When I was kid growing up in Stuart, I remember seeing a lot of cottages. I loved these structures ~so simple, efficient, and adorable too. I remember cottages at Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort just north of Sewall’s Point; I remember cottages in Rio along Dixie Highway; and I recall the cottages along Indian River Drive in Jensen at the old Pitchford Camp. Somehow the more run down they were, the cooler they appeared. A reminder of days long past before Martin County developed and we were all brainwashed of the need to build bigger houses and complicate our lives.
Today, when one hears the name “Pitchford,” one may envision a Martin County Commission embroiled in a decade of controversy, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact in the early 1900s the name “Pitchford” was a family name that defined “good times” of fishing, dancing, and playing shuffle board along the beautiful and healthy Indian River Lagoon.
Recently, I was invited by long time friend of my parents, Boo Lowery, to see his modern-day, old-fashioned, fish camp. Boo, himself, an “old-timer” is related to many of the early families of the Stuart area. Boo’s career as a respected contractor working closely with famed architect, Peter Jefferson, allowed him to become an expert in building, moving, and renovating homes.
In the 1980s when the cottages at Pitchford Camp were going to be demolished, Boo, who along with his wife Soo is a “lover of all things vintage” stepped in and saved five of the Pitchford Camp cottages. Over time, the little structures have been moved alongside land where a “borrow pit” (dug to build part of I-95) was located. This hole in the ground, today, is a serene pond in the middle of a pine forest, and a living museum housing the Pitchford cottages and of a way of life along our waterways that no longer exists.
It was so much fun going to Boo and Soo’s and today I am sharing some of my photos. While eating hush puppies and alligator, I told my husband, Ed, “I could live in one these cottages.” That I wanted to live in one of these cottages! He looked at me like I was out of my mind… Perhaps, he thinks I’m too soft and spoiled by “progress.” Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think I’d love it. I think I’d be as “happy as a clam…”
In any case, enjoy the photos of this very special place and thank you Boo and Soo for holding on to the old ways and for keeping our Indian River Lagoon history alive.
“Robert McClinton, “Doc, ” Pitchford was the only remaining Pitchford brother after Herbert’s death in 1988. When Doc died in December 2001, it was the end of an era. Doc tried to hold on to the old ways and was quite successful. The Pitchford holdings were like a time capsule surrounded by computer-age progress. Although most of the original Pitchford Camp cabins were demolished….”
Boo saved a few!
(Excerpt and photo below from my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book “Historic Eden and Jensen on Florida’s Indian River.”
My Frances Langford theme continues. Today I will share some photos of Frances’ St Lucie River estate treasures given to me by blog reader and salvage director, Bobbi Blodgett. Bobbi recently contacted me. Not only did we have a very interesting conversation regarding the recent destruction of the Langford property and the difficulties of getting developers to “reuse and recycle,” but Bobbi also shared some good news about what was “salvaged” from the Langford Estate in 2008 when it was first being “deconstructed,” as part a tax write off for the developers via Habitat For Humanity.
Her email reads:
Langford additional pics during 2008 deconstruction project. Frances was very into Polynesian style and the “tapa cloth” pictured, we salvaged also, It was all handmade and imported. It was laid on the bars, walls etc.
The long bar was in the river house. I believe it was purchased by a couple who bought the house she owned on Hutchinson Island, which is awesome.”
“I am sure the new development will be re-landscaped very beautifully, but it is hard to see the once serene property so desecrated.” –Local historian, Sandra Thurlow, 2016
“Frances Langford,” the name is as beautiful as the woman. She is a legend here in Martin County and much of the world. No one has been more generous, loving, and appreciative towards our community. A true philanthropist, her name graces buildings, parks, and centers from the Indian River Lagoon to Indiantown.
As a singer and movie star, she is best known for “entertaining the troops” during World War II aside Bob Hope. Through her family, young Frances was exposed to Jensen Beach, and later, after the war, came back to create her dream: “Frances Langford’s Polynesian Outrigger Resort.” It sat along the beautiful St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon just north of Sewall’s Point.
Over time, inspired by her travels, Frances and her husbands created a tropical paradise known far and wide. Cottages, a restaurant, a marina, palm trees, rare foliage, freshwater ponds, peacocks, and even swans graced the property. Famous movie stars often visited. She gave Martin County a reputation and she put it on the map. She made Martin County’s Jensen Beach her permanent home.
