By Jeff Blakley
In my post on James Daniel Redd, Jean Taylor was the source of my statement that Redd was appointed to succeed Walter Tweedell, who resigned due to his failing health. In my post on the Women’s Industrial Club of Detroit, I mentioned Tweedell again, when he and another Commissioner received a letter from the trustees for the Internal Improvement Fund in early 1915 instructing them to take steps to prevent trespassing on the lands that would become part of the new Royal Palm State Park. Jean Taylor’s book, The Villages of South Dade, mentions Walter Tweedell only briefly, so I thought I’d try to find out more about him.
Walter Jackson Tweedell, referred in the newspaper accounts in this area as W.J. Tweedell, was born on January 4, 1876 in Gordon County, Georgia.
In the 1880 census of Sugar Valley, Gordon, Georgia, James A. and Nancy E. Tweedle are enumerated, along with their children: Sion, 9, Maggie J., 7; Walter J., 5; Thomas A., 3, Ervin, 1; and James’ father, Alexander W.H., 67. According to Ervin G. Tweedell’s WWI draft card, he was born on May 25, 1879.
The next appearance of Walter J. Tweedell is in the 1900 census of Cocoanut Grove precinct 4, in Florida. No doubt, he rode Flagler’s train to Miami and then walked further south. In that census, he and his brother Erving G. (Erving Groover) were living in the household of Charles and Melvina F. Gossman, with their children Henry A., Jesse E. and Charles W. Interestingly enough, there was another lodger living with the Gossmans of interest to those of us here in South Dade: Will Anderson, born in September 1878 in Indiana.
Dana Dorsey, whose entry is in the middle on the same page of the 1900 census, is another interesting person. Dana A. Dorsey, for those who aren’t familiar with the name, was Miami’s first African-American millionaire. Dana homesteaded the SW 1/4 of section 30-56-39, the southwest corner of which is the intersection of Bauer Drive and Krome Avenue. He proved up on August 22, 1910, six years after the Gossmans. His homestead was just west and south of where William Anderson homesteaded, proving up September 19, 1912. Charles and Henry Gossman homesteaded the SW 1/4 and NW 1/4 of 20-56-39, proving up on January 27, 1904. That land is on the east side of Tennessee Road, between Coconut Palm and Silver Palm. What was intriguing about the entry for Dana Dorsey is that his occupation was listed as “sisal agent” – “fruit grower”, “Cape Fla.” Following the entry for Dana are two pages of men who either came from the Bahamas or who had one or both parents who were born in the Bahamas. My guess is that those people were working on the pineapple and coconut plantation that existed on Key Biscayne at that time.
Anyway, back to the main story. According to Jean Taylor, Walter and Erving Tweedell bought the general store owned by Wilson Larkins, located in the vicinity of today’s Cocoplum Circle, where Old Cutler, Sunset and LeJeune Roads meet. As I wrote in my article on John Ulric Free, because Taylor relied on oral history, she was often in the right church but the wrong pew. In this case, she was in the wrong pew. Walter Tweedell and his brother, Erving G., had a store but it was located in Cutler, not in Larkins, as proven by this advertisement which was found by Linda Beebe in the 1904 edition of the Miami City Directory:
The restored Richmond Inn is located on the grounds of the Charles Deering estate, at Old Cutler Road and Richmond Drive.
Being in the grocery business in Cutler must have been a short-lived venture, probably because the town of Cutler started to decline. That decline was due to Flagler’s railroad being built in 1903 on the other side of the marl prairie which separated the Cutler ridge from the pine rockland to the west. In 1905, Walter homesteaded the S 1/2 of the SE 1/4 of 14-56-38 and the N 1/2 of the NE 1/4 of 23-56-39, proving up his claim on December 12, 1910. That property is on the west side of Redland Road, from S.W. 236 St. up to S.W. 228 St.
