The Wagner Homestead

Wagner House today 

The oldest known house standing in the County dates to the mid 1850s. It was built by pioneer William Wagner and his wife’s elder sons along a tributary of the Miami River, which today is known as Wagner Creek. Originally, the homestead stood near today’s Culmer Metrorail Station until 1979 when the Dade Heritage Trust saved and moved it to it’s current location in Lummus Park.

The narrative of the Wagner family spans the pioneer era of Miami from the mid 1850s on through the founding in 1896 of the City. For decades they ran a steam powered Coontie Starch Mill and they were key figures of Miami’s pioneer community especially its Catholic community. They conducted church services at their house until they built a church in the 1870s with the official support of the Bishop of Saint Augustine who visited them regularly.

The Wagners were an interracial marriage. William was a first generation German immigrant and his wife Eveline was a dark skinned Creole thought to be from Haiti. The reason they had moved to Miami was, most likely, so they could live together openly. Miami then was a very remote pioneer community of no more than three dozen people. In Georgia, where they had met, living openly together would not have been possible.

In Miami they enjoyed easy social and business relations with the local Seminoles. Some attended the Wagner’s church. However the remote pioneer life was tough and it had its ups and downs. In 1861 one of their children aged only 12 was shot dead by an elderly neighboring farmer given to alcoholic rages. Because there was no Sheriff in Miami at that time, the murderer - Mr. Marshall, was able to make his escape. 

Shortly afterwards, during the Civil War, they were unable to sell their Coontie Starch due to a Naval Blockade which prevented the pioneers shipping their product to market. Consequently they lived a subsistence existence during the war. Their daughter Rose recalled that during this time a bad storm completely wiped out their vegetable crop and they would have starved to death had it not been for the generosity of the Seminoles who bought them game and other foods while they re-established their garden.

The Wagner story was very well told in 1982 by historian Margot Ammidown in a superb scholarly article which stands the test of time. Click on the Tequesta Magazine link below.

Margot Ammidown, “The Wagner Family, Pioneer Life on the Miami River” TEQUESTA  Vol. 51 (1982).


Coontie is referred to now as arrowroot and was an abundant native cycad (Zamia integrifolia) plant whose roots could be milled and used like flour.  In 1860,Wagner’s mill was one of five mills on the Miami River.

wagner home circa 1950s

Rose-Richards- cropped

                                                       Image of Mrs. Richards (nee Rose Wagner) in 1903.