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Arch Creek Park

HISTORY OF THE PARK
 

Arch Creek, and the area surrounding it, was one of six Tequesta Indian occupation sites built along Dade County estutaries. The Tequestas established other campsites at the Oleta River, Surfside, Little River, the Miami River, and Snapper Creek. Arch Creek, however, was unique. It had a natural limestone bridge spanning 60 feet, from which the Indians could fish and which provided a raised, dry highway to the Everglades.

Other factors contributed to the idyllic setting at Arch Creek. There was an oak hammock near the creek, which provided shade, as well as edible plants, nuts and berries.Biscayne Bay, less than a half mile away, was a prime food source for the Tequestas; there they caught shellfish, shark, manatee and turtle. North of the hammock were pine flatiands, which sheltered the all-important coontie plant (Zamia integrifolia), whose roots the Indians ground to make an edible starch product.

Tequesta habitation sites characteristically have midden areas, or Indian garbage dumps. The gradual decomposition of refuse, including plant material and animal bones, produces a rich black soil. Many artifacts have been preserved in the soil, and archaeologists have uncovered many of them, such as bone points, shell tools and pottery shards. During their centuries of occupation (from c. 400 A.D. to c. 1200 A.D.), the Arch Creek Tequestas had what appears to be a fairly comfortable lifestyle, supported by the abundant natural resources at the site.
 

The Coontie Mill
The Tequestas were the first people to recognize the value of Arch Creek, but they were not the only ones. Around 1858 two ambitious pioneers used the creek and its natural bridge as a site for a coontie starch mill. These early entrepreneurs learned how to clean the poisonous roots, and dammed up the waterway under the bridge, diverting the flow through a sluice they carved out of a solid limestone bank. The water turned a wooden wheel attached to a nail-studded grinder, which mashed the cootie roots into a paste-like pulp. The resulting starch was then soaked and strained to remove any remaining poison. Laid out in wooden racks, the starch dried quickly, and the sun bleached it white. But coontie starch was not as successful as the pioneers thought, and the mill was abandoned several years later. The water sluice was filled in and paved over, and was not discovered until archaeologists excavated it in 1972.
During the early 1800's the natural bridge was part of the only passable connection between Ft. Dallas in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, in what is now Broward County. It served a valuable function in the Seminole Indian Wars, and formed part of the Capron Trail (also known as Military Trail). By the late 1800's a few more people had settled around Arch Creek. Many of these settlers came from Elmira, New York to homestead the rich land and take advantage of the tropical climate. They began the city known as North Miami, and were primarily an agricultural community, growing and exporting thousands of crates of tomatoes and pineapples each year. When the railroad was built part of it ran alongside Arch Creek for some sections. The Arch Creek Depot opened in 1903, followed soon by a post office and a school.
 
A Destination
Many of the pioneer North Miamians used theArch Creek Bridge as a picnic and sightseeing spot. They fished from the bridge, and a few baptisms were performed in the clear water of the creek. The Metropolis Newspaper, reported that one Clarence H. Billings "had cleaned out the obstructions in Arch Creek so that he could operate his launch, the 'Laura' which drew only twenty inches of water, for sightseeing trips between Miami and the Natural Bridge. It was a good tourist trip because of the deep gorge near the Natural Bridge, the bridge itself, the tropical foliage covering the banks of the winding streams, the trees covered with immense orchids, the alligators sunning along the banks and the quail and duck shooting". (Peters, 1976.)

A refreshment stand, which also dispensed souvenirs and postcards, stood at the north end of the bridge for many years. It was plastered with conch shells, and called "the shellhouse" by the locals. By 1920, Arch Creek had a population of 307. During the land boom, 400 acres in the area sold for $33,000,000 in just two and one half hours. The money was reportedly carried to a bank in wooden barrels (Muir, 1953).

For the next thirty years, Arch Creek continued to grow and develop. In 1952 it was incorporated into the City of North Miami. During the 1950's, it was the home of the Sea Breeze Trailer Park. The tall oaks sheltered almost a hundred trailers near what is now N.E. 135th Street.

 
The Bridge's Future is Threatened

In 1957, the first of many threats against the future of the natural bridge materialized. The bridge was endangered by a plan to drain low lying areas as part of a flood prevention program. The Army Corps of Engineers wanted to blow up the bridge, or re-route the creek. A 1957 newspaper article announced that "the bridge must be sacrificed for better drainage of the area". Fortunately, protests from members of the local Audubon Society, the Historical Association of Southern Florida and the Dade Conservation Council prevented any of this destructive action.

Things remained quiet until the 1970's, when Arch Creek became the property of the Chrysler Automobile Corporation. Their plans called for the construction of an automobile showroom, and a new and used car agency. In 1972, Chrysler requested a zoning change from the City of North Miami, which would have allowed them to pave the area and build a garage on the property. Vigorous opposition came from theTropical Audubon Society, the Miami-West India Archaeological Society, the Keystone Point Homeowners' Association, and the members of the Arch Creek Trust. After almost a year, of intense lobbying the State of Florida agreed to purchase the land for a state park. The State's Land Acquisition Trust allocated $822,000 to buy 7.9 acres of property east of the Creek.

The Land is Saved
A group of local citizens, who later formed the organization Arch Creek Trust, went to Tallahassee in February 1973, to finalize the agreement. On the night they returned, the natural bridge collapsed and fell into the creek. Rumors of sabotage ran through the community, and the Metro-Dade Police Bomb Squad was called out. Nothing was discovered, and experts generally agreed later that the fall was probably due to constant vibrations from passing trains, or erosion, or just old age and decay. In the years that followed, there were various efforts to restore the bridge, clear the property of trash and save additional land in the area.

In 1978 Dade County leased the land from the State of Florida and began making plans to turn it into a passive recreation facility. Clean-up crews appeared, and construction started on a small museum and nature study center. A nature trail was constructed in the hammock area by the Youth Conservation Corps. In addition, they planted over 500 trees. The Arch Creek Park was formally dedicated on April 25, 1982. Today, Arch Creek is an eight-acre site at the junction of N.E. 135th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, and offers many opportunities for botanical, historical and archaelogical study. It has a museum/nature center modeled after an early Florida pioneer home, displaying Indian artifacts dug from the grounds, and live animals from the nearby hammock. Remains of the original coontie mill are still visible across the creek, and the Park exists as the only preserved archaeological site in the County.
 
The Park is Expanded
In 1992, Arch Creek Trust and the Trust for Public Lands worked to acquire an additional 1.5 acres at the northern end of the park, bringing the total acreage of the park to 9.4. Funding was provided by the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL)Program. In 1994 the park received a grant to add a Butterfly Garden, on this new site, using native butterfly-attracting plants.