A group of middle-school kids are being given a guided tour of an old cottage south of Miami. The guide stops and asks the students to look out large floor-to-ceiling windows from the cottage’s second story.
Silence sweeps over them as one student gasps, “I’ve never seen a backyard like this before.”
The view is made up of a long green grassy hill that slopes slightly downward away from the house to the keyhole dock that opens into Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. As far as the eye can see, the water stretches out as if stopping at the end of the earth.
This is part of the beauty that is known as the Deering Estate.
“There is much to do to stimulate the mind and the heart on the 444-acre estate,” explains the estate’s marketing coordinator, Cathy Guerra. “The estate offers daily tours of the historic houses — the restored 1896 Richmond Cottage and Mediterranean-revival Stone House built in 1922. Guests can hear about the amazing history of the Richmond Cottage, the first hotel between Coconut Grove and Key West, and the Stone House, a tiny piece of Deering’s beloved Barcelona on Biscayne Bay.
“On the Natural Areas Tour, visitors can walk through the lush natural areas where rare and native plants thrive, including orchids, bromeliads, ferns and more than 40 species of trees. A variety of wildlife, such as gray foxes, spotted skunks, squirrels, snakes, butterflies, and birds inhabit the area,” Guerra continued.
Charles Deering bought the old Richmond Cottage in 1915, after it had operated as the only hotel between Coconut Grove and Key West during the early 1900s. Deering used this cottage as a winter home. By 1922, he had decided to make Florida his permanent residence.
Deering designed the Stone House to bring a little bit of Spain with him since he had just finished turning an old hospital and several homes of fishermen along the Mediterranean coast into a mansion.
Once the Stone House was built, Deering moved in his furnishings, including collections of fine art and books.
Most rooms are empty now, as their contents have been placed in museums around the world, but the architectural detail of these structures is still present.
The Stone House stores Deering’s Prohibition wine cellar. Hidden behind a bookcase and a three-ton bank vault, the wine cellar demonstrates to visitors the thought given to the home’s construction.
Charles Deering was the brother of James Deering, owner of the Vizcaya Estate, located near downtown Miami and built before the Stone House. Both estates display the wealth of the brothers. However, Vizcaya still displays items that James Deering used to furnish his home.
While walking throughout the Deering Estate grounds, it is clear that both the Cottage and Stone House were built to showcase the backyard: Nearly every wall on the east side of the structures is lined with windows.
After finishing tours inside of the Cottage and the Stone House, visitors are encouraged to go outside to soak in the expansive view of the keyhole dock leading to Biscayne Bay and beyond to the Atlantic Ocean. The incredible view makes it easy to imagine why so many weddings take place at the Deering Estate.
Visitors can observe the estate’s conservation efforts by walking its trails. Deering Estate staff members offer guided nature walks, night walks, butterfly walks and bird tours. (A hint to the nature obsessed: Watch where you walk because the grounds are home to tropical spiders that reside in and between the trees.) And for those who appreciate mangrove coastal areas, the Deering Estate is an excellent destination.
Water activities are provided as well. On special days throughout the year, moonlight kayaking trips and sunset trips are made from Keyhole Dock. Boat tours are given on special holidays.
Deering cared about much more than just architecture and nature.
“[Deering was] an avid art collector, philanthropist and amateur artist [and] sought to support artists and create a cultural haven,” Guerra explained. “His tradition and innovative spirit continues on the estate today through a variety of art programs and special events, including the Artist Village, Living Artist Concert Series (LACS), SoBay Festival of the Arts, and Youth Arts Day and Music Fest.”
If You Go:
General admission is $12 for adults and $7 for youth 4-14.
Historic House Tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily and are free with estate admission
Natural Areas Tour are offered at 12:30 p.m. daily and are free with estate admission
Specialty Tours replace the Natural Areas Tour at 12:30 p.m. on weekends and are free with estate admission.
What to Wear/Bring:
Wear comfortable walking shoes and light-weight clothing.
Bring a water bottle; if you forget, water bottles can be purchased.
No restaurants are on site; there are picnic tables around the grounds, so a bagged lunch is a good option. Food is available off site at nearby coffee shops and markets.
Bring bug spray because it is a heavily wooded area.
For more information:
Address: 16701 SW 72nd Ave., Miami FL 33157