The Secret Lagoon, the Founders of Florida Audubon, and the Town of Sewall’s Point, SLR/IRL

A Lagoon on the Mt Pisgah Property, ca ca. 1950 (Photo Aurthur Ruhnke via Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
A Lagoon on the Mt Pisgah Property, ca. 1950.  (Photo Aurthur Ruhnke via Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

When I was a young person growing up in Sewall’s Point, things were unlike today. Very few people lived here and some of the old estates sat empty for us kids to explore with out the Sewall’s Point cops arresting us for trespassing.

In the late 1970s and early 80s,  I often rode my bike to what I called “Paradise Found,” or the “Secret Lagoon” which I later learned was part of the north Sewall’s Point Mt. Pisgah estate, last owned at that time, by Mr Louis Dommerich and his wife Margaret. This large parcel was later developed as “Plantation.” It is the northern most subdivision in Sewall’s Point. It is a lush amazing piece with all sorts of palms planted by the Dommerichs and many lagoons attached to the rising and falling tides of the St Lucie River.

After school, I would ride my bike up the long, winding driveway as fast as I could so my skinny 10-speed Schwinn wheels would not sink in the shell-like sand. Upon getting to the top of the hill, lay a veritable jungle, as beautiful a thing as one has ever seen. There were egrets and herons and jumping fish. I could think here; I could wander in the most gorgeous nature ever seen; I could be away from my “nagging” parents whom I now know were just trying to raise a disciplined and productive child.

An empty house sat like a lone sentinel amongst the vines and sweeping palm trees. I never approached the house as it seemed to hold too many memories, but I made the lagoons my second home.

Margaret and Louis Dommerich's Sewall's Point home. (Aurthur Ruhnke via Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Margaret and Louis Dommerich’s Sewall’s Point home. (Aurthur Ruhnke via Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Shore birds--Florida Audubon photo.
Shore birds–Florida Audubon photo.

In my mind of memories, this area is a sacred place and I feel so lucky that I was able to wander its magical shores. I somehow feel the spirit of the place helped form the person I am today.

A lot has changed since those day, but I still recall it all with great fondness…

Very recently my mother contacted me saying she had a hunch, and had it for quite some time. Her hunch was that the Dommerichs of Sewall’s Point may be related to Louis F. Dommerich and Clara J. Dommerich who founded Florida Audubon.

Wow that would be cool! Why wouldn’t we know this?!

It is well-known and written about recently in “Conservation in Florida, A History of Heroes,” by Gary L. White, that the Dommerichs of the United States became wealthy socialites, and used it for “good cause.”

“On March 1, 1900, in their Maitland, Florida home, near Orlando, they organized with friends the first Florida Audubon meeting.  In time, Florida Audubon changed the world, and the fate of shore birds in Florida. Until the Florida Audubon campaign these birds were being recklessly slaughtered in late 1800s for their beautiful feathers.  Their chirping, starving,  chicks were left to rot in the sun. Thousands, and thousands, and thousands of birds were shot—entire rookeries decimated—all to adorn ladies hats….

Within a decade, through advocacy and education, Florida Audubon had turned this slaughter around. Today we protect birds, and ten percent of what once graced the skies is remaining…

What a legacy….saved by a shoe-string.

So back to our detective work. The couple that owned the Mt Pisgah property were Margaret and Louis Dommerich, Louis died in 1982. The older Louis F. must have died in the early 1900s. Could Louis be related to Louis?

I knew just who to contact to find out, my mom’s friend historian Alice Luckhardt who specializes in genealogy. I wrote her and she wrote back in one day. Mom’s hunch was right!
From: “Alice L. Luckhardt”
Subject: Dommerich Family
Date: August 1, 2015 at 4:31:49 PM EDT
To: Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch <jthurlowlippisch@comcast.net>

Hi Jacqui –

As you and your Mom know finding information on families is my special area of research.

I have attached a MS Word document I did up of what I found and attached a photo of Louis Ferdinand Dommerich (1841-1912) – the one with his second wife, Clara who started the Florida Audubon Society – bring together many of the local branches across the state.
In the Blake Library on microfilm are the obits (Stuart news issue dates) for Louis and his wife Margaret, who lived in Sewall’s Point, who both died in 1982.

Alice

Louis Ferdinand Dommerich (1841-1912) photo provided by historian Alice Luckhardt.
Louis Ferdinand Dommerich (1841-1912) photo provided by historian Alice Luckhardt.

