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Dana Dorsey: Miami’s First Black Real Estate Developer

February 23, 2017 by Sarah Elles Boggs
Image Courtesy of The305

Image Courtesy of The305

In the spirit of Black History Month and Throwback Thursday, I wanted to highlight an interesting fact about Miami History. Before Fisher Island was the wealthiest zip code in the United States, it was sold to Carl Fisher by the South’s first black millionaire… Dana Dorsey.

Mr. Dorsey was born in 1872 and was the first in his family to not be born into slavery. Both of his parents were freed slaves and were only able to give him a fourth-grade education.

As an adult, Mr. Dorsey moved to Miami to work on Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad. While he was working, he recognized a shortage of housing for his fellow black workers. He purchased a lot in Overtown and built a house, using the rental income from that house to buy a second lot to build a second home, and so on.

In 1919, Carl Fisher was developing Miami Beach and purchased a barrier island from Dana Dorsey. That island was Fisher Island. Eventually, Mr. Fisher traded the island to the Vanderbilts for a 200ft yacht. Over the following years, the island served as a winter home until the 1960’s, when it was sold for development.

Today, Fisher Island is the wealthiest zip code in the United States (according to the 2010 census data). The island is accessible only by ferry, boat or helicopter. Prices range from $1 million to more than $26 million. Late last year, we did a drone tour of Palazzo Del Sol, one of the the island’s new construction buildings.

By the time he passed away in 1940, Dana Dorsey was also the first African-American hotel owner, bank owner, and a philanthropist. He was passionate about the importance of education and still to this day has schools, libraries and parks that are dedicated to his contribution to Miami’s development.

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