Ponce de Leon named this area `Cape of Florida' when he led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513. The Cape Florida lighthouse was completed in 1825 but was damaged during the Second Seminole War. The rebuilt tower, completed in 1846, remains the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. The island served as a secret meeting place and port for runaway slaves and Black Seminoles waiting to rendezvous with sea captains or board dugouts for a passage to safety in the British Bahamas. Although the lighthouse was built to save lives and ships, its unflinching light brought an end to this avenue of escape. In September 2004, Cape Florida was designated a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site.
Commodore Ralph Munroe, builder of The Barnacle in Miami, was a frequent visitor and friend to the lighthouse keepers at Cape Florida. He took this photo of the decommisioned tower, already in need of a new coat of paint, circa 1890.
The original park was simply named Cape Florida State Park. In 1971, the Florida Legislature renamed the park in honor of editor of The Miami News, Bill Baggs. Baggs, who died in 1969, was influential in bringing about the land purchase that preserved this corner of Key Biscayne for future generations to enjoy.
This view of the beach in the 1970s shows a lifeguard and stand. Australian pine trees, an exotic species, grew throughout the park - even on the sand dunes.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew virtually destroyed the park with its 160 mile-per-hour sustained winds. Toll collectors said the ocean could be seen from the Ranger Station a mile away, with few trees standing to block the view. This view shows a beach-side restroom and the original concession located close to Beach Access #7 today.