Forgotten Workers of Early Homestead I
by Jeff Blakley
Piecing together the small number of remaining fragments of early Homestead history is quite a challenge. I’m writing this post to show how, sometimes, we historians are fortunate to be able to build on the knowledge contributed by others and are thus able to advance our knowledge of the history of Homestead.
The Florida Pioneer Museum owns the postcard that is the subject of this post.
Presented with this image, what can we learn about Homestead from it? The buildings in the image are numbered: 1. Duval’s store & P.O., 2. Free’s “, 3. Evans Hotel, 4. store, 5. F E C Depot.
“Duval’s store” refers to that of Alfred T. Duval, who was born in Mississippi in about 1847. In 1900, he lived in Cocoanut Grove, where his nearby neighbors included Colonel Obadiah Boaz, a member of the 1903-1904 Krome Cape Sable Expedition and William Fuzzard, a pioneer in Cutler. In 1910, Duval was enumerated as a “general merchant” in Homestead. In the September 1, 1911 issue of the Miami Metropolis, it was noted that he was “putting up a post office building and will put in new lock boxes and furniture.” Alfred was one of the electors who voted to incorporate the Town of Homestead in January of 1913. He died in Miami in 1936 and is buried in the Miami City Cemetery.
“Free’s “” refers to John Ulric Free, an early homesteader in the area who claimed his land in 1907. According to the Miami Metropolis of September 1, 1911, Free had sold his store to Walter J. Tweedell.
“Evans Hotel” refers to what is now called the Hotel Redland. Tom and Floretta Evans claimed their homestead on July 22, 1909 and paid cash for it on April 18, 1910. Despite what Jean Taylor wrote in her book, that the Evans bought the hotel in 1912, the evidence I unearthed in the research for this post indicates that the Evans assumed ownership of the hotel earlier, perhaps as early as the fall of 1910. In the 1910 census, taken on April 21, 1910, the Evans family was in Precinct 14 in Redland.
“store” is the Campbell Bros. general store, owned by T. A. and N. W. Campbell, located adjacent to the Hotel Redland on what was then Railroad (now Flagler) Avenue.
“F E C Depot” is the Homestead Depot, located at the intersection of Third Street and Railroad Avenue on the east side of the railroad tracks (now the busway). Fourth Street is now N. E. 2nd Road.
When we turn the postcard over, we see this:
First, note that the postcard was postmarked on March 15, 19– in Naranja, not in Homestead. The community of Naranja was platted by George W. Moody in 1912, but he was appointed postmaster of the Naranja Post Office in January of 1906. Very little has been written about the history of Naranja, but it was a thriving community up into the early 1930s.
The next thing we see is that the addressee is Miss Bettie Pherigo, Box 684, Kissimmee, Florida. Researching the Pherigo surname in Kissimmee in 1910 yielded the information that John L. Pherigo, 52; his wife, Rebecca, also 52; and children Mary W., 23; Ezekiel, 18; Elizabeth, 14, and Porchie, 10, lived there. In 1930, Ezekiel, 38, was living with his father, John L., who was widowed, and his brother Benjamin H., 39.
If we turn the postcard back over to the front, we read this: “This only shows about one sixth of the houses that there is at Homestead. Lovingly, Ben.”
The postcard was sent by Benjamin H. Pherigo to his younger sister, Elizabeth. He asked his sister to “[t]ell mamma I will send the tomatoes tomorrow. Thanks for card.”
Ben was very likely working in one of the packing houses in Naranja and on one of his trips into Homestead on a rare day off, he purchased this postcard, which was probably created by the unknown photographer who owned the Rustic Studio, pictured in the lower right side of the postcard, next to the Campbell Bros. store.
The first issue of the South Florida Banner, dated March 15, 1912 and owned and edited by Rev. Joseph A. Kahl, tells us this about Homestead: “Fifteen months ago it had little more than the railroad station. Now it has six general stores, two hotels, one restaurant, three blacksmith shops, one bicycle repair shop, lumber yard, four packing houses and work on a new bank building has just begun.” “Fifteen months ago” would have been in October of 1910. Given that Reverend Kahl did not arrive in Homestead until early 1912 (he was appointed to the Methodist circuit for Detroit in January of 1912), he had no direct knowledge of the conditions in Homestead prior to his arrival then. But he did have every incentive to contrast the allegedly primitive conditions in 1910 with the bustling place that Homestead was in 1912 so that he could sell more copies of his newspaper. By perusing the 1910 census, it is obvious that Homestead was a much more populated place than what Kahl related in his article. There were approximately 275 people living in the Homestead area in 1910.
