On March 4, 1898, Mary Brickell won a land title case that included 640 acres of the Jonathon Lewis donation, which included a parcel of land originally granted by the Spanish government to Jonathon Lewis in 1813 during the second Spanish period in Florida’s history. Jonathon’s land grant was located just south of the Polly Lewis, Jonathon’s sister-in-law, 640-acre donation, which spanned from roughly today’s SE 8th Street to SE 15th Road.
When the United States took over the Florida in 1821, the land grants needed to be perfected and recognized by the U.S. government. The formal recognition of the Polly and Jonathon Lewis land grants by the United States government occurred in 1825. Both land grants owned by the Lewis family members were purchased by Richard Fitzpatrick in the early 1830s, which was later purchased by William Brickell from Fitzpatrick’s widow in the early 1870s.
The Jonathon Lewis donation, another term for land grant, included the area of today’s Brickell neighborhood from roughly SE 15th Road to the southern tip of Vizcaya, from the Bay to just west of the I-95 expressway. In addition to the land Vizcaya sits, the 640-acre tract also included the Cliff Hammock subdivision and a landmark known as the ‘Devil’s Punch Bowl’.
The Punch Bowl is a natural spring of fresh water located just south of today’s Alice C. Wainwright Park on private property in the 3000 block of Brickell Avenue. Given its location along the shoreline of Biscayne Bay, the spring provided drinking water for those who traveled the shoreline along this parcel of land, quenching the thirst of Indians, explorers, pirates, and pioneers through the years prior to the development of Miami.
The land title case was filed by Mary Brickell to challenge the petition by James A. Waddell, the administrator of the estate for Dr. Charles Baron, who claimed Baron held title to the land and had lived there from 1851 to 1861. During the court case, Mark Brickell presented her title for the land and documentation proving that she had possession of the property for over 27 years, cultivated the land, had driven off trespassers, and operated starch mills on the property for that duration. Judge John D. Broome of Orlando ruled that those acts were “sufficient to constitute possession of a large tract of land in a sparsely settled neighborhood”, or more succinctly, he agreed with Mary Brickell and ruled in her favor.
Over time, this 640-acre tract of land was platted and sold to some prominent Miami settlers including James Deering for his Vizcaya mansion, William Jennings, governor of Florida, his cousin William Jennings Bryan, a three-time presidential candidate and secretary of state in the Woodrow Wilson administration, plus many other prominent early Miami residents. Today, the former Johnathon Lewis tract is a valuable stretch of land in one of the most popular neighborhoods in South Florida.Click Here to Subscribe
- Miami Metropolis: “The Punch Bowl Case”, March 4, 1898.
- Miami News: “Mystery of the Devil’s Punch Bowl”, by Howard Kleinberg, March 13, 1982.
- Cover: Portrait of Mary Brickell with the Devil’s Punch Bowl in the background. Courtesy of Florida State Archives.
- Figure 1: Survey Map of Lewis Land Grants. Courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum.