Reconstructing a Piece of Miami's History through Old Maps and Legal Documents - The Case of Dana Dorsey's Real Estate Dealings in South Florida

Authors: Levente Juhász*, Florida International University, Diana Ter-Ghazaryan, Florida International University, Adeola Kolapo-Oluwo, Florida International University, Rhia Rae, Florida International University
Topics: Historical Geography, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Cartography
Keywords: historical maps, urban geography,
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 24
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Dana A. Dorsey was one of the first African-American millionaires in the American South with extensive real estate dealings in South Florida. He is widely known as the person who recognized the need to provide affordable housing for black workers and to support education. In this capacity, he began purchasing land and building rental housing one property at a time in Miami's historic Overtown district. Through reinvesting his rental income he successfully expanded to other parts of South Florida. Much of his dealings (sale, lease, rental, etc.) are recorded as deeds, titles and other legal documents in Florida International University's Special Collection. However, Miami has gone through multiple phases of urban expansion and neighborhood redevelopment since the early 1900s and as a result, these properties that are referenced in the collection are often impossible to locate using Miami's present grid-based naming system, which was created in 1920. This paper establishes a framework to locate old documents that reference locations using the Public Land Surveying System (PLSS). Using 176 documents in the Dana A. Dorsey collection, the Hopkins' plat book of Miami published in 1925, it presents a methodology to infer the representation of historical objects (property boundaries, locations) in the Universal Transversal Mercator coordinate system. Using a modern spatial reference system allows to explore, analyse and visualize old content in modern contexts. Since PLSS was established in 1783, the methodology presented here can be applied for other geographic applications as well.

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