DOMMERICH, LOUIS F. November 14, 1982 Pg A8
OB
DOMMERICH, LOUIS FERDINAND November 15, 1982 Pg A5
DA
DOMMERICH, MARGARET WHITEHEAD October 29, 1982 Pg A8
OB

Louis Ferdinand Dommerich born Feb. 2, 1841 in Germany, died July 22, 1912 in NYC

Louis F. Dommerich was born on February 2, 1841 in Cassel Germany. His father was a college professor. In 1858-1859, Dommerich came over to the United States where he worked for as an apprentice in a German factory, Noell & Oelbermann, which served as a direct agent for a foreign manufacturing. He was employed there for ten years before becoming a partner in the renamed E. Oelbermann & Co. In 1889 the company was renamed once again to Oelbermann, Dommerich and Co. His company specialized in dry goods exchange and bank dealing in textile commerce, and became so successful that it had manufacturing companies all across the United States and Europe.

In 1885 Dommerich visited Florida for the first time, and two years later he visited Winter Park and stayed in the Seminole Hotel. In 1891 Dommerich bought 400 Acres of land in Maitland, Orange Co., Florida. His holdings included the orange groves on Lake Minnehaha. It was there that he built his first home in Maitland and called it “Hiawatha Grove” to serve as his winter residence. He kept also a home in NYC. The house constructed was a 30 room-mansion surrounded by 130 acres of landscaped grounds and 72 acres of citrus trees. The mansion was an impressive three-story frame house containing multiple turrets and gables. His wife, Clara J. Dommerich (his second wife, married in Oct. 1884) established the Maitland Public Library in 1896 — started with 360 books and Louis Dommerich was its major contributor. In 1907 he donated $3,000 in memory of his late wife, who died in 1900. From 1897 to 1904, Dommerich served on the Rollins College Board of Trustees. He and his wife founded the Florida Audubon Society in mid-1900 in the their home because of the all the bird feathers being used in fashion hats and served as president from 1901 to 1911. Supporters of the Florida Audubon Society in 1900 were President Theodore Roosevelt, railroad baron Henry M. Flagler, Gov. William Jennings, the presidents of Rollins and Stetson colleges and the editors of leading newspapers in the state. In 1903 Dommerich donated $5,000 towards Rollins College’s first endowment. In 1907 Dommerich donated $500 to help secure Carnegie Library and in 1910 he donated $1,000 to help secure a science building. Back on the Board in 1909, he remained a trustee until his death in 1912.

Louis Ferdinand Dommerich died at the age of 72 on July 22, 1912. His son Alexander Louis Dommerich served on the Board of Trustees as his other son Otto Louis Dommerich helped Hamilton Holt finance the College in 1927. By the time Louis Ferdinand Dommerich died, his company had become one of the most prominent commercial banking houses in the world. Hiawatha Grove stood until 1954, when the property was sold for $420,000, the house was torn down to make way for homes in the area.

 Louis Ferdinard Dommerich and first wife Julie Louise Dommerich (1843-1882) – one of their sons was Otto Louis Dommerich (1871-1938). A son of Otto was Louis Ferdinard Dommerich, born May 4,1906 in NYC, married to Margaret, their had a home first in NYC and later in Deer Park Meadow in Conn. and on Sewall’s Point.

Louis F. Dommerich, born 1906 died in Martin County on Nov. 11, 1982. His wife Margaret died in 1982. This Louis was the grandson of Louis F. Dommerich who with his second wife, Clara started the Florida Audubon Society.

Their son was Louis Alexander Dommerich, born 1929 and died 2004.

Well thank you Alice and thank you mom! And thank you that I was born in a time when I got to experience “Paradise Found”, because so much of paradise has been lost.

