Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sunday in the Park/ a day with Monkey



When I moved to North Miami in October 1956 I was a few days shy of turning 14 and Monkey came with me. It was a much more small town type place back then. Every day they'd walk the ponies from the stables near 135th St. and N.E. 16th Ave. to the pony ring on West Dixie Highway and 139th Street. Ten cents a ride, three for a quarter. Housewives along the route came out with spades and buckets in hopes of collecting some fertilizer for their rose bushes or vegetable gardens. Other horses grazed in pastures just a few blocks away along U.S. 1.

By the late 1960's pressure to build multi-story apartments displaced the pony ring with West Dixie Towers. The land where the stables were, along with the adjacent properties including a private school, were under contract for sale pending a zoning change to allow hi-rise apartments. This was the site of the 19th century village of Arch Creek, one of the earliest settlements in South Florida. It included Natural Bridge, an oolitic limestone bridge over the creek that was the path of Old Federal Highway. The community was outraged that this historic oak hammock was about to be leveled. A group of activists decided to save it. Ultimately the eastern part became a small state park while the western section became The Enchanted Forest, a city park. The city passed a bond issue and got some state and federal grant money. The school, stables and pony ring were allowed to stay as long as they were operated by the original owners.

Today the park is a popular place to take kids to watch the ducks or to ride the ponies, and a nice quiet pace to park in the shade and eat lunch. Over the years there have been several "digs" for artifacts from the early European settlements as well as the Native Americans that lived along the banks of Arch Creek for thousands of years before that. I often go the few blocks from my house just to enjoy the quiet and the fresh air, and Monkey still really loves the place.

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