MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Dr. Paul George is the well known as resident historian at HistoryMiami Museum. Having conducted tours for over 30 years, there isn’t much he doesn’t know about Miami and its many important characters. As he points them out in the exhibits, you get the sense he knows them.
“Here’s the mother of Miami, Julia Tuttle; here’s the father of Miami, Henry Flagler and here’s the great Glenn Curtis, a great aviator and speed racer who developed Miami Springs.”
From its earliest inhabitants, the Tequesta Indians, to the bling that is the University of Miami “turn over chain,” Miami’s journey is documented and brought to life at HistoryMiami Museum.
George points out some of the museum’s over two million photos, hundreds of which are on display.
“Here’s Vizcaya under construction in 1910; George Merrick, the developer of Coral Gables,” George contemplates, “I’ve got so many favorites it’s hard to pick, but the parade pictures always driven me crazy it always has.”
Visitors can imagine what it was like to ride through downtown 100 years ago.
“This is our key marquis item in the exhibit, a trolley streetcar. These were all over Miami, downtown, Coral Gables, they crossed over the causeway to the beach from 1906-1940,” explains Jorge Zamanillo, Executive Director. “We found this one in the 70s, it was being used as a toolshed, so we had it completely cleaned out and restored.”
Connecting the past to the present is what he loves most about this job.
“Somebody came to the exhibit with his daughter and his grandkid, and when he looked up (at the rickety raft displayed) he realized ‘This is the boat I came on from Cuba’, just amazing,” recalled Zamanillo.
From rafts that brought refugees who changed the city’s culture, to reminders about aviation, news and retail worlds.
“The Burdine family came from Polk County in 1898, established themselves and grew to be ‘The Florida store’,” explained George.
Television drama “Miami Vice” brought a very different Miami image to the rest of the world.
“In the minds of a lot of people the image of an edgy, dicey, drug-ridden place, which it was from the late 70s through the mid-80s, but on the other hand it really showcased the natural beauty of the area,” said George.
Aside from a visit to the museum, it is recommended that you immerse yourself in the history with tours. These include Downtown Miami, Art Deco, three different Coconut Grove tours, Wynwood, Buena Vista design district, Miami River boat tour, and a Key Biscayne/Stiltsville boat tour.
HistoryMiami is one of the largest private, regional history organizations in the southeastern United States and is celebrating its 80th anniversary next year. They are located at 101 West Flagler Street, Miami. You can get more information at www.historymiami.org.