An Estate Manager’s Diary Shines Light on Miami History

Miami history The worn and stained cloth cover of the McGinnis 1922 diary. The journal is pocket-sized, measuring just 6 inches on its long edge.

One of the smallest items in Vizcaya’s archives contains oversized information about Miami history, specifically about daily life in South Florida in the 1920s. Frank Landon McGinnis, Vizcaya’s estate manager from 1919 until the 1930s, kept a daily work diary in 1922, and this resource has been digitized and made available through a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

Keeping track of the day-to-day

As the person responsible for overseeing all aspects of the estate, McGinnis describes a wide variety of work at Vizcaya. From trees being transplanted, vegetables and fruits being planted and harvested in the kitchen gardens, visitors driving through to view the Estate, and repair work being done at the Main House and to Village buildings – most projects and events cross his desk at some point.


McGinnis Journal

Details that reflect Miami’s early history

The diary also touches on social issues of the time, as when McGinnis has to spend a day bailing an employee out of jail after being arrested for alcohol possession. This was the height of Prohibition, of course, but despite the arrest, the worker continues to appear in the diary, so clearly did not lose his job after enjoying an illegal drink.
Mention is also made of work crews being sent to Cape Florida, a property then owned by James Deering. These include important details to Miami history, including the height of Cape Florida lighthouse, as well as a near-miss from a hurricane, items that would be of interest to climate researchers today.

A glimpse into Deering’s daily life

Diary entries also give a glimpse of James Deering’s daily life. McGinnis mentions when Deering arrives for the winter and when he leaves in the spring, sailing trips to the Keys, and changes and improvements to the gardens that Deering wants McGinnis to work on during the summer.

McGinnis was born and raised in Kentucky and worked at Vizcaya from its construction until the 1930s. He and his wife, Ruby Larmon McGinnis, list Vizcaya as their home in the 1930 U. S. Census. Later, they lived in Coconut Grove.

This resource has been made available in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this web resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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