By Megan McLaughin, PlusUrbia Design
The neighborhood that we call Allapattah today was originally a grassy prairie intersected by a creek that fed into the Miami River. The first non-indigenous settlers of this area of Miami were William Wagner, his West Indian Creole wife Eveline, and their children, who arrived from Charleston, South Carolina in 1855 and established a homestead with a coontie mill. Present-day Allapattah’s cultural diversity was foreshadowed by the arrival of this mixed-race couple, who came to the unregulated frontier of Miami in part to escape persecution and discrimination in Charleston, as mixed-race marriages were illegal in South Carolina at the time.
From this promising beginning, a hard-working, culturally diverse neighborhood was born, a neighborhood that has been reborn and redefined numerous times in the past century. Today Allapattah is best known for its tight-knit Dominican population, who since the early 1980s have established a thriving micro-economy, consisting of small, neighborhood-serving businesses, in particular along NW 17th Avenue.
In 2019, Dade Heritage Trust partnered with the Allapattah Collaborative to bring attention to the unique character of this thriving Dominican neighborhood, and to support the small, locally-owned businesses along 17th Avenue. Along with Mileyka Burgos and Manuel Ochoa, Dade Heritage Trust has supported efforts for 17th Avenue to become part of a nationwide network of Main Street programs. Established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Main Street America is a network of large and small communities who understand that their locally-owned, walkable commercial areas (often the Main Street in small towns) are an important source of community identity and economic resilience. Based on an approach of preservation and supporting community self-sufficiency, “Main Street empowers communities to set their own destinies. While revitalization is challenging work, the Main Street program offers a road-map for locally-owned, locally-driven prosperity. Across the country, thousands of communities have used the Main Street Approach to transform their economies, leverage local leadership, and improve overall quality of life.”
As part of this effort, Dade Heritage Trust has commissioned a building inventory study of NW 17th Avenue between NW 20th Street and NW 36th Street, which is being undertaken by PlusUrbia Design. This study provides a snapshot of history for each property along 17th Avenue, including a historic photo, a current photo, and a history of the various businesses that were located on the site from the 1920s until the 1970s. This “picture in time” provides information for current property owners and neighborhood stakeholders to make informed decisions about the future, based on a better understanding of the history of Allapattah’s “Main Street.” This investigation into Allapattah’s history has already revealed the hard-working, industrial character of 17th Avenue throughout the 20th Century, and the cultural transformation of the neighborhood as waves of Dominican immigrants arrived in the neighborhood by way of the Miami River.