Personalities taller than mountains are part of the history of our Indian River Lagoon Region and their spirits are still with us today. Let me explain…
In the early 1920s Harry Lyons, ( Ernie Lyons’ father) was a dreamer and promoter of Stuart. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may recall his promotional song for the Great Port of Stuart. Harry had many ideas to promote Stuart and another occurred around 1941 when the drawing of the Stuart Mound above was composed.
My mother, historian, Sandra Thurlow, transcribed the following from Mr Harry Lyon’s memoirs regarding the building of his gigantic mound at Bessey Point near today’s road, St Lucie Crescent, that was to overlook the St Lucie River:
“The proper material is at hand in abundance, and the bulk of it could be delivered by barge (dredged from the river). Most states, including Florida, have numerous ancient earth mounds, some very large indeed, so nothing could be more ‘American.’ The mound would be a must for tourist and home-folk alike who would ascend and spend hours at the summit, paying .50 cents or $1.00 charge….” to the City of Stuart no less…
Well fortunately, or unfortunately, Mr Lyon’s name is still around but his mound “never got off the ground,” although in 1960 his northern neighbor, Waldo Sexton’s did.
Sexton, the legendary eccentric salvager/builder of Vero Beach, is well known for his creations and influences including the Driftwood Inn, McKee Jungle Garden, the Patio Restaurant, and many other creations which have shaped the ambiance of Vero Beach.
His finale was “Waldo Sexton’s Mountain,” that he created from dredge fill at Bethel Creek, adjacent to the Indian River Lagoon. It was touted as a tourist attraction but for Sexton, the impressive mound was to also be his burial ground. This drawing by Mittnach displays what it looked like.
In time, the mountain thrived but eventually fell into disrepair and was pillaged for its beautiful tiles. As mentioned, Patriarch Sexton, used to getting what he wanted, had the dream of being buried under the mound, but this dream did not come true.
Sr. Sexton passed in a nursing home and later, Ralph, his son, during a severe northeastern storm in 1972, in distress, decided to use the mound’s fill to reinforce the foundation of his father’s beloved Driftwood Inn, located across the street.
According to an article written by Denis McCarthy years ago, after destroying the mountain, “terrible things ensued.” Eventually Ralph along with The Driftwood Inn, so beautifully located between the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean, became a “distressed” property.
Then a series of odd tragedies occurred leading people to believe that Waldo’s ghost had truly cursed the great mound for those who were going to misuse it.
First, a developer trying to purchase the “denuded” mountain property had a heart attack; the next wealthy businessman “buyer” was killed in a plane crash on his way home after visiting and deciding to buy the property; later, one who did buy, fell ill, got divorced and went broke. Eventually a Mrs Heusen purchased The Driftwood Inn as the mound property sat empty and weedy. But Heusen took a different approach and decided to work “with” the ghost of Waldo Sexton keeping his signature style for all to see.
Waldo seemed pleased. Mrs Heusen publicly claimed she saw his ghost and that he often opened the door for her in the restored restaurant….
“I know this sounds weird, she said in McCarthy’s interview, but these things are real…”
Another thing to note is that according to McCarty’s article, Sexton was a “guru of environmentalism” in that he, like Frank Lloyd Wright, built with nature instead of against it. McCarty thought that perhaps Sexton’s ghost was telling us “enough is enough.” –No shopping centers on my mound. “Stop, before it’s too late!”
In conclusion, McCarthy says Sexton’s message most simply stated was: “Follow my example, and build in harmony with nature, not opposed to it…”
So if you believe in ghosts or spirits, you may want to take heed. 🙂
3 thoughts on “Waldo Sexton’s Vero Mountain/Harry Lyons’ Stuart Mound and the Spirits of the Indian River Lagoon”
Ernie Lyons’ daughter, Mary, was my mother. Mary passed away in 2006 at the age of 64 and I inherited all of the family archives, well all at least for the exception of those that went to her brother William, who as of this writing is still alive and resides in St. Petersburg, my Uncle Bill. Though I grew up in Atlanta, I currently reside in Lakeland. I appreciate the effort that you mother made in documenting the history of Stuart. Should you desire any additional information or resources, please feel free to contact me.
Love the legend of Waldo Sexton. He must have been quite the character. It is said of him that he “was a man who was not afraid to render an opinion and who never hesitated to embroider a story.”
There is another viewpoint of Mr. Sexton’s appearances by Judy Martin, current owner of the Ruddy Ducks Restaurant in Vero. I found it on a website devoted to things of that nature.
Debra, Very interesting link and great quote. Thank you so much for your comment. Yes. Mr Sexton was a one of a kind.