One Man’s Extraordinary Quest to Find "the Devil’s Punch Bowl," or Maybe a Piece of his Heart: Part 1

Or “Postcards Sent Along the Way, of a Journey of the Heart.”

Punch Bowl Ralph Munroe POST

Grove Pioneer “Commodore” Ralph Munroe, most often behind the camera, here slakes his thirst with the cool, clean spring-fed waters of the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” A widely-accomplished man of many talents much beloved of his community, he is still widely celebrated as the builder of his family home on the Bay in Cocoanut Grove, “the Barnacle,” now the heart of a popular public park, and the oldest-surviving home in the County remaining in its original location. 

 

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

                         — Matsuo Basho

 

Beautiful Biscayne Bay, in which we spent a fair portion of our free hours growing up. Beyond the awesome thrill of true exploration, just being on the Bay was relaxing, and always refreshing.

 

 The Devil’s Punch Bowl, Biscayne Bay (First Sitting) P. Crockett

 ABOUT a year or so ago, I suddenly realized that had to find the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” of Miami’s historic legend, if it still existed, or might be recognizable. The realization itself was unusual. It was different than “an idea,” like “Hey, let’s go catch this-or-that movie,” or even “let’s go and see Barcelona.” Any reasons for such a venture weren’t exactly known to me, yet in any case seemed beside the point, in light of the clarity and force with which the knowledge had suddenly and quietly come. As sure as I am, it had come from some “other place,” higher or deeper, and that was all I needed know.

Explaining such experiences can suggest (misleadingly) “a big deal,” and it was not. It was simple, yet extraordinary. In retrospect, the feeling was as if the plan had been waiting for me “outside of time,” full and complete. Once the moment had arrived when the next breath, or step, would offer the “click” leading me at last into readiness, the awareness dawned upon me with no more effort than either the breath, or the step. It was time.

 GROWING up in Miami, it seemed as if I had always heard tales told of, and read about the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” As described by Howard Kleinberg in his wonderful picture book of the area’s history, Miami: The Way We Were :

Situated about two miles south of the Miami River, along the shore of the bay, is one of perhaps Miami’s most mysterious and romantic historic sites– the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Located on what now is private property just south of Wainwright Park and immediately north of Vizcaya– In the 3000 block of Brickell– the Punch Bowl was a fresh water spring close to the shore.

Historians, while agreeing that not enough research has been done on the Punch Bowl, also say that its water has quenched the thirsts of Indians, explorers, pirates and pioneers through the centuries.

Kleinberg mentions a 1923 article in the Miami Herald featuring the punch bowl, reporting that early Grove pioneer “Commodore Ralph Munroe said the Punch Bowl was a watering hole as long as his memory reaches.” It also mentioned that “[i]n the memory of Mrs. Mary Brickell. the present owner of the site, the punch-bowl has always been in existence, antedating their possession of the land.”

 

“Steps leading to Plantation Punch Bowl Springs”, ca. 1890’s.

Although a beautiful photograph, and certainly evocative, it and others like it didn’t really help, at all. Where in all of this mess, exactly, might the spring be? Maybe if one knew that, he or she could make out the “steps” described.

The “plantation” referred to had been built by a Charles Baron in 1830 with slave labor, both he and the Africans extremely early (non-native) arrivals to the the area. It remained productive for over 30 years, its crops mainly a variety of citrus, and cotton, until its abandonment at the onset of the Civil War. Within only a few years the dense subtropical Florida jungle/ forest (or “hammock,” based upon the Miccossukee word for “dry land”) had reclaimed the land, and the remnants of the home had become “all but indistinguishable” in the overgrowth. As early as 1877, observation is made that the site was popular not only for the delicious waters of the spring, but also the limes and other fruit produced by the venerable citrus trees still holding their own in the primeval forest.

 

Florida Hammock art

The punch bowl had long since become the stuff of legend when this children’s book was published in 1893:

The Young Wrecker

(The above image, and many others used in this posting, have been “borrowed” with sincere gratitude from the splendid Everglades Digital Library, an online resource demonstrating the clear benefit resulting when different institutions– “libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and others”—pool together and make available their individual holdings in service of a common cause.
To all involved, I offer my thanks.  Please check out their site:
The Everglades Digital Library)

AS we continue reading from the bottom of the last page on the right, above, we find described the following encounter with the punch bowl:

…of the other. After rowing about seven miles, we landed on the shore of the main-land, at а place called the Punch-Bowl, not far south of [the] Miami River. This was the place from which we were accustomed to procure water for the schooner’s casks and water-tank. It required four boat-loads of casks to fill the tank, and after it was filled, the casks were usually re­plenished. A full supply of water used to last from three to four weeks, as, excepting for the purpose of drinking, in which the men were not restricted, a very small amount of fresh water was allowed.

