What’s in a name?

In downtown Miami’s Lummus Park sits a distinctive long stone structure which is the oldest preserved building in the city of Miami. 

It bears the deceptive title and signage - Fort Dallas.  

Instead it should be offically re-named The William English Slave Plantation Longhouse to reflect its true origin. 

With the  'Fort Dallas’ title, the public of Miami continues to be led to believe that the oldest preserved building in Miami is a relic of the US Army's campaigns to remove the Seminoles. 

Miami people deserve better than the bambozzling narrative implied by this deceptive signage. 

Hidden is the fact that the stone longhouse was built by enslaved Africans c.1842. 

Hidden is the reality that, from 1830 till the end of 1849, Miami was a substantial plantation exploiting dozens of Africans and it was the the chief business of Miami for two decades. 

So let us now insist on a change of signage so that future generations of Miamians be no longer misled. It is time to rename and to correct this signage. 

Let it be again -  The William English Slave Plantation Longhouse 


 “ Why is it called ‘Fort Dallas’ ?". Why indeed. 

The Slave Plantation Longhouse was labeled as 'Fort Dallas’ after Julia Tuttle acquired the title to the 640 acres of the original slave plantation, and when she made Colonel English’s original stone homestead her own home.

So at the founding of the City of Miami in 1896, her home was already pronounced to be  -'A former miltary officers quarters' and her stone longhouse designated as ''Old Fort Dallas’, a military barracks from the Seminole Wars'.

It should be noted that by Tuttle’s time none of the army-constructed Fort Dallas structures survived. They were long gone, likely plundered for their timbers after the US troops departed forty years before in 1858. 

The Slave Plantation Longhouse now called 'Old Fort Dallas' - Julia Tuttle Era. Note the Royal Palm Hotel in the background.

English’s Plantation Homestead in Julia Tuttle’s home. During her residence the Plantation home saw substantial improvement but she neglected the longhouse.

The Plantation origin of these buildings is hard to dispute. The US survey Map below was made in February 1849 by US Surveyor F.W. Gerdes and it clearly shows the original location of the English Plantation Homestead and the stone Longhouse. One can also see that the seperate location of the existing Fort Dallas buildings. This map is a snapshot of the Miami River mouth taken only months before Wm. English evacuated his plantation fearing imminent Seminole attack and before US troops returned again to their Fort Dallas on the Miami river.   

When Julia Tuttle died in 1898 there were still old timers such as William Wagner still alive who would have well known of the true plantation origin of the buildings, so the truth was there for the asking. 

This begs the question of whether the Fort Dallas designation was a preferred history. A history more likely to attract tourists and settlers to the new sub-tropical 'Magic City' that Julia Tuttle and Henry Flagler were selling. It would not be the first time nor the last time that real estate boosters have distorted histories. 

In 1923, just before it was moved, the structure was briefly a teahouse frequented by many of Miami’s white ladies. It had a sign which read 'The Fort Dallas Teahouse’.  At this time the Plantation Homestead was now a Public Library but it was soon to be demolished.

Therefore, when the Women’s Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) banded together in 1925 to save and move this building to it’s current location in Lummus Park, they were not saving a Slave Plantation relic but they were preserving  'Old Fort Dallas - A Barracks from the Seminole Wars'

Thankfully however, for whatever reason, we must be gratefull to the Daughters of the American Revolution, for here it stands wonderfully preserved in Lummus Park.  One wonders if the D.A.R. would have saved it with the same fervor had they understood it as a slave plantation relic.

Since 2002, the writer has been actively involved in providing public programs and displays for Lummus Park's historic buildings. In all these public encounters the Ft.Dallas name has complicated the telling of its true story. 

The first question of visitors is always -

“ Why is it called ‘Fort Dallas’ ?".  Why indeed.