The William Wagner House is believed to be the oldest surviving house in Miami-Dade County. It was built around 1855 by William Wagner, one of present-day Miami’s first permanent residents. Wagner was a veteran of the Mexican-American War, and followed his former Army unit as they were deployed to Fort Dallas in Florida. Wagner and his family were very active in the affairs of the early Miami area community. The house that Wagner built is noteworthy for its vernacular wood frame architecture and Balloon frame construction. The home originally stood in what is now the Highland Park Subdivision before being moved to Lummus Park in 1979 to avoid demolition. Today it serves as a representation of early South Florida settlements.
William Wagner was born
to German immigrants in 1825 and probably grew up in Pennsylvania. In 1846
Wagner enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Mexican-American War
(1846-1848). In 1847 Wagner was wounded during the Battle of Cerro Gordo and
was sent to recuperate in Charleston, South Carolina. There he met and married
Eveline Aimar, a Creole woman fifteen years his senior. Wagner remained in
contact with some members of his former Army unit, which was deployed to
Florida in 1855 to reopen Fort Dallas in present-day Miami for the Third
Seminole War. Wagner decided to follow them to Florida, opening a sutler’s
store near the fort. He also claimed a forty-acre tract of land at present-day
Wagner Creek, where he built a steam-powered mill.
Sometime between 1855
and 1858 William Wagner built his home on the property. Most settlers’ homes in
the area at that time were made of palmetto fronds, as milled lumber was scarce
and expensive. It is speculated that Wagner may have had access to these
supplies from Fort Dallas, which was experiencing much construction at the
time. The house was designed with a simple, wood frame vernacular and a Balloon
In 1858, Wagner’s wife
and children joined him in Florida. The Wagners were believed to be very
outgoing people, entertaining guests at their house and befriending local
Native Americans. The family survived the Civil War largely untouched;
William’s loyalty is unknown, but some evidence suggests he was a Northern
sympathizer. In 1873 Vice President Schulyer Colfax and two U.S. Senators
briefly visited Miami, where they were treated to dinner at the Wagner house.
In 1875 the Wagners built a small Catholic church, the first church in the
county. William Wagner passed away in 1901, leaving the house and his property
to his daughter Rose Richards.
In 1906 the Richards
sold the Wagner property to the A. J. Bendle Company, a real estate development
firm that created the Highland Park Subdivision. In the process, the Wagner
house was moved fifty feet south and ended up being at 1145 N. W. 8 Avenue.
Over the years several new additions and layers were added to the original
portion of the house. In 1978 construction for a new Metrorail was planned to
go through where the house stood, and it risked being demolished. In 1979, the
owner of the house donated it to the Dade Heritage Trust preservation
organization. The Wagner house was restored and moved to Lummus Park, part of
the Lummus Park Historic District. In 2006 the district, including the Wagner
house, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Wagner house
stands in the park along with Fort Dallas; the two buildings are the last
surviving structures from Miami’s pioneer days.