The Biscayne Times

Feb 22nd
Courthouse Built for Growth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Paul S. George, Special to the BT   
January 2018

A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami

TPix_PictureStory_1-18hree years after its incorporation as a city in 1896, Miami became the county seat of vast, sprawling Dade County. The county seat formally moved from Juno in today’s northern Palm Beach County to the rapidly growing city along the Miami River in 1900.

Workers removed the cells from the jail in Juno and placed them, along with one prisoner and the county records, on a barge for transport to the Miami River, 90 miles away.

Soon the human cargo and freight were delivered to a two-story wood-frame building standing near the edge of the north bank of the Miami River on property owned by Julia Tuttle, the “Mother of Miami.”

Almost from the beginning, this courthouse was too small for the growing business of the county and of the 11th Circuit Court, which met there. In 1901 a Dade County grand jury called for a new courthouse, branding the existing structure inadequate.

At the same time, Henry M. Flagler, the great Gilded Age industrialist who had almost instantly transformed Miami from a barren wilderness to an incorporated city following the entry of his Florida East Coast Railway into Miami in 1896, donated 12 adjoining lots on the site of the present downtown county courthouse. According to Miami pioneer John Sewell, he and a Flagler representative examined several possible sites for a new courthouse before selecting the “best prospect on 12th [today’s W. Flagler Street] running through to 11th Street [now NW 1st Street] and bounded on the west by the F.E.C.”

The architect William Augustus Edwards predicted that the “building will be monumental in character, and a classic structure.” He emphasized its potential beauty owing to the white limestone façade. According to the plan, the first floor would contain county offices and a commission chamber, while the second, or top, floor would host a courtroom. Additionally the new, red-domed courthouse would contain two jury rooms, a grand jury quarters, the circuit judge’s chambers, and a witness room.

Construction began in 1902 and was completed two years later, with the county and court moving in shortly thereafter to a building branded by the Miami Metropolis as “an object of pride, not only to the people of the county, but to the state.” The courthouse would serve the county until the mid-1920s, when a real estate boom and an attendant population explosion rendered it insufficient for the county’s operations.


Paul George is historian at HistoryMiami Museum. To order a copy of this photo, please contact HistoryMiami archives manager Ashley


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Pix_PictureStory_2-19A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami