Sewall’s Point Historic Home Along the IRL Lagoon Demolished; If Walls Could Talk… SLR/Indian River Lagoon

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Quote attributed to Anglo-Irish philosopher, George Berkley 1685-1753.

The "Quisenberry House" located at 54 S. Sewall's Point Road.
The “Quisenberry House” located at 54 S. Sewall’s Point Road, built in late 1800s.
Large waterfront lot facing the Indian River Lagoon.
Large waterfront lot facing the Indian River Lagoon.
View along South Sewall's Point Road
View along South Sewall’s Point Road.

To play off the famous quote by philosopher George Berkley: “If a house falls in a neighborhood and no one notices it, did it exist?”

Today, I am writing about the demolition of the “Quisenberry House,” in Sewall’s Point, along the Indian River Lagoon. The demolition of the house is quietly taking  place. The house is over 125 years old, and certainly has a story to tell of its long existence…

Of course, the only reason I know really anything at all about the house is because of my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.  She has told me about the house since it was a bus stop  for the  kids going to Jensen Beach Elementary in the 1970s. Every day, sitting on the bus on the way to Highpoint, I would see that old-looking house, and every day, my imagination was set ablaze by its sight…

Mr and Mrs Harmer, 1907. (Parlin, Thurlow Archives)
Mr and Mrs Harmer, 1907. (Photo, Agnes T. Parlin, courtesy of Thurlow Archives.)

“Who lived there?”

“What did they do back then?”

“Why do people say gangsters lived there?”

According to Sandra’s book, Sewall’s Point, The History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast, the house was built by Edgar and Katherine Harmer around the late 1800s. Mr Harmer died in a car accident at the Crossroads on Indian River Drive in 1920. His wife’s sister married Mr Jensen, (of today’s Jensen Beach), so the two families were very interconnected and helped with attracting other pioneer families to the remote Indian River area. The Harmers were prominent citizens of their day.

Later, in the 1920s the house was stuccoed, and became the home of Frank Quisenberry , a Detroit banker who worked for the well-known Knowles family for whom Knowles subdivision in north Sewall’s Point is named.

Mr Roger Quisenberry, who now own the home, tells stories of the house being used by Al Capone during prohibition. These stories have circulated for years, and when I was a kid in middle school, along that same bus route, I used to picture dark-suited gangsters in that house, laughing, smoking cigars, and counting their riches, with a giant bottle of rum or moonshine, and some shot glasses, sitting along a hard wooden table….

“It certainly seems like more fun than we are having today,” I thought, dressed in my cheerleading uniform, books in my lap, on the way to school…

Who really knows the truth, but certainly there is truth, that if the walls of that house could talk, there would have been stories to tell of a beautiful, fish and wildlife filled river, of gentle breezes and harsh storms, and of dreams broken and built, along the Indian River Lagoon….

The wrecking ball takes the old house down...12-7-14. (Photo JRL)
The wrecking ball takes the old house down…12-7-14. (Photo JTL.)

Due to a code enforcement infraction and law suit dating back almost a decade, the entire duration of my “commissionship” in Sewall’s Point, after much money spent, and lots of lawyers racking in the dough, the conflict has finally been resolved, and the house is being demolished. Built  in the late 1800s, it is certainly one of Sewall’s Point’s and Martin County’s oldest homes. One of the few historic homes saved, the Captain Sewall’s Home/Post Office that used to sit at the tip of south Sewall’s Point was built in 1889; the House of Refuge was built in 1876; the Stuart Feed Store was built in 1901.

Primarily due to the stucco over the frame, the old wood house held moisture and had become extremely deteriorated. No one has lived in the home for many years. Any salvageable pieces of wood will be collected; and concrete, steel and other valuable materials will be salvaged.

Good bye to the old house upon the Indian River, and to the stories, known and unknown, that you held…

1905, House can be seen in background as Mr Harmer and northern guests stand along a cold and windy Indian River Lagoon. (Photo Agnis T. Parlin, courtesy of Thurlow Archives.)
1905, House can be seen in background as Mr Harmer and northern guests stand along a cold and windy Indian River Lagoon. (Photo, Agnes T. Parlin, courtesy of Thurlow Archives.)


