At the southern end of Coconut Grove, you’ll find hidden away The Kampong, one of the oldest landmarks in Miami, Florida. One of the cities more celebrated citizens, Dr. David Fairchild, named this property adjoining the waterfront, after a Malaysian word for village. It’s easy to overlook, if you’re driving fast, so it may pay to slow down and take a look for the sign for this National Tropical Botanical Garden, the only only Congressional-chartered tropical botanical garden on the mainland (there are four more located in Hawaii). There’s also a gigantic Banyan tree which marks this historic spot, behind a wall of limestone. This is a site that’s known not only for its natural beauty, its public education outreach, or its scientific research; it’s known, too, for the history, which begins as far back as the 1876, where a man named Jolly Jack Peacock made a deal with the Duke of Dade, or J.W. Ewan, selling the property for fifty dollars.
Ewan grew fruit and pineapple trees, then later, in 1892, sold the land to the first female doctor in the area, Dr. Galt Simmons, and she built a pine wood and limestone barn, a structure that still exits at the botanical garden. In the 20th Century, in 1916, David Fairchild became the owner of the land. Fairchild worked for the US Department of Agriculture as the Chief of Seed and Plant Introduction, and in that capacity he went around the planet and collected twenty thousand varieties of plants to bring back to the United States, and some of these have been planted at The Kampong. It was Fairchild who was largely responsible for introducing America to a number of fruits found elsewhere in the world. He even introduced California to the avocado.
On The Kampong, then, you’ll find an incredible array of plant life. There are hundreds of trees on the property, including the Buddha’s Hand, which is sacred tree in Southeast Asia, and an African Baobab. But the history of the place is not restricted to plant life alone. Fairchild’s wife, Marian, happened to be inventor Alexander Graham Bell’s daughter. Her sister was the wife of Gilbert Govesnor who was the National Geographic Magazine’s first editor. The Kampong saw visits of the famous, such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, as well as Alexander Graham Bell.
Today, the site is partly a research organization, allowing students to explore different types of plants for which they might otherwise have to travel the world to find. If you’re in the Miami area, staying in one of the great places the city offers its own travelers, then you can visit The Kampong, too. You may take a self-guided tour, simply by calling and making a reservation. There’s a fee of ten dollars for adults and five dollars for students, and its free for those children under the age of six. Call here to find out more: (305) 442-7169.