Charles F. Merrick, the middle Merrick brother, was sandwiched between his visionary older brother George, and his younger brother, renowned artist Richard. Charles, as can be typical of a middle child, never made the public splash that George and Richard did, but he was far from unaccomplished. He contributed more to the Merrick organization than is generally realized, and when George’s position in Coral Gables crashed in 1926, Charles quietly regrouped and remained a respected member of the Miami community for another four decades.
Charles was born in Duxbury, MA, Dec. 21, 1897. When in 1899, his father and older brother George headed south to Florida, Charles, still a baby, remained behind in Duxbury until Rev. Merrick summoned them south. The shack Rev. Merrick and George found upon arrival would gradually be enlarged, with Charles and Richard, who came along in 1903, sharing a bedroom in the addition. From childhood, he loved working with native rock, and as a young man, even assisted the master craftsmen with the construction of the present-day façade of Plymouth Congregational Church. It was the beginning of a career that would lead him to becoming a Master Stone Mason, a fact he didn’t know yet.
Charles was just shy of his 14th birthday when his father died, and later that year George, as guardian of the estate of his minor brothers and sister – Helen, Charles and Richard – petitioned the County to sell five major tracts of land that had belonged to Solomon, including parcels in the City of Miami, and to which the young Merrick minors had inherited an interest.
Having attended Guavonia School, which his mother had founded, as a young boy, by 1914 Charles had shipped off to Tennessee Military Institute, but said he was always delighted to come home and be with the “student crowd” in the growing Miami area. From the Institute, Charles went on to graduate from Valparaiso University in Indiana.
When Charles returned to Miami, George had been testing his real estate development capabilities throughout Dade County for several years already, and it was now time for the ultimate test – Coral Gables. By 1922, Charles was working for George, and is credited with, among other structures, building the coral rock façades of the Granada and Douglas Entrances, the imposing semi-circle of rock columns on the imposing City Hall, and work on the new University of Miami, all initiatives of his brother. Although no one saw it coming, it was the beginning of the end of the boom years for the Merrick family. It was Doc Dammers who had told him to stop wasting his time with rock, and start selling real estate, advice he took. Unfortunately, in 1926, a combination of George’s financial over-extension, the Florida Land Bust and, most devastatingly, the Great Hurricane of 1926, all but destroyed the Merrick family fortunes. While Charles had made over $100,000 selling real estate for his brother, by 1928, he found himself broke.
As he put it, “We were all broke, and I was back with the trowel working on Dr. David Fairchild’s place in Coconut Grove”. By 1930, unemployed, Charles was living at Merrick House with his mother.
One good thing came out of the Boom for him – his beloved yacht, “Question”, purchased when he was riding high. When George opened the ill-fated Matecumbee Lodge in 1931, a failed attempt at a comeback, Charles ran boating charters out of the resort, continuing to do so for a few more years, even after the lodge burned to the ground in Spring 1931 shortly after opening.
As the Depression ended, Charles, who had served as assistant postmaster of South Miami, returned to California, where he had worked briefly in his younger years; his primary job being laying brick. He returned to Miami in the latter 1940s, and in 1947 married Myrtle Mae Wilson (1889-1974) in Broward County. They would remain married until his death. The following year he laid the stones for the handsome curve of the stone bridge at the University of Miami, considered a marvel by fellow masons. He also did all the stonework for the new Burdines Building to great acclaim.
By 1961, Charles had basically retired, and he and Myrtle were living in Perrine. He died in March 1967, survived by his wife, brother Richard and two sisters.
A simple, unassuming man, who looked remarkably like his grandfather, snake-oil salesman Rev. Henry Fink, Charles was quietly one of the men who helped build the City Beautiful, lost everything those awful years of 1926 to 1928, but he picked himself up and went on with it. When asked about his career, the unassuming Charles, with the faintest lisp of the Conch still in his voice, said simply, “Oh, I have had a fine life”.