Erving, Walter’s brother, stayed in Cutler. On June 27, 1905, he married Amelia Louise Morrow in Key West. They returned to Cutler to live, where on September 6, 1906, a son was born to them. Unfortunately, he died at the age of one day. Erving was elected to the County Commission twice, representing Cutler, before resigning in 1907 and moving to Miami to go into business. At that time, he and his wife lived on 21st Street near Avenue D. He didn’t stay in Miami long, though, because by 1908, he and his wife had moved to Tampa. In 1915, he, his wife, and their daughter, Louise, were in Lakeland, where he owned a grocery and meat market. The political and entrepreneurial spirit of the Tweedell brothers continued after their brief foray into the business in Cutler.
On February 4, 1904, Walter married Maisie I. Park in Key West. That was before Flagler’s railroad had reached Key West, so Walter must have been in Key West for some other reason than to go courting. Since he and his brother owned a store which sold “family groceries”, perhaps he was buying merchandise for it. At that time, Key West was a much larger city than Miami. In the 1900 census, both Maisie and her parents were shown as having been born in the Bahamas. That wasn’t unusual at all – there were (and still are) quite a number of Conchs who trace their ancestry to the Bahamas. Their son, Carl Lee Tweedell, was born on January 3, 1905.
On May 28, 1911, Walter is mentioned in a Miami Herald newspaper article concerning the activities of the Democratic committee in Dade County. He was representing Redland. He probably didn’t stay on his homestead for too long after proving up, though. Most likely, he, like many others, sold out to some newcomers for a good profit and moved into Homestead. In April, 1912, he won the Democratic primary and in November of that year won the general election for the County Commission seat representing Homestead. He defeated Roy O. Marsh, a surveyor whose name appears on many early plats in the south end of Dade County.
According to the Miami Metropolis of September 1, 1911, Walter bought J.U. Free’s store in Homestead, the one that Free built across from the depot, not the new store that was located south of the Redland Hotel. That one was built later. Despite what Taylor wrote in her book, Tweedell’s store was more than a grocery store – it was a general merchandise store, like the new store that J. U. Free opened further down Flagler. Free’s obituary, which appeared in the November 13, 1928 issue of the Homestead Leader, mentioned that Tweedell bought Free’s store.
On August 29, 1913, he bought the “northwest half of lot 5 in block 11, of Homestead.” The only plat that matches this description is the original plat of Homestead, as recorded in book B, page 144. If my surmise is correct, then the lot that Tweedell bought was at the corner of Homestead Avenue and 2nd St., just a short distance from his store. The sellers were Fred S. Loomis and his wife, Jessie.
Walter must have been the gregarious sort, as not only was he the owner of a general merchandise store, he was also a member of the Board of County Commissioners, a position he was to hold until his health failed and he resigned his seat immediately after he had been re-elected in November of 1920, having served since 1912. J. D. Redd received confirmation that he had been appointed to the vacant commission seat by Governor Hardee on January 18, 1921. Walter spent some time in Tucson, Arizona, where he had relatives, in an attempt to regain his health, but he was unsuccessful. He died on September 16, 1921 in Homestead and the services were conducted at the Methodist Church, according to his obituary, which appeared in the Miami Herald on September 17. He was buried in the Palms Woodlawn Cemetery in Naranja.
After Walter died, his widow married James A. Daugherty. James Daugherty was in real estate and lived at 100 E. Mowry in 1927. Maisie is buried between her first and second husbands, with her son and his second wife, Lula Eldeen Dows (neé Teel) buried at her feet. Carl was a movie projectionist who probably started out his career by working for Jim English at the Seminole Theater in Homestead. His first wife, Mae Sayers, a daughter of William David Sayers and Lydia Charlotte Vihlen, is buried in Ocala, Marion County, Florida.
Carl and Mae had two sons, Walter D. and Jack A., so a fuller understanding of Walter Tweedell’s contributions to the Homestead and Dade County area may yet be discovered.