 The Punch-Bowl is worthy of description. On the straight and wooded shore of the main­land is a little bluff which has been described as the remains of an ancient line of Кeуs which were once an ancient line of Reef. In the face of this bluff, which is separated from the water by a beach not exceeding two yards in width, is an excavation like a little cave, and in this excavation is a deep hole, called the Punch Bowl. It is filled with pure water that filters through the ground from the Everglades, which lie a few miles to the westward. It in an exhaustless spring, so close to the ocean that a high tide washes into its basin.

 We ran the bows of the boats close to the Punch-Bowl, and, taking the bungs out of the casks, stationed two men with buckets at the spring. Each man dipped his bucket and passed it along a file of men reaching to his boat. In this way, the buckets constantly going to and fro, in the course of an hour the casks were filled. We started off immediately with our deeply-laden boats, and put up sail to aid our progress, as the casks so obstructed the thwarts that the men could not pull all the oars.

End cover

Now, the simple task awaiting was to pin down this Miami legend to a map, and, wherever it might be found, to go there.  Simple, hunting down a legend, especially in Miami?  Right?  Hah!  You try it, sometime!

To:Part II

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14 Responses to One Man’s Extraordinary Quest to Find "the Devil’s Punch Bowl," or Maybe a Piece of his Heart: Part 1

  1. Eric says:

    Magic story and magic painting.

  2. Per Larson says:

    As rich and tasty as those waters must have been –
    how wonder-full to know that each moment is either at the top of a pile or piled on by all previous moments, especially at a special spot –
    and how rich it is in the human experience –

  3. Les says:

    Deed search back to 1923 “Mary Bickell” Dade County has most deeds online, I’ll try it soon if you don’t know her address

    • PHC says:

      Hey there, Les: I believe at one point the Brickell family held title to much of the land along the Bay south of the Miami River, so I’m sure her name will be on a number of transactions/ recorded deeds. The Brickell family home/ trading post/ City Post Office, etc. was situated on the Southern tip of the Mouth of the Miami River, so that would prob. be her legal address. I have come across, in the course of my research, the deed by which Mrs. Brickell conveyed to James Deeering from her property, that on which he was to build Vizcaya. Hope that helps. Thanks for writing–

  4. Les says:

    Mary ‘Brickell’ sorry, typo, and see you have since solved the mystery

  5. Les says:

    Yes that would be a long research, didn’t see your reply when I posted my typo correction, I still dream about Miami and your stories are part of the color

  6. So did you ever find the punch bowl? I’ve also been “searching” for it for years…I honestly believe it’s in Alice Wainwright park. I’d give just about anything to actually see it with my own eyes.

    • PHC says:

      Thanks for asking, Chris. Yes! As it turns out, the punchbowl is indeed at the location Dave describes. (Otherwise put, when approached by water, behind the second bayfront home just S of Wainwright Park. If you hit the mansion still popularly known as “Madonna’s House,” you’ve passed the site. For other good reasons, too, you will want to stay the HELL away from that place, no matter how inviting its appearance. Some sick business goes on there. See my comment of last November 4.)

      Others have inquired as to whether the account “really happened.” Much of the account is strictly factual. But it is a story, so I’ve taken some “poetic license” to add some “embellishments.” To me, the simple expedition was something more than just that, and I guess that quality is what I set out to share. Thanks.

  7. Dave Farber says:

    The Devil’s punchbowl is behind the house at 3007 Brickell Ave. It’s about 15 feet from the shoreline, depending on the tide, and still had fresh water last time I tasted it.

  8. Marci says:

    The “Punch Bowl” house is for sale, they’re asking just shy of $15M. I hope the new owners respect this sacred and historic feature. http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/3007-Brickell-Avenue-Miami-FL-33129/2113899975_zpid/

    It makes me so sad to see what the Silver Bluffs coastline used to be like, and how it’s been almost completely destroyed.

    • PHC says:

      Hi, Marci:

      I appreciate your interest in the blog posting, and am grateful for your thoughtfulness on keeping me posted on recent developments in the area.

      We who love Miami who have been here any length of time, have definitely witnessed the loss of much that can never be replaced.

  9. leon zhao says:

    I’m a realtor associate working to sell 3007 Brickell Ave. It’s interesting to know the stories. I will check out that “punch bowel” tomorrow.

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