Frances chose to build her personal residence near Mount Pisgah, the highest point of the peninsula. Lore has it that pirates and Indians once lived here too, standing on the high bluff looking for passing ships in the ocean. The property is steeped in beauty, history, and mystery. Sadly, in the end, the remaining 53 acre parcel was treated like any other piece of real estate.
After a long wait since the 2008 Great Recession, the property is finally being developed ironically as “Langford Landing.” The manner in which this is being done has taken most us by surprise.
Is it really necessary to remove every beloved palm tree, stately strangler fig, and blade of grass? Surely Frances thought some of her legacy might stand. It has not. The majority of the property has been scraped clean for new development. My sister said it best: “Jacqui, from the water, it looks like the property has been Napalmed.”
I love animals whether they walk, fly, hop, slither, swim, run, or trot…
As a young person growing up along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, one of my very finest memories is riding horses along the beaches of Hutchinson Island. My friend Michelle White whose father still lives on McArthur Boulevard, had horses at their ranch in Palm City and would often bring them to —keeping them under the shade at the “beach house.” Michelle and I would get up at the crack of dawn and ride these horses bareback along the beach. It was wondrous. Obviously, the laws were not as restrictive then. We even got our picture in the Stuart News!
Today, I will share a story sent to me by blog reader Stan Field, A.K.A. Anthony Stevens who is a professional writer who lives in Rio and friend of my family.
When he sent me this excerpt about the beach horses of WWII, I wrote back: “I do hope none of the horses were hurt jumping off the Jensen Beach Bridge.” He assured me all were fine. Here is his amazing story:
Horse Patrols on Hutchinson Island “Early in the war, it was decided that they needed to maintain regular patrols of the Atlantic beaches. Someone in Washington thought that horse patrols would be a good idea.
“In September 1942, horses were authorized for use by the beach patrol. The mounted portion of the patrol soon became the largest segment of the patrol. For example, one year after orders were given to use horses, there were 3,222 of the animals assigned to the Coast Guard. All came from the Army. The Army Remount Service provided all the riding gear required, while the Coast Guard provided the uniforms for the riders. A call went out for personnel and a mixed bag of people responded. Polo players, cowboys, former sheriffs, horse trainers, Army Reserve cavalrymen, jockeys, farm boys, rodeo riders and stunt men applied. Much of the mounted training took place at Elkins Park Training Station and Hilton Head, the sites of the dog training schools.” – US Coast Guard One of these horse patrols groups was stationed on Hutchinson Island. What is not generally mentioned is one of those horrible snafus that always happen during wartime. Well, they arranged for a large herd of horses to be delivered by the Florida East Coast Railroad and a corral and stables was built on Hutchinson Island, near the old wooden bridge in Jensen. Seaman from the Coast Guard base in Fort Pierce would be stationed there and at the House of Refuge and they would patrol the entire island. Now since there were no roads on the island from Jensen north, this seemed like a great idea. The soft sand was murder on jeeps and mounted riders would be able to cut around swampy areas and investigate in the woods, if needed. They asked for volunteers for the first herd and there was only one real cowboy in the base. There were only a few more who had pleasure riding experience. Well, everyone was pretty excited when the big day came and several railroad cars were delivered to the siding just north of Jensen Beach Blvd. A temporary corral had been built there to hold them for inventory and basic tack was in the back of trucks, ready to mount the animals and ride them over to their permanent duty station, on the island. There was an immediate problem when they opened the doors, however. In its infinite wisdom, the Government had decided that purchasing trained horses was too expensive. And since a lot of wild horses lived for free on Government land out west, they just rounded up a herd of wild ones, packed them onto cattle cars and shipped them to Jensen. Not one of them had ever been in close contact with a man before… much less a saddle. Riding them to the island was out of the question. So the one loan cowpoke arranged a ‘drive’ and the entire community was drafted into helping with the operation. Well, things seemed to be going pretty well, until they got to the old wooden bridge that led to the island. This was more than a mile and a quarter long, two narrow lanes wide and the decking has ½” gaps between each plank. The horses did NOT want to cross it! About half of them were driven over by the shoving, shouting crowds behind. The other half jumped the sides of the bridge and the banks of the Indian River and swam for freedom. Most of the next couple of days was spent with the Pitchfords and other boat owners chasing them around the river and running them down on land. Eventually they all made it to the island and the serious breaking and training started. The one loan cowhand and the base officers appealed to the locals for help once more and older cowhands, both male and female, volunteered to teach the Coast Guard people how to break and train the wild herd.