The Google Map photo shows the lagoons today just along the curve of North Sewall's Point. If you look closely, you will see them.
The Google Map photo shows the lagoons today just along the curve of North Sewall’s Point. If you look closely, you will see them.
Photo of Mt Pisgah area in 1957 featuring the Langford Estate. the Dommerich's property can be seen in the upper right corner where the vegetation has not been cleared for orange groves. (Photo from
Photo of Mt Pisgah area in 1957 featuring the Langford Estate. the Dommerich’s property can be seen in the upper right corner where the vegetation has not been cleared for orange groves. (Photo from “Sewall’s Point a History of a Peninsular Community of Florida’s Treasure Coast” written by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Geodetic marker at Mt Pisgah. This ancient sandbar rises 57 feet above today's sea level. IT is the highest point in Sewall's Point. (Photo Sandra H. Thurlow.)
Geodetic marker at Mt Pisgah. This ancient sandbar rises 57 feet above today’s sea level. IT is the highest point in Sewall’s Point. (Photo Sandra H. Thurlow.)
Today the lagoon and palm still remain. A 7 acres estate is now owned by friends Jack and C.J. Heckenberg. There home and surrounding acreage is perhaps the most beautiful in the Town of Sewall's Point.
Today the lagoon and palm still remain. A 7 acres estate is now owned by friends Jack and Ceejay Heckenberg. Their home and surrounding acreage is perhaps the most beautiful in the Town of Sewall’s Point.

Thank you my mother’s (Sandra H. Thurlow) chapter on Mt Pisgah in her book Sewall’s Point, a History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast,” form which content and photos come.

History Florida Audubon: (http://fl.audubon.org/timeline-0)
Florida Audubon: (http://fl.audubon.org)
Audubon Martin County: (http://www.audubonmartincounty.org)

14 thoughts on “The Secret Lagoon, the Founders of Florida Audubon, and the Town of Sewall’s Point, SLR/IRL

  1. Jacqui, What a wonderful remembrance of your childhood. You were so fortunate to have a magical place like this to explore on your own. I think experiences like these are vital for a young persons self confidence and curiosity building. I wish all children could have secluded places in nature where they can feel secure enough to dream their dreams.

    In my humble opinion, I think your Parents (mostly succeed) in their early endeavor. You are certainly productive, but disciplined…? The jury is still out on that one ;-).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Jacqui, for your historic story of your life as a child growing up in Sewall’s Point. I really enjoyed learning what it must have been like before so many people started to move into our hidden paradise. Love the old photos too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I too have a lifetime of memorys of Florida’s waters. When I was about 7 years old I asked the school bus driver if she could drive the route backwards so instead of being the last person off I could be the first person off. I said my dad was going fishing and I was afraid he would go without me. She did. —————There is a famous fishing lake near where my parents live now called the Stick Marsh. Many years ago the lake was 2 lakes separated by a road down the middle. On this road was a culvert that water flowed from one side to the other droping and curning violently in the sand.About 20 years ago my dad took me to this place and I have never seen anything like it before or since.Everyone that came there quickly caught 50 brim. All of them were 3/4 to1 pound. There had to have been dump truck loads of brim caught. I did not fully understand what was going on but now I believe I do . Sand there is calcium(I checked with viniger) Acid water was churning in calcium sand creating oxygen and calcium rich algie for grass shrimp to feed on. Calcium was also making fish waunt to lay their eggs there.—this is 2 different time I went fishing with my dad–every single time was a different adventure.

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  4. Back 100 years ago when the shores of our lagoon were calcium sand and shell the BRACKISH water churning acid in calcium creating oxygen and calcium rich algie must have been the engine that powered this dynamic ecosystem. The violence of the 2004 huricanes churning calcium roads and bringing back an unbelieveable amout of life gave a brief window to see a fraction of what it must have been like 100 years ago.

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  5. Wow! What a perfect description of the Dommerich estate in Sewells Point. I was lucky enough to be introduced to this secret paradise as a real estate appraiser when Mr. Dommerich’s son sold the 40-acre site with 1200 front feet along the St. Lucie River. The highest elevation is 62 feet above sea level and you can see the blue Atlantic ocean over Hutchinson Island. I was assigned the appraise the property just before the freeze of 1989 after which the tops of the royal palm trees lining the lagoon were freezer burned. Fortunately they survived.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! What a perfect description of the Dommerich estate in Sewells Point. I was lucky enough to be introduced to this secret paradise as a real estate appraiser when Mr. Dommerich’s son sold the 40-acre site with 1200 front feet along the St. Lucie River. The highest elevation is 62 feet above sea level and you can see the blue Atlantic ocean over Hutchinson Island. I was assigned the appraise the property just before the freeze of 1989 after which the tops of the royal palm trees lining the lagoon were freezer burned. Fortunately they survived.

    Liked by 1 person

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