Visiting a hidden gem in South Dade’s Goulds area is like traveling back in time to old Florida. Situated less than an hour’s drive south of downtown Miami, Cauley Square is a 10-acre village dating back to the 1900s.
Visitors come to explore its winding pathways and tropical gardens that lead visitors to antiques, shops, art galleries, wellness spas, restaurants, and even an aviary.
“I’ve lived in Miami all my life and I never heard of Cauley Square until a friend told me about this beautiful place and its amazing scenery,” said Rosmeris Palacio, a local resident, “I fell in love with the greenery and the peace this place offers, which is hard to find in places like Miami where everything is on a constant go.”
The tale of Cauley Square’s historic railroad village was rooted in agriculture and the construction of Henry Flagler’s railroad.
In the early 1900s, Flagler built his Florida East Coast Railway, connecting Miami to the Florida Keys. The railroad provided an efficient means of shipping Redland’s produce for men like William Cauley.
Cauley owned 10-acres along the railroad tracks and began large shipping operations. He built a two-story warehouse, a packing house, and an office for shipping agricultural products.
“The original horse-drawn carriage route was from Coconut Grove all the way down here to Cauley Square using the Old Cutler Road route for postal services,” said Jesus Castellat, Owner of Sweet Haven Books in Cauley Square. “William Cauley made this place a center point to ship out produce and hardware as well. I mean this place was thriving.”
The two-story warehouse and office that was completed blended a flat iron style with a touch of Spanish architecture. This is now the main building in Cauley Square.
Soon after, Cauley Square flourished into a village with wooden homes for railroad workers, as well as small businesses and saloons that workers frequented.
The reputation of Cauley Square during this time: a rowdy place where stories of booze, brawls, and bordellos flourished.
In 1926, a huge hurricane destroyed Flagler’s railroad, and Cauley Square fell into decline. Miami-Dade County eventually condemned the aging collection of buildings and slated them for demolition.
“I feel like taking the railroad down and not fixing it was one of the biggest mistakes they made,” said Castellat. “We still have the exchange of goods and services down here but instead we use trucks and they take over our roadways, this builds on traffic and because of this, I hope they do think of bringing the railway back.”
By 1949, preservationist Mary Anne Ballard moved to South Dade with her husband, and purchased Cauley Square with a mission to restore it to its former glory. Ballard was active in numerous conservation efforts and saw the faded beauty in the two-story building that has been the focal point of Cauley Square.
At the age of 65, what was supposed to be Ballard’s retirement instead became a plan to restore Cauley Square. Her first effort was to open the famous Tea Room in 1979, which she filled with delicate china and crystal. Entering the place is a step back in time.
“I absolutely love coming to the Tea Room with my friends. We’ve even come dressed up in like the 20th-century fashion,” said Palacios. “It definitely brings that vibe of feeling like there’s horses and carriages waiting outside.”
Other charming cottages were then converted, nestled among mature trees and tropical foliage. Once more history repeated itself when Hurricane Andrew devastated South Miami-Dade in 1992. Flattening everything in its path, including Cauley Square.
The damage was estimated at over $1 million, and Ballard once again fought to find funding. The square was not only re-opened but in 1994, it was officially declared a historic site.
After Ballard died in 1998, financial problems emerged again. Frances Varela saw the potential Ballard had in Cauley Square and purchased it in 2001. Varela spent a decade beautifying the grounds with lovely gardens, fountains, and walkways. She also restored 25 buildings that are now home to the shops and restaurants, you now see today.
As quoted by the homepage of Cauley Square; “I wanted to give back to my community, and protect this little island,” said Frances Varela current owner of Cauley Square.”
Although Cauley Square has been hit with its share of hurricanes, one last blow came from a global pandemic leaving businesses empty, and owners worried about keeping their doors open.
Post-pandemic, more people and peacocks seem to be making their way to the square intrigued by the shops around or the greenery scenery. Some folks indulge in light book reading at the local Sweet Haven bookstore.
“I do see a lot of people coming through here more often than ever before,’’ said Castellat. “When we first came here it was a desolate little place – not a lot of people would come. Now it feels like the old coconut grove before the remake.
Sweet Haven bookstore can be found down the road of Cauley Square in a charming little cottage.A furry friend will welcome you in. Bookworms can escape the real world and submerge themselves, nose-deep into a new book for all ages.
Other shops include the Tea Room with all its porcelain trinkets, an Aviary filled with a collection of exotic birds, and a few holistic shops like the Tree of Life, which offers reiki, yoga, and meditation classes, as well as a variety of workshops.
“ I was looking for a place with nourishment and when I first came in and I felt like I was being hugged by the trees, “ said Vanessa Barros owner of Tree of Life Holistics in Cauley Square. “I remember thinking, I love this feeling. There was an energy. I loved the vibe. I realized more people needed that, which is connecting to nature but connecting from their own source from within so when they come here that’s what I think they feel.”