A Brief History of Miami’s Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Photo Credit: Michelle Maria from Pixabay 

In South Florida, Vizcaya is synonymous with luxury and a great wedding photo. Almost all locals in Miami know about Vizcaya, and have visited the mansion at one point in their lives. Throughout the community, it is well-known as the perfect place to take a nice wedding picture or have a special event.

Not a lot of people know about its history, however.

The estate used to belong to industrialist and conservationist James Deering. He set out building it to conserve the local landscape in the area and to protect the wildlife and plants. Deering rounded up as many as 1,000 workers to construct his luxurious estate on Biscayne Bay, in what is the present-day Coconut Grove area.

Deering suffered from anemia and was recommended by his doctors to seek refuge in a sunny, warmer climate to help with the disease. Since he loved boating, South Florida seemed like the perfect place to live year-round instead of the wintery season he was accustomed. From 1916 till his death in 1925, Deering called Vizcaya his winter home.

James Deering was born in South Paris, Maine. His father, William Deering, had inherited a family wooden mill. Mr. Deering invested in land in the Western United States to make his property more valuable. From this, young James got his inspiration for plant and land conservation.

Thanks to his efforts, Vizcaya is the picture perfect place to take a photo. Walkways made of low, trimmed shrubs come together in a geometric pattern. European aesthetic and a tropical climate blend well together here with thick columns and lush mazes along with rare orchids and palm trees in one of the many gardens on the property. Cuban limestone infused with Mediterranean vibes lends to it representing Miami in a unique way.

After James Deering passed away, he left Vizcaya to his half-brother Charles Deering and his half-nieces Barbara Deering Danielson and Marion Deering McCormick, Charles’ daughters. They maintained and supported the mansion for many years after James Deering’s passing but began selling the state’s surrounding land parcels and outer gardens after decades of hurricanes and high maintenance costs.

Portions of the Vizcaya property were even sold to the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida in 1945 to help build Miami’s Mercy Hospital. Eventually, in 1952, Vizcaya and its formal gardens became owned by Miami-Dade County needing significant restoration ($1 million at the time). 

The villa’s furnishings and antiquities were donated by Deering’s heirs to the County-Museum. Vizcaya began operation in 1953 as the Dade County Art Museum. The village and remaining property were acquired by the County during the mid-1950s. In 1994 the Vizcaya estate was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Today, it is available for visits from the public from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday (Closed Tuesdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day). Tickets for adults cost $22, Teens $15 and children aged 6-12 $10.00 (children 5 & under get in free). So, on your next visit to Miami, make sure to stop at this beautiful place for the ultimate Miami experience into the past.