Tag Archives: Harry Lyons

Waldo Sexton’s Vero Mountain/Harry Lyons’ Stuart Mound and the Spirits of the Indian River Lagoon

An artist's drawing of Harry's Lyon's Mound to be located on Bessey Edition, Stuart, Florida, 1941. (Drawing Courtesy of Rick Crary)
An artist’s drawing of Harry Lyon’s mound, overlooking the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, near today’s St Lucie Crescent at  Bessey Point, Stuart, Florida, 1941. Artist, Charles Morgan, father of Mrs Arthur Dehon. (Drawing Courtesy of Rick Crary.)

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.

photo

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. 🙂

 

The Almost Great “Port of Stuart,” along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon

1911 Seawall's Point Land Company map
Portion of 1911 Sewall’s Point Land Company map showing area off of Sewall’s Point and Stuart where the great “Port of Stuart” was being developed.

The headlines of the South Florida Developer on December 29th, 1925 bragged about a Stuart along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon very different than the one we know today:

“Port of Stuart, Florida’s New Gateway. “

“The Opening of the St Lucie Inlet to the commerce of the world will bring to Stuart and all Martin County that belated recognition to which it is rightfully  entitled by virtue of its strategic geographic location.”

“W.B. Shearer, recognized international authority on ports and waterways, makes the positive statement that of all the East Coast’s four hundred miles of waterfront, the harbor at Stuart is the the only port with natural advantages suitable for a naval base…”

“St Lucie Ship Canal Locks- the first link in the chain of waterways that will eventually form a navigable canal from the Atlantic  to the Gulf of Mexico is the “St Lucie Ship Canal” now 95% complete. It’s completion will open up the fertile western portion of Marin County…”

As these headlines show, the “Port of Stuart” was not just a dream, in the early 1920s, it was a becoming reality.  Details of the port still exists in dusty federal, state and local documents. If it were not for the Great Depression of the late 1920s and the difficulty for the ACOE in dynamiting the Anastasia rock from the bottom of the St Lucie Inlet, it could have been a reality.

So how could this be? Today an idea like this would be heresy!

Well, Captain Henry Sewall, for which the peninsula of Sewall’s Point is named, was one of many responsible for this “heresy.”  Not only had he led locals  to  open the St Lucie Inlet by hand in 1892, he had served as county commissioner, and state representative. 

In 1910 Captain Sewall and his powerful business friends, including adventurer Hugh Willoughby, founded “Sewall’s Point Land Company,” as Captain Sewall had inherited the tip of Sewall’s Point and large portions of waterfront and other lands along Stuart through his family linage to the famous Miles-Hanson Grant.

According to Sandra Thurlow’s book: “Sewall’s Point, the History of a Peninsula on Florida’s Treasure Coast,” after the formation of Sewall’s Point Land Company, the men got right to work building the Sunrise Inn on Old St Lucie Boulvard, and miles of roads in today’s Golden Gate; (see map above), government, bonds were held by the county and a turning basin at the tip of Sewall’s Point was dredged; this fill created today’s Sandsprit Park.”

A turning basin at Sewall’s Point? You’ve got to be kidding.

They were not.

Even poetry was written for the dream, ironically by beloved environmentalist,  Ernie Lyon’s father: 

Just One Place for the Harbor
by Harry Lyons
1924

“Brave sailors in Atlantic storms, 
A harbor need for aid.
 They skirt the coast of Florida,
Lest commerce be delayed.
When hurricanes sweep o’er the deep,
And ships grave perils face,
‘Tis the duty of all mariners,
To seek an anchorage place.
You’ll find the place for a harbor here,
Where the old St. Lucie flows.
There is room for ships at Sewall’s Point,
Where the Indian River goes.
No where else is there such an inlet,
Down below or up above.
There is just one place for the harbor!
Stuart the town we love!
From Stuart to Fort Myers at last,
We’ll have a waterway,
When the canal is finished,
And they’re hastening the day.
Across Lake Okeechobee,
From the Gulf of Mexico,
Oil and phosphate, fruit and lumber,
Into Stuart soon will go.”

Sewall died in 1925 and the bottom fell out of the real estate market around 1926. Around the same time, two devastating hurricanes put the nail in coffin of the Stuart Port at the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

It is interesting to note that the St Lucie Canal, C-44, between Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River was completed not only for transportation and trade, but for flood control of agriculture and people working south of the lake. The prosperity associated with the canal for the local people of Stuart never came and the canal ended up being a major factor in the destruction of their beloved waterways…

Well time goes on, new dreams come and go; new fortunes are made and lost. But for old times’ sake, one can stand at  Sandsprit Park, and look out to Sewall’s Point remembering  perhaps Stuart’s biggest dream, the lost dream, and for many, a dream well lost, the dream of the “Great Port of Stuart.”

*Thank you to my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow,  for sharing her historic articles to make this write up possible.