During the past 12,000 years, Native American cultures including Paleo-Indian, Tequesta, Seminole and Afro-Bahamian inhabited South Florida.
The Tequesta once canoed the waters of Biscayne Bay and hunted on the high grounds of the Miami Rock Ridge, part of the land known today as the Deering Estate at Cutler. Although their way of life vanished long ago, their archaeological remains form the Cutler Burial Mound and help to create a comprehensive record of the earliest human habitation of Miami.
To visit the Cutler Burial Mound one follows a dirt path that leads off the manicured main grounds of the Deering Estate and onto the original Old Cutler Road (Ingram Trail) through hundreds of acres of protected natural areas. Wild coffee plants and pigeon plum trees fill the first environmental zone.
The next region is a tropical hardwood hammock, and there tucked into a forest are the remnants of a Tequesta habitation site and burial mound. It is believed that 12 to 18 Native Americans, including women and children, are buried there in a circular placing, much like the spokes of a wheel. A 400- to 600-year-old oak tree looms over the burial mound, with its roots extending arm-like to cradle those buried beneath.
Today, the Deering Estate Foundation’s staff and board of directors work hand-inhand with the staff of the Deering Estate at Cutler to fulfill their mission, one part of which is to secure funds to support education, research, exhibits and collections, and historic preservation
When it came time to replace a beloved, yet aged, wooden boardwalk circumnavigating the Cutler Burial Mound providing appropriate public access to the sensitive site, Mary Pettit, executive director of the foundation reached out to the community for private funding. Through the generosity of the Batchelor Foundation and John and Suzuyo Fox, a sturdy new wooden boardwalk has been constructed
“The boardwalk, originally built by Eagle Scouts, served us well for so many years, becoming a centerpiece for our archaeological programs tours,” Pettit explained. “But over time, the rope handrails and wooden planks became weakened.”
After taking Sandy and Jon Batchelor on a tour of the estate’s historic and natural areas, they asked the foundation to submit a proposal for a new Cutler Burial Mound boardwalk. Shortly thereafter, the Deering Estate Foundation received a challenge grant from the Batchelor Foundation agreeing to fund two-thirds of the project if the remaining one-third could be raised from other sources. That challenge was immediately and graciously met by John and Suzuyo Fox, and allowed the project to move forward.
From the onset, it was obvious that this construction would be a delicate project due to the sensitivity of the land and the regulatory and stewardship responsibilities inherent to it. Building the new boardwalk became the most substantial collaborative effort since the reconstruction following Hurricane Andrew, with archaeological and environmental issues and building codes to meet.
Two years have past since the initial plans began to build the boardwalk, and now, with the structure completed, a vibrant level of activity exists at the site.
“The Cutler Burial Mound boardwalks allows us numerous teaching and learning opportunities,” said Jennifer Tisthammer, assistant director of the estate. “We talk about our culture and man’s interaction with his environment present day, in context of the lessons we learn from people in our past. We also look to the future and address some of the most critical issues facing our society.”
The Deering Estate at Cutler offers a variety of nature-based recreation and environmental education programs that include field study trips, monthly Tequesta Trail special tours, a monthly lecture series in partnership with the Archaeological Society of Southern Florida and daily natural area tours to the Cutler Burial Mound.
“These gifts and grants give us an opportunity to ensure the sustainability and importance of education and interpretive elements at the estate, “ said Bill Irvine, director of the Deering Estate. “The boardwalk is a dynamic, exciting and sustainable model for what the community can accomplish when working together.”
The Deering Estate Foundation is a volunteer driven community-based charitable 501(c)(3) Florida corporation that was founded in 1989 by members of the community for the sole purpose of preserving, protecting and enhancing the Deering Estate at Cutler for this and future generations. To join in their efforts and become a member, call 305-235-1668, ext. 266.
This 444-acre natural and archaeological preserve and historic site is located at 16701 SW 72 Ave. in Palmetto Bay, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic house tours are offered daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.; natural areas tours depart at noon with admission to the estate.