By: Kara Franker
An enclave of rich Bahamian culture, Coconut Grove’s Village West neighborhood is a historical gem.
Long before skyscrapers dotted the horizon and made up Miami’s bustling urban core, the village of Coconut Grove was a small seaside community, nestled just south of present day Downtown.
First settled by pioneers from the Bahamas, Coconut Grove began it’s storied past more than one hundred years ago. In the late 1870s, Bahamians traversed the waters separating the island chain from Florida and began working at the Peacock Inn.
This thriving community made many valuable contributions to the neighborhood, including the ability to construct simple, sturdy houses that could withstand storms and the rainy season. Made of coral rock and Dade-County pine, a termite-resistant and affordable building material, many of these durable houses are still standing.
Commonly referred to as “shotgun houses,” this type of architecture can be traced back to West Africa, particularly the Yoruba tribes. According to historians, a bullet fired at the front door would pass straight through the house and out the back door, hence the name of this style of home.
Today a section of Coconut Grove called Village West retains it’s eclectic and rich history and specific sites are listed as points of interest as part of the celebration of Black Heritage, including:
• The Village House: first Black funeral home.
• The Ace Theatre: built in 1925 as movie theater.
• Nassau Daddy Peacock: sculpture by Rosie Brown.
• Coconut Grove Cemetery: first used as a final resting place for Bahamian immigrants in the early 1900s.
• Mariah Brown House: home of one of the first Bahamians to arrive to Coconut Grove.
• E.W.F. Stirrup House: home of an early settler who built 100+ homes in the area.
• Coconut Grove Playhouse: built in 1927.
• Winston Elliott Scott House: home of one of the first Black astronauts.
Renowned journalist Arva Moore Parks further describes a selection of the historic churches in the area:
Odd Fellows Hall/United Christian Church of Christ 3288 Charles Avenue
Although drastically altered with the second floor removed, this circa 1897 building called Odd Fellows Hall, housed the first Black library, literary and fraternal society in South Florida and for many years was the community gathering place.
St. James Baptist Church 3500 Charles Avenue
Christ Episcopal Church 3481 Hibiscus Street
This historic church was formerly the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church (St. Agnes), which was founded by Rev. Samuel Sampson in 1895. Today. the 1922 church building it is the home of St. James Baptist Church.
Founded in 1901, Christ Episcopal Church was the church home of Father Theodore R. Gibson, priest, community activist, civil rights leader and former City of Miami commissioner. It is the oldest Coconut Grove church in its original location.
Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church 3515 Douglas Road
Originally known as St. Agnes Missionary Baptist Church, the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church is the oldest church in the Village West and the first Baptist Church in the Miami area. Its first home, built in 1895, was on Charles Avenue. The present edifice dates from 1948.
Greater St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church 3680 Thomas Avenue
In 1896, 12 settlers gathered in the living room of Mariah Brown’s house to form St. Paul AME Church. The first AME Church on this site was built in 1934, although the congregation once had a building on Charles Avenue that, in 1900, housed the first school for Black children prior to the opening of the public school in 1901.
Additionally, the neighborhood is known for its rich culture, arts, history and festivals such as the Miami/Bahamas Junkanoo Festival. Also known as The Goombay Festival, this event, which runs along Grand Avenue, encompasses various social activities and traditional Bahamian folklore attracting thousands of people every year in December and in July.
See also: Visit 9 Historic Sites in Coconut Grove.
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