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Graham House | Photo © 2019 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Graham House

Location Class:
Built: 1924 | Abandoned: N/A
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Ernest R. “Cap” Graham, Farmer and State Senator

Ernest R. “Cap” Graham was born in 1886 in Croswell, Michigan. He worked as a mining engineer in South Dakota where he would meet his first wife, Florence Morris. They would have three children together: Philip Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post; William “Bill” Graham, president of the Graham Company and principal developer of Miami Lakes; and Mary Graham Crow. He served in the U.S. Army in World War I and attained the rank of captain in the 309th engineers.

The Company Town of Pennsuco

In 1921, he and his family moved down to the company town of Pennsuco, Florida to manage operations for the Pennsylvania Sugar Company. The Pennsylvania Sugar Company established Pennsuco in 1920 and built a sugar cane plantation and sugar mill, and a self-contained community housing employees and their families. It contained a store, a church, a doctor, a dance hall, and a post office.

Workers employed at the plantation were housed in framed buildings constructed on stilts to protect against high water. Single men lived in bunkhouses and were fed in the company mess hall, while families were placed in individual units. White and black workers were also separated into different units during this time. White workers were paid from $100 to $200 a month including living quarters. Black workers were paid 20c an hour until the pay was increased to 40c in 1925. All workers normally worked a ten-hour day, six days a week, or a total of sixty hours a week. It was within this community that Ernest Graham built the family home in 1924.

The real estate boom of the 1920s in South Florida caused property values to rise so rapidly that large numbers of dairies in the county were forced to shut down by 1924. This resulted in a decrease in fresh milk supply which was alarming for those holding interests in the dairy industry.

View of the Pennsylvania Sugar Company plant in Pennsuco, Florida. c.1920. Library and Archives of Florida

On May 16, 1925, the Dade County Dairy Association invited Ernest Graham to discuss the possibility of utilizing Everglades land for cow pastures. Ernest spoke about how the Pennsylvania Sugar Company was planning on draining 425 acres of Everglades land using pumps. If this was successful, the same method could be used for pastures.

The heavy rains later that same year along with the “bust” of the real estate boom prevented the draining project from advancing. The flooding experienced that year was not out of the ordinary as Pennsylvania Sugar struggled with heavy rains destroying their crops during the summer and fall seasons. By 1925, the sugar operation had failed and in 1927, the Pennsylvania Sugar Company sold its sugar mill to the Southern Sugar Company which moved the mill up to Clewiston.

After a flood in the summer of 1925, the land was adapted for regular truck farming such as tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes. Many of these vegetables were sold in the Miami area, but much of it was shipped up to northern markets. From 1928 to 1931, the plantation operated as the Pennsuco Farming Company and Ernest remained as manager. A canning factory was put into operation in 1930 for canning surplus potatoes and beans. These cans were sold under the trade name of the Pennsuco Farming Company.

Pennsylvania Sugar wasn’t especially interested in running a truck farm since sugar was its main business and the Great Depression made it impossible to operate the plantation profitably, so operations were shut down in 1931. Ernest Graham was able to negotiate with the sugar company and acquired 7,000 acres of land to start a business called Graham Dairy. Many of the old buildings were reused such as the housing units, commissary, and offices. The warehouse for the former sugar mill was used for storing animal feed and farm equipment. Pennsuco’s post office continued operating until 1933.

Graham Dairy delivery milk truck, 1937

Graham’s wife died of cancer in 1934, and in 1936, he remarried to Hilda Simmons, a schoolteacher. They had one child together, future Florida Governor and United States Senator Bob Graham. In 1936, Ernest was elected to the Florida State Senate, where he served two terms from 1937 to 1944. As a state senator, he sought to increase taxes on horse racing to increase funding for the aged. This led to an investigation into horse racing in the state resulting in the publication of alleged corruption and mob connections within the Florida racing industry.

In 1942, he lobbied for Dade County and Miami, seeking more government contracts and other benefits for the area. He promoted the use of a barge canal across Florida through Lake Okeechobee to avoid the risk of wartime shipping through the Florida Straits. In 1948, Ernest unsuccessfully sought election to the Dade County Commission. The town of Pennsuco, with a population of 133 at the time, was incorporated in 1949. Ernest Graham returned to farming and would live here until his death in 1964.

The dairy farm moved to Moore Haven in the early 1950s due to residential development, taking many residents of the town with it. By the 1970s, the family sold much of the town’s land to Rinker Materials Co., a concrete manufacturing company. The dwellings, including the coral rock home of the Grahams, remained on the Graham Company land. The population of Pennsuco dwindled to 74.

Homes were knocked down and Okeechobee Road was widened from two lanes into a six-lane U.S. 27. By 1985, Pennsuco’s population was 15. The following year, having no police or fire services, no sewers, and no city water, the remaining residents voted to abolish the city charter and were annexed into Dade County.

Ernest R. Graham in front of the Graham family home, 1959

Graham House

Built in 1924, the childhood home of former Florida governor Bob Graham now sits abandoned, a remnant of what was once the largest dairy farm in the state. The coral rock-made house was designated a historic landmark of Miami-Dade County in 1982. Despite that, the house has fallen into ruin.

In the early morning hours of February 23, 2024, authorities responded to a “large and actively burning” fire inside the Graham House and saw a woman running from the scene. 37-year-old Angela Taylor was quickly apprehended and it was said that her “hands, face, and clothing were covered in soot and ash.” Fire investigators determined the blaze was “consistent with someone pouring (accelerant) onto the floor or onto an object placed on the floor.”

The police report stated that “While attempting to speak with the defendant (Taylor), she repeated that she had the right to be in the building because she believed she owned the land it was on. The defendant also stated that she was inside using the fire, but someone else started it. There was no one else seen in or around the large open property at the time the officers arrived, and the defendant was the only person in the building.”

Taylor was determined to have been homeless with a last known address in Fort Walton Beach. She was arrested on charges of burglary and first-degree arson and was taken to Miami-Dade County’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.

Angela Taylor’s mugshot whose face is covered in soot and ash. Miami-Dade County Corrections

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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