Saturday, June 14, 2014

Frontier Hotel Peacock Inn and the Mother of Coconut Grove

Peacock Inn - Coconut Grove 1880
Florida State Archives/Florida Memory

By Jane Feehan

Joining the pantheon of South Florida pioneers that includes Julia Tuttle, Henry Flagler and Frank Stranahan are Charles and Isabella Peacock of England. The two were encouraged to come to the area by Charles’ brother Jack, keeper of the House of Refuge near what is now Miami Beach.

The Peacocks, who operated a meat business, left England in 1875 to come to the wilds of Florida with their three boys, Charles, Alfred and Harry. They made their way via New York and Key West to Fort Dallas at the mouth of the Miami River, an outpost that pre-dated the “Magic City.”

“We conducted a trading post and exchanged merchandise and commodities with the Indians who brought in gopher skins, plumes, corn and pumpkins,” recalled Harry Peacock in 1917 (Metropolis, July 27, 1917). “Besides trading, we also manufactured starch from komtie [coontie] selling that in Key West.”
After seven years the family built an inn at Jack’s Bight (named for Jack Peacock) in Coconut Grove. Built with “beach combed wood” the hotel opened in 1882 or 1883. The only hotel on the mainland between Key West and Lake Worth then, the Bayview House, as they named it, quickly attracted visitors. At times they were unable to accommodate all who wanted to stay. Rates were $1.50 a day, $7-9 a week or $30-$35 a month.

The inn housed a post office and courthouse and served as focal point of the growing community. According to the Miami News (Jan. 8, 1964), its visitors included President Grover Cleveland, actor Joseph Jefferson, playwright Henry Guy Carlton, author Kirk Munroe and Arthur Haigh of distillery fame who eventually bought Cat Cay. During the 1890s, railroad magnate Henry Flagler stayed there; by that time it was known as the Peacock Inn. There were five houses in the area when the Peacocks opened their hotel. Observing Isabella’s connection with the growing settlement, hotel guest Flagler nicknamed her the “Mother of Coconut Grove.” She served as “doctor, judge, minister and friend to the community.”

Life in the settlement seemed to suit pioneer Isabella. She mastered the art of cooking frontier style, serving stewed venison, boiled Seminole squash, corn pone, turtle fry, roast wild hog and turkey. She helped found the Church of the Union Chapel where Henry Ward Beecher’s nephew once preached and where she held the first Sunday school class in South Florida.
Peacock Park

Aging and infirm, Charles Peacock sold the hotel in 1902 to G.F. Schneider of Philadelphia who converted it into a school.  Charles Peacock died in 1905,Isabella in 1917. The Peacock Inn was torn down in 1926, its site purchased by the City of Miami in 1934. Established as the Coconut Grove Bayfront Park, the site was renamed in honor of the Peacocks in 1973.  Isabella and Charles picked a beautiful location for their inn; it’s one of the toughest spots in town to get a parking place today. 

Copyright © 2014, 2021 All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Metropolis, July 31, 1902
Metropolis, July 27, 1917
Miami News, March 6, 1958

Palm Beach Post, Jan. 8, 1964

Tags: Peacock Inn, Miami history, Isabella Peacock, Charles Peacock, Fort Lauderdale historian, Miami historian

1 comment:

  1. My wife's family were Peacocks from North Florida. I'll have to check for any connection with the Miami Peacocks. Thanks for sharing, Jane.