The Story of Shenandoah

By Dr. Paul S. George

“Shenandoah” is the name applied to the old Miami neighborhood stretching from S.W. 12th Avenue to S.W. 27th Avenue, from S.W. 8th Street/Calle Ocho to Coral Way/ S.W. 22nd Street. The name is derived from two subdivisions, South Shenandoah and Shenandoah Amended, both products of the expansive 1920s. The U.S. Census for 2010 found 19,245 residents within the above neighborhood parameters. The population was overwhelmingly Hispanic.

Shenandoah is a coveted residential and business venue today for its close-in location, the richness of its vintage Mediterranean-styled housing stock, schools, parks, churches, and bustling street life. In Calle Ocho, it offers one of the most prominent tourist-oriented thoroughfares on the east coast of the United States.

Before there was a Shenandoah, there was a farming community, which predated the creation of the City of Miami that would arise east of it in 1896. Captain C. J. Rose, a Union Army veteran who hailed from Ohio, arrived in the area in 1892, and homesteaded 160 acres of land around today’s Coral Way and S.W. 22th Avenue. Rose cultivated Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Later his land hosted a sizable grapefruit grove.

Northeast of Rose’s property was the 140 acre homestead of the Belcher family, whose previous stop was Coconut Grove. The Belchers later achieved prominence in Miami through their ownership of Belcher Oil and other enterprises. The Belcher homestead produced a wide array of fruits and vegetables but, most famously, pineapples. Ever the entrepreneurs, the family built a small store on their farm where their products were placed for sale.

As the young city of Miami grew westward, new developments appeared beyond its original border at S.W. 8th Avenue. An early subdivision was Westmoreland, which represents a portion of today’s east Shenandoah. By the mid-1920s, an era marking the apex of the great Florida real estate boom, the above-noted Shenandoah subdivisions appeared, their names conjuring an image of Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. The subdivisions stretched from S.W. 19th to 14th Avenues, from S.W. 8th to 14th Streets. With the City of Miami its storm center, the boom catalyzed the creation of numerous other subdivisions, many with stunning Mediterranean-styled homes, reaching to and beyond the western borders of Shenandoah. Schools, churches, parks, and new businesses also arose in the neighborhood in that era.

With the boom’s demise in 1926, hard times set in, though the Shenandoah neighborhood continued to grow, welcoming, among other groups, an increasing number of Jewish families, institutions and businesses. Although new homes and businesses appeared in the post-World War II era, that period also saw the beginning of a migration away from Shenandoah to the new suburbs rising in the west and elsewhere. Already by the early 1950s, a small group of Cubans, fleeing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, had moved into Shenandoah. This migration reached flood proportions after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.

The flight to suburbia intensified while not only Cubans, but, by the final decades of the twentieth century, other Hispanic groups settled into the neighborhood. Coral Way Elementary School, located in the eastern portion of Shenandoah, became the nation’s first public school with a bilingual and bicultural program for both English and Spanish speakers. Hispanic churches, businesses and other organizations appeared, while S.W. 8th Street, known by the late 1960s, as Calle Ocho, hosted an accelerating number of Cuban-owned businesses. By then, many observers referred to the neighborhood as Little Havana, although the population of non-Cuban Hispanics was surging.

Even before the onset of the twenty-first century, new residents began moving into the neighborhood, restoring and renovating many of its stately homes and injecting a new energy in the quarter. This movement has accelerated significantly in recent years as Calle Ocho and its nearby environs have blossomed into one of the most coveted destinations in this tourist-oriented city, welcoming millions of visitors annually to its vibrant street life, festivals, restaurants, and art and music offerings. Investors are buying and building while home prices and apartment rents have soared. Shenandoah is again a broadly popular Miami neighborhood.

In 2018, Dade Heritage Trust received a grant from the State of Florida Division of Historic Resources to perform a study of Shenandoah, its history and architectural and cultural significance. The study, Learn About Where you Live Shenandoah, will be completed later this year.