Tag Archives: Mount Elizabeth

St Lucie Connections – Lost Through Time

Excerpt from 1839 Map of the Seat of War in Florida compiled by order of Brid. Gen. Z. Taylor principally from the surveys and reconnaissances of the Officers of the U.S. Army.

The following of which you will recognize many names and places, was shared from my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow. For years it lie dormant in her history files.

Written in 1881 as an article in an old time newspaper, The Florida Star, the article describes the location of pioneers living near the river and the extent of the St Lucie River itself. It is told that the South Fork of the St Lucie was connected all the way “westward of the Jupiter Lighthouse having its origin in the Everglades.”  Since 1881, we have drained so much of Florida that we only know its remnant. Imagine what it was like. Read, dream, and enjoy! 

From The Florida Star, Titusville, Florida, February 23, 1881, “Indian River” by Elias B. Wager, transcribed by Sandra H. Thurlow 

One mile south of Judge Paine’s is the mouth of Taylor Creek; on the left bank of which is the residence of Mr. Alex. Bell. Opposite the creek the oyster bars decrease. Two miles south from Bell’s is the old parade ground at Fort Pierce some of the of which are yet visible, extending quite a distance back to where was a watch tower commanding an extensive view of the river. Here is a fine spring of water bursting out from under the river-bank. Here also is the site of a store kept by Mr. Hogg. Going southward from Fort Pierce and passing several old places along the  skirted western bank, we find Herman’s Grove about eleven miles from Fort Pierce. This grove, a valuable piece of property is owned by a man living at Key West. About two miles from Herman’s Grove, is the clearing and home of Mr. T. E. Richards, late of Newark, planted to orange trees and the pine-apple. He has a clearing on the east shore of the river also, for growing vegetables, etc. Six miles from Mr. Richards is Mount Elizabeth, crowned with hummock of Cabbage Palmetto, the home of J. S. Fowler, late of New York. The river at this point is some two and one-half or three miles wide. Nearly opposite Mount Elizabeth and on the east bank of the river is the “Old Cuban’s Place.” Here grows the bananas very luxuriantly. The distance from the eastern shore of the river to the beach, is some three or four hundred yards. The river from Indian River Inlet to the Narrows is called St. Lucia Sound. Some three miles south from “Old Cuban’s Place” is located House of Refuge No. 2. Four miles south of Mt. Elizabeth and on the west side of the river is the mouth of the St. Lucie River. This river has a North and South Branch. Some ten miles above the meeting of the Branches, the North Branch separates into three streams, called Five, Ten, and Eleven Mile Creeks, indicating the distance from Ft. Capron to the several Fords used in the Seminole war.  The South Branch comes from away down to the Westward of Jupiter Lighthouse, having its origin in the Everglades. It has two branches from the Westward which have their sources in the “Big Cypress” and are called Big and Little Cane Creeks, and abound in black bass.

The Nuns of the Indian River Lagoon

The nuns of Mount Elizabeth, St Joseph's College, 1964. (Photo Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow Historic Archives.)
The nuns of Mount Elizabeth, St Joseph’s College, 1964. (Photo Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow photo archives.)

In the 1960s and 70s, when I was a kid sitting in my parents’ car, watching the world go by,  I often saw a sight along Indian River Drive that even today, I can clearly bring into my mind’s eye: the nuns of the Indian River Lagoon.

It was a striking image for a child. The nuns in their black veils in the 90 degrees weather walking in unison under the royal palms, the sparkling river in the background…

St Joseph’s College was founded in 1890 and the branch that was located at today’s Indian Riverside Park, along the Indian River, opened in 1966.

The story of how the nuns got there is a rather ironic one, and today I will share this story.

First let’s set the stage…

The lands where the nuns lived was originally an ancient Indian burial mound, and in 1855 was included in the 100 acres of land purchased by wealthy gentleman, Henry William  Racey whose son Charles Henry Racey eventually built a beautiful home atop the 4000 year old Indian mound; the site became known as “Mount Elizabeth,” shown below.

The Racey home on Mount Elizabeth, ca. 1892. (Photo courtesy of Thurlow photo archives.)
The Racey home on Mount Elizabeth, ca. 1892. (Photo courtesy of Thurlow photo archives.)

Later, the property was purchased by Judge Edward Swann, and next in 1936, by Coca-Cola heiress  Anne Bates Leach and her husband Willaford. Their home was named “Tuckahoe,” or “welcome” in the ancient tongue of the once proud and strong  native peoples. The estate was spectacular, as seen below.

The Leach Estate, Tuckahoe, 1948. (Photo Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow photo archives)
The Leach Estate, Tuckahoe, 1948. (Photo Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow photo archives.)

During the 1940s, the Martin County Commission had “allowed” Francis Langford and her husband to dredge a marina and construct tourist cottages on their property immediately south of the Leach estate and “tourist camps” had sprung up along the Indian River shoreline from Jensen Beach to the northern boundary of Tuckahoe.

According to Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book “Sewall’s Point, A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast,”

“The Leaches felt that the value of their property was greatly diminished and they were infuriated when the county refused to lower their taxes. To “get even” they vowed to sell their property to an organization with a tax-exempt status…”

which they did….

The property was sold to the Catholic Church for $75,000 and in 1950 the estate became a novitiate for the Sisters of St Joseph. 🙂

Nuns in front of the former Leach mansion, Tuckahoe.
Nuns in front of the former Leach mansion, now with dormitories, Tuckahoe. (Photo Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow photo archives.)

As we know, the campus of St Joseph eventually became the Florida Institute of Technology, a school that has created many of our local ecologically minded business leaders. After hard financial times the institute closed in 1986, and sat deserted for many years.

Then, through the very hard of work of a “redeemed Martin County Commission,” the land blossomed into “Indian Riverside Park,” a gem of our Treasure Coast.

When one looks at the history of the property, it is hard not feel like somehow, we’ve been blessed.

Tuckahoe today is a popular site for weddings and meetings. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2014.)
Tuckahoe today is a popular site for weddings and meetings. (All photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2014.)

Oyster and clam shells thousands of years old form the mound, the "mount" of Tuckahoe.
Oyster and clam shells thousands of years old form the mound, the “mount” of Tuckahoe.

View along the boardwalk of Tuckahoe.
View along the boardwalk of Tuckahoe.

Historic marker for Mount Elizabeth.
Historic marker for Mount Elizabeth, telling the story of the Ais Indians,   Riverside Park.


Tuckahoe, Martin County Commission: (http://www.martin.fl.us/portal/page?_pageid=354,4190284&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

Florida Institute or Technology and St Josephs College link/Wikipedia:  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Institute_of_Technology_(Jensen_Beach_Campus))