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 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.
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 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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.