Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dixie Highway

In my last post I brought up my connection to the Dixie Highway, so you'll have to read it to know what I'm talking about here. Sorry. Sometimes complete thoughts don't fit into a neat little box, sometimes they're sloppy and flop all over the place, you know, like life.

So, the Dixie Highway was a route connecting south Florida and Illinois and Michigan. This was no interstate highway, it was mostly two-lane as many roads were in the early days of US Roads. This was 1915 or thereabouts when it was conceived. Many roads didn't even have a route number, so the Dixie Highway was marked with a DH sign like this. I guess if you didn't see one for a couple of days, you were off the route.

The real 'interstates' in those days were the railroads and that's really what opened up Miami. Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast (FEC) railroad brought people down to his hotel and towns were built around the stations he peppered along the way. The house I grew up in on 118th Terrace was very near the FEC track and I used to walk along it as kid. The big boom in Miami was a direct result of the railroad. But as cars proliferated, more and more people came down the Dixie Highway.

As I discovered recently, there was an East Dixie Highway and a West Dixie Highway. They called them that because one road was on the east side of the tracks and the other on the west. I knew all about West Dixie, because it went right through North Miami, right through the center of town, right by one of the Royal Castle restaurants (No. 24) I used to work at. The North Miami Theater was on West Dixie, the Carvel's, the People's Gas plant, the Ancient Spanish Monastery, all the big attractions.

And it was an odd road, because it was not north-south or east-west. It was on an ANGLE. I know now that it was designed that way to dump people onto NE 2nd Avenue and then south to downtown. Coincidentally, I also worked at a Royal Castle (No. 2 which was really the first one) in Little River right on the West Dixie Highway (see below).

But when I was growing up, much of the East Dixie had been overlaid by Biscayne Boulevard, but not all of it as I discovered. The East Dixie (just the Dixie Highway for a while, since it was the first) followed the path of the old Military Highway originally cut to allow troops to fight in the Seminole Wars. Well, this road was pretty joggy because it followed a limestone ridge along the coastline. One of the jogs took it down NE 16th Avenue right where I lived on 118th Terrace.

The main house of our neighbor there, Kobe's Trailer Park, turned out to be one of the first houses in northern Miami. It was built by the Burr family in 1907. Now it's part of a condo complex. Northern people sit on the grounds and drink gin and tonics and don't realize they're on the site of one of the first farms in northern Miami. They grew pineapples and fruit trees and tomatoes and shipped them on the nearby railroad. All without air conditioning.

Farther south on another still existing jog of the East Dixie, my parents used to take us to an undeveloped part of what is now Miami Shores so we could run around (nice socks, Dave). I was able to track locations by means of photographs and we were right on the East Dixie. How about that! Another of my Royal Castles (No. 112) was only a couple of blocks from there and I never knew it.

So, two places that I lived and many events in my life are tied to the Dixie Highway. But you know, information like this doesn't always jump out at you. Sometimes you have to go and dig it up.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I've still got those socks!!