(July 20, 1867 to December 1, 1938)
Third Mayor of Miami
John Sewell was one of the 14 original charter members of the Miami Pioneers Historical Society.
Sewell was born in 1867 in Elbert County, Georgia, and moved with his parents to Florida when he was 19 years old.
Working for Henry Flagler, Sewell served as foreman and superintendent for the Florida East Coast Railway during the construction of the line from Jacksonville to Miami and later joined the hotel construction department.
After helping to construct The Royal Poinciana Hotel and The Breakers Hotel at Palm Beach, Sewell moved to Miami in 1896 to work on the Royal Palm Hotel. While working on the hotel, Sewell stumbled upon the burial grounds of the Tequesta Native-Americans Indians. Sewell gave away some of the skulls as souvenirs, and ordered African-American laborers to move the remaining bones and bury them in a hole.
Sewell remained in the employ of the Florida East Coast Railway until 1899, when he left to concentrate his efforts on the mercantile establishment jointly owned with this brother. The Sewell Brothers establishment is often presented as first business opened north of the Miami River.
John Sewell served as Mayor of Miami from 1903 to 1907.
After serving in local politics, Sewell began the construction of his house in 1912. Built on the highest point in the city, the house was named Halissee Hall from the Seminole word meaning “New Moon.”
Sewell wrote a self-published autobiography, John Sewell’s Memoirs and History of Miami, Florida. It included an appendix describing his witnessing the attempted assassination of president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. The book is valuable as a primary source of information on pioneer days in Miami and Sewell, of course, was one of the founders of our organization, the oldest historic organization, club or group in Dade County, founded in 1936.
He is buried in the Miami City Cemetery.
His brother E. G. Swell was elected as Mayor of Miami in 1927 (until 1929), 1933 (until 1935), 1939 (in recall election for 2 months), and lastly 1939 (until his death in 1940).
Sewell Park, along the Miami River, named for E. G. Sewell, is a ten acre waterfront property just west of the SW 17th Avenue bridge over the Miami River. The park includes grills for barbecuing, a children’s playground, and some beautiful waterfront views. The legend of underground caves on the property persists.