Tag Archives: Indian River Land Trust

McKee Jungle Gardens, “The One Thing In Florida You Must Not Miss!” 1937 Stuart Daily News

Photo of McKee Jungle Garden ad, The Stuart Daily News, 1937, courtesy Knight A. Kiplinger.

Video link “Going Places with Graham McNamee – McKee Jungle Garden” vintage original:  (https://youtu.be/3zY7SZT1B-c?list=PLWV6Eymwwv0PWs7iU-3oFyLXk5rNKJ3Lv)

As a young child, I remember my parents taking me to visit McKee Jungle Gardens near Vero. What a  magical place! That visit certainly planted seeds in my head, and a love for all things “Florida.”

I remember towering magnificent palms; a mammoth-sized cypress tree trunk that looked like it came from the age of the dinosaurs; interesting rustic structures that matched the mood of the tropical paradise; beautiful giant lilies floating in shallow ponds reflecting purple and greens like a Monet painting; a gigantic, long, mahogany table; as well as my favorite thing to see at the time, monkeys, parrots, and other animals!

The McKee Jungle Gardens was founded in 1929, when engineer and land developer, Arthur G. McKee teamed up with famed Vero legend and entrepreneur, Waldo Sexton, in the creation of an 80-acre tropical hammock just west of the Indian River Lagoon. Tropical landscape architect William Lyman Phillips was hired to design its beautiful and acclaimed streams, ponds, and trails. The indigenous vegetation was augmented with ornamental plants and seeds from around the world. In 1932, the garden was opened as a tourist attraction. Although very successful for several decades, it shut down in 1976, post Disney and I-95, and most of its land was sold for development. The site remained vacant for twenty years until the Indian River Land Trust rescued the area legacy, purchasing it in 1995. The current Garden, McKee Botanical Gardens, was formally dedicated in 2001 and is now a Florida landmark. On January 7, 1998, the property was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places under its original name, “McKee Jungle Gardens.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McKee_Botanical_Garden)

Perusing page 4 of the 1937 Stuart Daily News, celebrating the opening of the Cross State Canal from Stuart to Ft Meyers, featuring McKee brings back happy memories for me. About three years ago, I visited the new McKee Botanical Gardens and the magic is still there! I find Florida’s old-time famed gardens so much more appealing than today’s focus on boring “floratam lawns and perfectly manicured hedges.” Today or yesterday, showcasing Florida’s tropical beauty is Florida at its best!


Today’s 18 acres:  McKee Botanical Gardens Web-Site: https://mckeegarden.org

History, McKee Botanical Garden, formally McKee Jungle Garden: https://mckeegarden.org/about-us/

“Old highway Notes,” McKee Jungle Gardens, great info: http://oldhighwaynotes.blogspot.com/2015/04/mckee-jungle-gardens.html

Florida Memory: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/165302
Location south of Vero Beach, west of IRL


Aurthur G. McKee: http://case.edu/ech/articles/m/mckee-arthur-glenn/

Waldo Sexton: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldo_E._Sexton

The Amazing Work of the Indian River Land Trust along the Indian River Lagoon

Indian River Land Trust map of acquired properties along the Indian River Lagoon.
Indian River Land Trust map of 8 major  properties aquired along the Indian River Lagoon just since 2009. (IRLT)

Today I am the guest speaker  for the  Indian River Land Trust’s  inaugural meeting of the “Ladies of the Lagoon.” And yes, I too am a founding member.

This is a particular honor for me as the land trust is located in Indian River County two north of my home county of Martin. Over the years I have gained a particular admiration for Indian River County in their independent nature and their ability to say, “no.”

In 2008 as the Great Recession hit with terrible intensity and unemployment rose and real estate prices fell, the Indian River Land Trust said “no” to more development and destruction of habitat along the Indian River Lagoon. In the depths of the recession they saw an opportunity and in 2009, long before the river movement began in 2013, the IRLT board decided to make purchases along the Indian River Lagoon its #1 priority. And in a short four years since that time they have raised unbelievable amounts of money,  applied for grants, and have acquired eight major shoreline properties  as shown in the map above: Coastal Oaks Preserve; Lagoon Greenway;  Bridge View Parcel; Bee Gum Point; Winter Beach Salt Marsh; Quay Dock Kayak Launch; Pine Island and the Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail. Amazing!

The non-profit Indian River Land Trust was founded in 1990 by local artist and environmentalist  Toni Robinson. As she is quoted in Vero Beach Magazines’s November 2013 issue: ” We saw the threat of “concrete canyons” drawing closer to the Treasure Coast.” (http://www.indianriverlandtrust.org/cfiles/home.cfm?csintro=yes)

The main impetus for this was the seemingly “doomed fate” of  the long standing tourist attraction, McKee Jungle Gardens, to become a shopping center. Mrs Robinson and her comrades in arms would not have this and the Indian River Land Trust was born. McKee stands  today as a symbol of what local people can do to mobilize– rejecting the “inevitable,” and thus protecting, and saving,  beauty, history, and nature, for today and generations to come.

Although the northern part of the  Indian River Lagoon in Brevard County lost the most seagrass during the super, secondary and brown tide of 2011-2013, according to Dr Eddie Widder of Orca, Indian River County proper has lost 32,000 acres of seagrasses. A tremendous loss. (http://floridaswater.com/itsyourlagoon/), (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/mar/26/seagrass-die-off-one-of-major-issues-addressed/)

As state and federal  agencies document the seagrass loss as a “mystery” and are  scrambling for answers, we know that there are multiple problems causing the destruction of our beloved  Indian River Lagoon.  

It is a no-brainer that long term development of shoreline habitat, perhaps the hardest to undo, is certainly in the top two.  The population along the 156 mile lagoon has slowly gobbled up, and filled most every shoreline “lot” with a beautiful home, torn down native vegetation, installed sprawling turf grass that comes with fertilizer, pesticides, seawalls and no where for wildlife to live.

Kudos to the quiet “Campaign to  Save Our Indian River Lagoon” of the Indian River Land Trust!