Seth H. Bramson is the Company Historian of the Florida East Coast Railway, and thus the perfect person to tell the story of the FEC's Miami docks, Miami's original port, and that port's last remaining boat slip.
It appears, to many people, that the "next" desired location for David Beckham's soccer stadium is what looks like nothing more than open water between the AmericanAirlines Arena and Museum Park. This boat slip however, is akin to sacred ground, for it is the last remaining evidence of the original Henry Flagler-built P & O Steamship Company docks and Florida East Coast Railway terminal on the east side of what is now Biscayne Boulevard, and Miami's first port.
What is now known as the FEC Slip would have been between piers 4 and 5, those being the FEC piers. (The pier numbering, when the Port of Miami was hard by Biscayne Boulevard, began with Number 1, adjacent to the old Belcher Oil Company fuel terminal just south of NE 15th Street. The Seaboard Railroad served piers 1, 2 and 3, the FEC 4 and 5).
The original FEC Miami train station was on 6th Street between Avenue B (today's NE 2nd Avenue) and a road known at different times as either just 'Boulevard' or Biscayne Drive (today's Biscayne Boulevard). It was serviced by the rail spur that still exists and now continues on to the current Port of Miami. When Miami's streets and avenues were renumbered under the Chaille Plan of 1921 into the current quadrant system, 6th was the only street to retain its old number, and is still 6th today.
The FEC's passenger trains would use that beautiful building as their next-to-last, rather than their last stop. After detraining passengers who were bound for land-based destinations in the Miami area, the trains would continue across Biscayne Drive to a joint P & O/FEC station which was basically on the site of the AA Arena and was the place where passengers bound for steamers to Key West (prior to the construction of the Key West Extension of the FEC) and Havana as well as direct to Nassau would detrain. Obviously, incoming passengers could board outbound trains there as well. Once passengers were unloaded (or loaded, depending on direction of travel) the train would back out or pull out and if originating at the dock would stop at the station on 6th Street.
The legendary Henry M. Flagler built the original Florida East Coast Steamship Company dock from then 7th Street (today's NE 5th Street) to 6th Street shortly after the FEC arrived on the shores of Biscayne Bay on April 15, 1896, with the first passenger train arriving one week later. It appears, however, from all existing documentation, including articles, brochures and timetables, that the first use of the new dockage was in 1897.
In 1899 Mr. Flagler merged his FEC Steamship Co. with the Plant Steamship Company to create the Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Co. and it was that company which was in the forefront of the Miami cruise business from that time until the end of its service in the early 1970s.
Prior to the creation of Miami's port, the F E C Steamship Company initially operated from a pier extending out into the Atlantic behind the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach but with the extension of the railroad to Miami, the operation was moved there. As the port developed in size and importance the Seaboard Railroad decided to follow the FEC, and utilizing the tracks of the Miami Municipal Railway, crossed Biscayne Boulevard at 11th Street in 1926, and began serving piers 1, 2 and 3.
Several steamship companies called in Miami including the Merchants and Miners Line, the Clyde Line and several others but the P & O was always the mainstay of the passenger business. In January of 1926 the first of what are known as the "five terrible events" occurred, that being the capsizing of the 241 foot long, four masted Danish schooner, the Prinz Valdemar, exactly in the center of the turning basin of the Miami harbor, which led to the FEC embargoing itself as without the relief of the ships during the great Florida boom of the 1920s the railroad could not handle all of the freight coming into "the Magic City." (The other events dealt with the disastrous effects of the capsizing and the embargo on land sales in South Florida and culminated with the horrific September 17 and 18, 1926 hurricane, which killed more than 600 people in Miami.) The ship was eventually righted and many long-time Miamians remember it serving as the city's aquarium.
World War II brought a flurry of activity and just as the Army Air Corps/Army Air Force "took over" Miami Beach the Navy and Coast Guard took over Miami and besides establishing their South Atlantic headquarters in the DuPont Building, the Atlantic command's Submarine chaser school, known as the "Donald Duck Navy" was opened at the port.
With growing freight and passenger business the port eventually became far too small for the traffic and in 1960 construction began on the new port (now PortMiami) at Dodge Island, and by 1964, almost all operations had moved there, finally making this prime bay front property in the heart of downtown available for other uses. The original deed to the bay front property, now safely ensconced in The Bramson Archive, clearly shows and states that all property turned over by the FEC to the City of Miami for park purposes was to be free and clear of buildings in perpetuity. Long time Miamians know how quickly that codicil was forgotten.—Seth H. Bramsen
· Beckham stadium/FEC slip coverage [Curbed Miami]