There is not a lot of information available on the mounted patrols of World War II. They did setup training facilities in Hilton Head, SC.” —-written by Anthony Stevens, in a letter to JTL August, 2015
Wow. Can you imagine all those poor horses jumping off the bridge into the Indian River Lagoon? Crazy! And wild ones at that. Wonder what happened to them all after the war?
Well today horses are allowed on the beaches in St Lucie County and horseback riding is a very popular and extremely well rated experience. When my husband Ed flys the cub looking for pollution plumes in the Indian River Lagoon and area inlets, he often sees horseback riders from his plane. There is some romance left in the world…
—–Right here along the Indian River Lagoon…I wonder if any of those horses’ ancestors patrolled the beach? If only a horse could talk!
Recently, I visited Bob Washam and his wife Cynthia in their home along the Indian River Lagoon in Jensen Beach. Because Bob has recently retired and had a very long career at the Martin County Health Department, I wanted to interview him about the river and the history of toxic algae blooms. Obviously this is a very serious topic, and I kept trying to ask him questions, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the coconut head hanging in his kitchen.
“Sorry to go off topic, but what’s the story with the coconut head in the kitchen Bob? It looks authentic. Old. It’s really cool.”
“Oh that’s Connie.” He matter-a-factly replied…
Bob told me that when he was a young man and went to college at FIT in Jensen in 1975 Pitchford’s Bar was closed, “but the heads were still hanging there.” Eventually he was given one. It’s a special reminder of Jensen’s earlier days…Bob took out some old photos and allowed me to share them with you today.
Jensen establishments, Seymour’s Inn, Pitchford’s Bar, and Poor Bobs were all located right next to each other on Indian River Drive, just north of the Jensen (Frank Wacha) Bridge. Their popularity somewhat overlapped, but over the years they all deteriorated. Nonetheless, these establishments left wonderful memories for thousands of people. Bob Washam also has great memories. He told me a story about “Pineapple Louie,” a Jensen Beach local character from the 70’s.
“One day when I was working at Poor Bob’s, he ran into kitchen, grabbed a big knife and chased another bar patron onto Indian River Drive. That was our big excitement back in those days. That and dancing with…ladies at Seymours after our work shift. ” –Bob Washam
My mother writes more historically about Seymour’s Inn in her book “Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River.”
“Jensen’s main attraction was its wonderful fishing. The mile long bridge was not only lined with fishermen on both rails, it was a social gathering place. What was needed was a place to enjoy a cold beer after a day of fishing…
Seymour’s Inn officially opened on December 13th, 1936 in the former filling station building and grew through the years with numerous additions. Seymour’s became the “fun spot” of Martin County. There was square dancing, round dancing, and mixers seven days a week. Seymour, the owner, played harmonica, musical groups performed, and there were Sunday afternoon jam sessions and costume parties…
…War came in the 1940s and Seymour’s became a popular place with servicemen stationed in the area in the 1940s during World War II. Following the war, Seymour’s continued to be popular and drew people from miles around…
Today, times have changed, but the spirit of these places along Indian River Drive absolutely lives on….next time you drive by, if you slow down and listen, you may even hear the music and laughter of the age. 🙂
Seymour’s Inn is-now popular attraction Conchy Joes owned by the famous and generous Fred Ayres; Pitchford’s Bar much later became Dena’s Restaurant, and now is under new ownership with the funny huge shark with a ladies legs hanging out on the facade; and Poor Bob’s is an empty lot just north of the bridge.
Today our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon Region is referred to as the “Northern Everglades,” back then, it was all the “Everglades”….
Today’s historic photos were shared because of my last two days of blogging featuring my brother Todd’s flying video showing where the dreaded C-44 canal entered the South Fork of the St Lucie River in 1923 connected from Lake Okeechobee.