John Ulric Free did not arrive here until the summer of 1907, at the earliest. Alfred T. Duval was here at least as early as November 4, 1904, when the Miami Metropolis reported that he had badly injured himself with an axe “south of Homestead” and had to be transported to Cutler and then to Miami for treatment.
I’ve not found any documentary evidence for the location of W. D. Horne’s first store, but it was probably on Lot 1, Block 4. Jean Taylor wrote that Horne purchased two lots in 1904 from a map furnished by the Model Land Company. He would have wanted lots close to the depot. Lot 5, Block 3 and Lot 1, Block 4 fit the bill. Both lots had the advantage of having road frontage on Railroad Avenue and Third Street – see the plat above. According to Jean Taylor, Horne finished building his store in December of 1904. He subsequently sold the business to Robert E. “Eb” Caves (Horne’s brother-in-law), who, in turn, sold it to A. T. Duval. Duval then sold out to an unknown person and moved to Miami before August 3, 1916, when the Homestead Enterprise noted that “A.T. Duval, an old Homestead resident, was in town last week on a visit.” In 1920, he, his wife and his two daughters were enumerated in Miami in the census taken that year. Horne started out with a general merchandise store (he had been a partner of Archie J. Campbell in a similar business in Miami before coming to Homestead) but soon saw more profitable opportunities in selling real estate.
Horne, being the sharp businessman that he was, sold his extra lot to J. U. Free, who built his store shortly after he arrived in 1907. The store was very likely located on Lot 5, Block 3 of the Town of Homestead – see the plat of the Town of Homestead above. After being in business for a few years, Free sold his store to Walter J. Tweedell before May 17, 1912, when Walter advertised in the South Florida Banner that he sold Star brand shoes. After Tweedell was elected to his first term as Dade County commissioner from Homestead in November of 1912, he spent less time at his store and more time attending to political matters. On November 20, 1915, he sold the northeasterly 35 feet of Lot 4, Block 3 to Jim Tosto, who had purchased Tweedell’s store on Lot 5, Block 3 prior to that date.
This photograph is believed to have been taken from in front of the Depot, looking east, towards what was J. U. Free’s first store at the southeast corner of Third Street and Railroad Avenue. Standing, left to right, are James D. Redd, James R. Dorsey and Tom J. Harris. The Horne/Caves/Duval store was on the northeast corner of the same intersection. This photograph was taken after August 20, 1914, when Jim Tosto first advertised in the Homestead Enterprise that he was a “Dealer in Groceries and Fruits, Tobaccos, Lunches and Cold Drinks” in the Tweedell Store.
Benjamin H. Pherigo left no known mark on Homestead area history other than working in a packing house in Naranja before March 15, 1911, when he sent this postcard to his sister in Kissimmee. He was born on November 24, 1889 in Kissimmee and worked as a fruit packer for James A. O’Berry in Rockdale (near present day Coral Reef Drive) in 1918. At that time, he was married to Cora and had one child. In 1935, he lived with his sister, Rhea, who was the postmistress of the Kissimmee post office, and was still a fruit-packer. I was unable to find any more information on Ben and Cora after 1940, when he still shared a house with his sister.
Since its beginning, Homestead has been a transient community. People came here to better themselves and sometimes succeeded. Those who didn’t often left and went elsewhere. This reality has made telling the story of Homestead very difficult and biased towards those who owned the media and the businesses. But for every well-known figure in Homestead history, there are one hundred unknowns. Benjamin H. Pherigo was one of them – a hard-working man who never got into trouble, married, raised at least one child and then died in obscurity in Polk County, Florida on November 15, 1977.
Thanks so much for this excellent post. Our oldest buildings are disappearing at a fast clip. It is most important to document information about our early residents that had an impact on out city.