It was Sunday afternoon and I was driving south on Dixie Highway. Henry Flagler’s train tracks and the Indian River Lagoon were just east of my line of sight. From a distance, I saw the grocery’s signature blue trim. I’d driven by hundreds of times but never gone inside….in an instant, I knew this was the day.
I pulled over my car and walked inside. The bell clanged against the door and I could see an older pretty African-American woman doing paper work; I bent down and stared through the shelves…”
“This must be the matriarch of Gomez,” I thought. She looked up at me with sharp, clear eyes, like an eagle. When she saw me standing there, her expression softened and she smiled. “May I help you?”
“I am looking for Mrs Annie Pettway,” I said.
“That’s me,” she replied…
I told her who I was, why I’d come, and that I’d just recently met her niece , Mrs Ollie Harvey. Mrs Pettway invited me to sit in the chair by the side of her desk. We spoke and she told me of her long and change filled life in the Indian River Lagoon Region of Gomez in Hobe Sound.
She was born in 1941. She had been through segregation and desegregation. She had seen it all. Her mother Mattie Mae, and father, Bill Pettway moved to the area in 1909 from Alabama. They worked hard, purchased land, apartments, a trucking business, and the area’s first grocery store. Her father was the first black man to own his own business. Today, there is a park down the street named in the family’s honor…
“Were you born here I asked?” She smiled and hit her knee. “Yes mam; I was born right down the street!” She pointed southwest.
People came and went in the store, both black and white; everyone seemed in good spirits and the conversation was relaxed and familiar. I felt like I was in the Bahamas. I liked the feel. The bell would clang and Mrs Annie would get up and ring her customers out while I waited. While she worked, I watched her and I thought about all the history and all the people who had walked through those doors. I thought about how much things have changed along our Indian River Lagoon.
I also thought about what my mother and brother have taught me about this unique area of Martin County…
This land was part of the famous Spanish Gomez Land Grant preceding Florida’s stateship in 1845. Due to title/legal issues that eventually played out in the United States Supreme Court, the land was not surveyed in the 1850s like the rest of Florida. The Gomez Grant situation was eventually worked out, and then acquired by the Indian River and Pineapple Growers Association in 1893; later, the Indian River Association in 1904. It was really the Indian River Association that began “developing.”
When looking at a map you’ll notice that unlike most of the rest of Martin County, other than its sister “Hanson Grant,” the roads of Bridge and Pettway stand out. None of the Gomez Grant area roads run directly east/west or north/south. Instead, the east/west roads run at a roughly 66 degree northeast angle, which is perpendicular to the shoreline, following the old Spanish land grant. The north/south roads run approx 24 degrees west of north-south or perpendicular to the east-west roads…This makes this area unique and gives it a historical “signature.”
I stopped day-dreaming…
Mrs Annie sat back down.
“Mrs Pettway, why don’t they call it “Gomez” anymore? Wasn’t this area called Gomez?
“That was the old name, and it is still Gomez, but today we call it all Hobe Sound. It’s all one name now; things have changed.” There was a twinkle in her eye, and I stopped asking questions. I suddenly knew that no amount time could really tell the amazing American story of Mrs Annie and the family of Pettway.
Hobe Sound Chamber history: (http://www.hobesound.org/history.html)
Florida Memory: (https://www.floridamemory.com/collections/spanishlandgrants/)