Alice Luckhardt, friend and local historian, has been trying to figure out where the Everglades actually “started” in Martin County as she is writing a history of Martin County’s infamous Ashley Gang. (They used to hide out in the Everglades.) Alice’s Leslie’s New World Atlas 1920s map, the second from the top of this page, kind of makes Martin County “look” pretty dry….as do the other two maps shared by my mother…
Viewed closely, the old maps show different “Everglades” boarders as seen most clearly in the 1949 Everglades Drainage District map at the top of this page. This map comes from my mother’s files and she notes that it shows “Township 40, Range 39, in Martin “in” the Everglades….
So what determines “the Everglades?”
Of that I am not certain but in my mind it is a swamp. But swamps in Florida “come and go” with the rains. Also the Everglades has many different faces/landscapes that are part of a greater whole–different kinds of micro environments like pine forest, hardwood hammocks, mangroves forests, endless sawgrass prairies, tall ancient cypress forests, marshlands, wetlands, ponds, some higher ridges separating rivulets and standing water, little creeks that come and go, shallow clean fresh water flowing ever so slowly across white sugar sands…Aggg! Did I just say that! 🙂
So anyway, I then went to the US Government maps my brother showed me awhile back and here one can see the “little ponds “of the Everglades right there in Stuart, Jensen Beach, and of course in what is today’s Palm City. They were in today’s St Lucie County too. Wouldn’t this be the “everglades?”
In fact, when I was a kid, there was a large pond near our family home on East Ocean Boulevard across from today’s Fresh Market. Now it’s gone…and the road goes through…”They” moved it….
I think we have really moved just about “everything.” Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean we can’t put some of it back, or start draining and saving water in a new way. Studying old maps and aerials is a good place to start!
*Thank you to historians Alice Luckhardt and Sandra Thurlow and Todd Thurlow for sharing their cool old maps!
I love driving north along Indian River Drive towards Jensen Beach from the Town of Sewall’s Point. The palm trees, the river, the old brightly painted houses, and the Town of Ocean Breeze. Since childhood, “Ocean Breeze Park,” has been an icon for retired people growing old and having a great time. A little crowded in there for my taste, but still, what a cool place!
According to Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book, Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River, “In the 1930s, Harry and Queena Hoke along with their two teenage sons, came to Martin County in a red trailer that was their home.”
According to the family: “The trailer was so small you had to go outside to change your mind.”
After visiting Pitchford’s trailer camp further north, the family eventually purchased 23 acres of the former C.F. Wolf pineapple plantation. The formation of the town is an American dream story. After success as a park, they eventually incorporated in 1960 increasing their coffers and their land holdings by buying adjoining properties.
With a great advertising campaign and true caring for the lives and fun of their residents the park-city became a true home.
According to the town’s Wikipedia article: “at the time of its incorporation, in 1960, the 65-acre park was said to be the largest privately owned trailer park in the United States.”
One of the great town stories is Mrs Geeben.
Mrs Dorothy Geeben, embodied the spirit of Ocean Breeze. She was mayor from 2001 to 2010. When she was re-elected in 2004 at age 96, the national media dubbed her “the nation’s oldest living mayor. She passed on January 11, 2010 at the age of 101 just short of her 102nd birthday.
Today new things are on the horizon for the Town of Ocean Breeze. Yes, it is run down, but it is improving. Flying over or driving through one can see that many trailers have been removed and western lands belonging to the town are being cleared for residential apartments. The town owns a tremendous amount of land as well as land in the Indian River Lagoon. (see chart above.) The Town of Ocean Breeze is a sovereign. They regulate themselves.
Hmmmm? What will the future bring?
Recently, there was a rumor going around that the town could ignore the county’s four-story height limit within its boarders and build condominiums to “see the sea.” I think that is doubtful, but stranger things have happened in Martin County and if Ocean Breeze is to evolve into the future it will certainly have to change.
According to Scripps Newspapers, after great financial difficulty the town was bought in 2013 by Carefree RV Resorts for Arizona for 16.5 million. The company owns 60 communities nation wide.
Although I know I’ve got many more good and productive years, I find myself thinking about where Ed and I might eventually downsize. I want a great location, a place where I can see the Indian River, somewhere within walking distance to town, and a community where I can have fun and grow old. Ocean Breeze just might be the ticket!