An Early Developer’s South Florida Photographs from the Matheson Family’s Collection

The Finlay B. Matheson Collection, digitized from the holdings of the University of Miami Libraries Special Collections, offers a unique visual representation of life in South Florida from the 1900s through the 1930s, with photographs and albums depicting the Matheson family, their residences, boats, activities, and travels. The Florida landscape, with a focus on Key Biscayne and Coconut Grove, is captured throughout the photographs and attests to a more leisurely lifestyle before the advent of skyscrapers and multi-lane highways.

These images document the life and times of William John Matheson and his immediate family, including his son Hugh and daughter Anna. William J. Matheson was a philanthropist, agriculturalist, and pioneer developer in South Florida in the early twentieth century, and was instrumental in the early development of Key Biscayne. Photographs in the collection depict development activities on Key Biscayne, as well as Matheson’s residence on the island known as “Mashta.” In addition, some of the first aerial view photographs of Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, the Miami River, and the Florida Keys are represented in the collection, as well as images showing damage from the 1926 hurricane.


Many photos and albums document the interests and social activities of William J. Matheson and his family, providing a glimpse into the burgeoning social life of some of the region’s early inhabitants. There are numerous photos of activities at the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club and the Matheson family boats. Albums also document the family’s extensive travels on the east coast, the Caribbean, and around the world.

Additional materials from the Finlay B. Matheson Collection are available for research upon request at University of Miami Libraries Special Collections, including maps, surveys, and architectural drawings related to the early development of Key Biscayne. For more information, please contact Special Collections at 305-284-3247 or