12 thoughts on “Sewall’s Point Historic Home Along the IRL Lagoon Demolished; If Walls Could Talk… SLR/Indian River Lagoon

  1. Hi Jacqui,
    I found this post very interesting. As a new resident of south Sewall’s Point, I have passed by the house many times. I saw the demolition equipment and wondered about the house and the family that had once lived there. It certainly is nice to know that history and the people that make that history are not forgotten.

    I greatly appreciate the information and knowledge that you provide each day through your posts. Thank you so much!
    Diana Cameron

  2. Hi Jacqui, Lucky you to have grown up in the area with the rich history! I am saddened reading that they are tearing the old house down just as I am when they tear any of the old structures down or even moving them to build the new one’s in their places, the new one’s seem out of place, they often build huge McMansion sort of things that don’t fit the plots or our area , and they cut the trees down and that makes me sad too. Thank you for the history lesson . <3

    1. Pam I so agree with you. I love the old houses and how they sit on the lots and when the huge homes are built after they tear town the older homes there is something truly lacking no matter how expensive or “magnificent” the new house is….

  3. Thanks for another great historical post. I hate to see our county’s heritage being demolished, so I’m glad you and your Mom have documented so much of it.

    1. Hi Tara! So good to hear from you and yes so sad to see the past slipping even further away and a new present coming on full force– that I am not always comfortable with…. thanks so much for your comment.

  4. Perhaps the walls of this old house can talk and maby even tell what happened to the fish and wildlife filled river.

  5. I was walking the shore of the IRL and found concrete blocks. The 8 inch by 16 inch standerd found all over the country. Only one was different.The acid in the waves had worn away the softer cement and you could clearly see it was made of coquina shells. I still have it and looked closely and you could see that it had to have once been soft enough to have been tamped into a mold.When you put togather a puzzle at first it is frustrating because you can not tell how all the pieces fit togather.But when you get close to the end the excitement builds because you can start to see the whole picture. I was in the Ted Moorehouse IRL building reading the history of the IRL and a lady was describeing coquina in general as being soft when it first comes out of the water.It would harden after being out of the water for 2 years. I did not know how important this piece of the puzzle was.A year later and everything had chaged–books were gone. I once found a piece of soft coquina in the water. When I lifted it up it broke in half. I noticed milky white calcium would pour out as I broke it apart and spread the pieced to neutralize the acid on the shore. Weeks later I was thinking about what had happened. I would turn over hard coquina and there would be living creatures everywhere under it. Other rocks and wood had nothing. The Ponce Hotel is where Henry Flagler first started his building Florida campaign. Wekapedia says the coquina was poured and used coquina as agragate. But another web page said it was made on the spot and tamped 3 inchs at a time.This web page appeared to have a eyewitness to the construction because it went on to describe how one worker told this was the easiest job in town because when ever someone called out a word signal it ment the boss was coming and everyone would look busy.He said he did not realize the guy he was talking to was Henry Flagler.The coquina being soft ment when storms would rage tons of milky white calcium would pour into the water.This would cause the algie that all the mullet and other creature needed to grow.I would bet if you e-ray any concrete walls or structure in this old building you will find that the coquina shells in the concrete had to have once been soft by the way they are packed togather.

  6. Came across this story as I was wondering what had happened to this house. I to had heard the stories of Al Capone. Many times as a kid we got caught trespassing here. We loved to explore that house and grounds. Great story you put out. Glad to know some actual history on it. Sad that it had to be taken down.

    1. Hi. Thanks for your message. I bet you and your friends had fun inside that house. Yes, it was taken down and now a new home sits on this lot. I think a few pieces of the original Miami Dade pine that was under the stucco was saved by my mother, historian Sandra Thurlow. She has a web site if you want to write her. She knows much more about this home as it is in her book “Sewall’s Point.” There are stories of Al Capone and why not? With the river and inlet and Bahamas right there… a perfect place. I think my mother thinks it may be lore. 🙂

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