In the 1960s and 70s, when I was a kid sitting in my parents’ car, watching the world go by, I often saw a sight along Indian River Drive that even today, I can clearly bring into my mind’s eye: the nuns of the Indian River Lagoon.
It was a striking image for a child. The nuns in their black veils in the 90 degrees weather walking in unison under the royal palms, the sparkling river in the background…
St Joseph’s College was founded in 1890 and the branch that was located at today’s Indian Riverside Park, along the Indian River, opened in 1966.
The story of how the nuns got there is a rather ironic one, and today I will share this story.
First let’s set the stage…
The lands where the nuns lived was originally an ancient Indian burial mound, and in 1855 was included in the 100 acres of land purchased by wealthy gentleman, Henry William Racey whose son Charles Henry Racey eventually built a beautiful home atop the 4000 year old Indian mound; the site became known as “Mount Elizabeth,” shown below.
Later, the property was purchased by Judge Edward Swann, and next in 1936, by Coca-Cola heiress Anne Bates Leach and her husband Willaford. Their home was named “Tuckahoe,” or “welcome” in the ancient tongue of the once proud and strong native peoples. The estate was spectacular, as seen below.
During the 1940s, the Martin County Commission had “allowed” Francis Langford and her husband to dredge a marina and construct tourist cottages on their property immediately south of the Leach estate and “tourist camps” had sprung up along the Indian River shoreline from Jensen Beach to the northern boundary of Tuckahoe.
According to Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book “Sewall’s Point, A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast,”
“The Leaches felt that the value of their property was greatly diminished and they were infuriated when the county refused to lower their taxes. To “get even” they vowed to sell their property to an organization with a tax-exempt status…”
which they did….
The property was sold to the Catholic Church for $75,000 and in 1950 the estate became a novitiate for the Sisters of St Joseph. 🙂
As we know, the campus of St Joseph eventually became the Florida Institute of Technology, a school that has created many of our local ecologically minded business leaders. After hard financial times the institute closed in 1986, and sat deserted for many years.
Then, through the very hard of work of a “redeemed Martin County Commission,” the land blossomed into “Indian Riverside Park,” a gem of our Treasure Coast.
When one looks at the history of the property, it is hard not feel like somehow, we’ve been blessed.
Tuckahoe, Martin County Commission: (http://www.martin.fl.us/portal/page?_pageid=354,4190284&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL)
Florida Institute or Technology and St Josephs College link/Wikipedia: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Institute_of_Technology_(Jensen_Beach_Campus))