miami Herald reads as follows:
“Mrs E. C. Miller – Mrs. E. C. Miller of Homestead, at the age of 58, died at 2:10 yesterday afternoon after an illness of several weeks. Aside from her many friends in Miami and Homestead as well as other places, she leaves to mourn her loss her husband, E.C. Miller of Homestead; her mother, Mrs. Mary A. Whitten of Arcadia, Fla., five sons, Henry Brooker, Edward F. Brooker, Thomas P. Brooker, and Cecil E. Miller and James H. Miller of Homestead, and one daughter, Mrs. Blanche Rushing of New York City. The funeral will be held at the new Combs Chapel, 323 11th St., at 3:00 p.m. today, and the interment will be in Woodlawn Park Cemetery.”
In 1920, Edward C. Miller was in Homestead, living on King’s Highway between Benjamin King, son of William A. King and George M. Pinder. In 1940, he was living with his son, James H. on Lake Shore Drive in Canal Point in Palm Beach County. His son was the superintendent of a planing mill. A planing mill is where rough-sawn lumber is sent for finishing before it is sold.
There is little doubt that Margaret’s sons by her first marriage lived with her new husband in Jupiter but no record exists of what they were doing. Their step-father’s occupation in 1900 was “farmer,” so it would be logical to assume that the Brooker children were helping out on the farm. No doubt they did in the late 1880s and through the middle 1890s but by 1900 Henry and Edward may have been out on their own, as they were 23 and 21, respectively. Their brother, Thomas, was living with their grandparents, so he wasn’t helping on the farm unless they lived close by.
Henry Flagler’s railroad had reached Miami in 1896 and Homestead in August of 1904. The economic impact of the railroad in the Jupiter area was no less than it was in Miami, no doubt. All of the Brooker brothers worked for the Florida East Coast railroad. Ed was night operator in Jupiter but in 1906, he was sent to Homestead to become the station master. Henry followed his brother and worked out of Knight’s Key on the Extension’s telegraph lines. Tom was a fireman in Jupiter and came last, in 1910.
All of the Brooker brothers homesteaded west of Detroit. Henry Brooker was the first to file a claim for a homestead, on March 9, 1907. His property was an L-shaped parcel on the east side of Redland Road, from S.W. 340th St. south to S.W. 352 St. It then extended east to S.W. 172 Ave. between S.W. 348th and S.W. 352 Streets. None of those roads had been built then, of course. Edward Brooker was next – he filed a claim for another L-shaped parcel on February 26, 1910. His property was on the east side of S.W. 197 Avenue from S.W. 336 St. to S.W. 348 St. (south of Palm Drive) and then east to S.W. 192 Avenue. Tom Brooker was the last of the Brooker brothers to file for a homestead claim. He filed on December 10, 1910. His property was the entire NE quarter of section 23 in T57S, R38E. It was bordered by Lucy Street on the north, Redland Road on the east, Arthur Vining Davis Parkway on the south and Tower Road on the west. No Brooker parcel adjoined another Brooker parcel and only Henry’s property was in what is now the corporate limits of the City of Florida City.
Henry Brooker married Grace Skill, the daughter of Charles W. Skill (1839-1914) and the sister of Frank Skill, who ran W. D. Horne’s lumber business. Frank’s wife, Pearl Turnage, was the sister of Carl Turnage, the photographer who owned Turnage Studio in Homestead. Ed Brooker married Annie Almeda Johnson, whose grandfather, James Arango Armour, was the head keeper of the Jupiter lighthouse from 1868 to 1908. Tom Brooker married Jewel Harris, who was the sister of Bessie Harris, the wife of Carl Deden. Her brother, Thomas J. Harris, was a future mayor of Homestead.
Homestead and Detroit were very small towns in those days and so everyone not only knew each other but they were very likely related in some way – see above. In future posts, I’ll address each of the Brookers in more detail. For this post, I just wanted to supply the background information for the brothers. I also wanted to correct at least three errors that are in Jean Taylor’s book in her entries on the Brookers. One error is that Ed Brooker’s homestead was a “quarter section across from the Longview schoolhouse.” That’s only partially true. His property, while 160 acres and thus technically a “quarter-section” was actually L-shaped. He did own the land where Robert is Here is now located but half of his property started 660′ west of the east boundary (Tower Road) of the land on which the Longview School was located. Pinckney Milton Bauknight homesteaded the land where the school was built, receiving his patent on June 19, 1911. The next error was that “Margaret Brooker married Ed Miller, and homesteaded what is still known today as Miller’s Hammock in Florida City.” Margaret Brooker did marry Edward C. Miller but he didn’t homestead land in Florida City. In 1910, he, his wife and their son Cecil were in Miami. There is no record in the BLM tract books of anyone named Miller homesteading anywhere in section 24, T57S R38E, which encompasses Florida City. What did happen is that E. C. Miller did live in a ‘homestead’, that is, a house, on the east side of the Homestead Road, which was an extension of Railroad Avenue in Homestead, probably a short distance north of what is now Bryan H. Edwards Park. A short mention of E. C. Miller in the April 2, 1914 issue of the Homestead Enterprise mentions that he had a thoroughbred Jersey bull available for stud service at his home between Detroit and Homestead. So Tom’s step-father did live in the area but not for long, because by November of 1918, his house on “the Homestead Road” was being rented by Mr. Niles, who had come from Perrine. The hammock to the south of E. C. Miller’s place came to be known as “Miller’s Hammock” not because Edward Miller homesteaded there, but because he lived near by. The third error is that Tom and Jewel Harris Brooker’s supplies came to Ed’s homestead in Miller’s Hammock by boat. Tom and Jewel were married in Dade County on August 27, 1909. If they then settled on his homestead, which was west of Redland Road, his supplies may have come, some time after 1910, because Edward and Margaret were still living in Miami then, to Ed’s ‘homestead’ on south Railroad Avenue. From there, they may well have had to be transported to Tom’s property by boat in the wet season, because there is a finger glade between the FEC tracks and where Tom homesteaded. But that didn’t happen initially and it didn’t happen for long, because by 1912, Tom and Jewel had proved up their homestead and moved into Homestead.