One of my favorite aerial photographs from my mother’s history books on Martin County is of the infamous Hugh Willoughby flying over the St Lucie River at Sewall’s Point and Willoughby Point. In more familiar terms for boaters, this location is known as “Hell’s Gate” due to the bottle-necking of the rushing tide.
Mr Hugh de Laussat Willoughby, one of the “early birds” of aviation, and a resident of Sewall’s Point, (http://earlyaviators.com/ewilloug.htm) had the idea of locating the New York Yacht Club at the southern tip of the peninsula as envisioned in the map below. It is difficult to see in the aerial, but the insignia of the New York Yacht Club is on the side of the biplane.
The yacht club never materialized as the market crash of the late 1920s and following depression of the 1930s dashed that dream. Today many local pilots fly over the St Lucie River at this same location to photograph a different dream. –By showing the devistation, inspiring a dream for our state and federal agencies, of clean water…
Would Mr Willoughby ever have imagined his paradise would be one of controversial pollution? Never in a thousand years….
This year, the ACOE has been discharging from Lake Okeechobee since January 29th 2016; in 2013 they released May through October, and in 2014 nothing…
May the photographs or today’s ailing river inspire change, and may the spirit of Mr Willoughby keep adventure and love alive in our hearts—and the wind— ever at our backs.
Having trouble thinking of a holiday or Christmas gift? Consider one of my mother’s four books…
1. Stuart on the St Lucie
2. Historic Eden and Jensen on Florida’s Indian River
3. Sewall’s Point, A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast
4. Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge
All of these books have tremendous historic value with fabulous old stories of pioneer families, photos, maps, surveys, charts and advertisements. As you know, I pull much of what I write about in my blogs from these books.
Today I am going to share some aerial photographs that showcase development in Sewall’s Point during the 1960s, specifically, Isle Edition and Archipelago. To give reference, I was born in 1964. During this time and before, the bulkheading of spoil islands was fashionable. Due to environmental restrictions that were put into law in the 1970s, development on such a scale is no longer allowed.
Bulkheading is basically when one creates a seawall. In the case of a some of the islands off the Town of Sewall’s Point, they were cleared, bulkheaded, filled with sand, and then developed. In some instances the fill is high enough that these islands are not completely in same flood zones as surrounding areas.
According to my mother’s book, “Sewall’s Point, A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast:”
“High Point’s “Isle Addition” was developed by Bessemer in 1966, during the same years Perry Boswell developed Archipelago. Both subdivisions are on bulkheaded islands that were augmented by dredge-and-fill operations. Since laws no longer allow this type of development, there will never be another one on Sewall’s Point.” -Sandra Henderson Thurlow
The islands I am referring to are spoil islands. They are not natural islands. These islands were created by the ACOE. The 156 mile long Indian River Lagoon has 137 spoil islands; they were formed from 1953 to 1961 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Intracoastal Waterway — the main channel through the center of the lagoon. The Corps left behind heaps of sand on either side of the channel.
I am including this video my brother Todd created about the spoil islands from an earlier blog as it is most fascinating as is the coast history of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon region. Enjoy!
When I was a young person growing up in Sewall’s Point, things were unlike today. Very few people lived here and some of the old estates sat empty for us kids to explore with out the Sewall’s Point cops arresting us for trespassing.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, I often rode my bike to what I called “Paradise Found,” or the “Secret Lagoon” which I later learned was part of the north Sewall’s Point Mt. Pisgah estate, last owned at that time, by Mr Louis Dommerich and his wife Margaret. This large parcel was later developed as “Plantation.” It is the northern most subdivision in Sewall’s Point. It is a lush amazing piece with all sorts of palms planted by the Dommerichs and many lagoons attached to the rising and falling tides of the St Lucie River.
After school, I would ride my bike up the long, winding driveway as fast as I could so my skinny 10-speed Schwinn wheels would not sink in the shell-like sand. Upon getting to the top of the hill, lay a veritable jungle, as beautiful a thing as one has ever seen. There were egrets and herons and jumping fish. I could think here; I could wander in the most gorgeous nature ever seen; I could be away from my “nagging” parents whom I now know were just trying to raise a disciplined and productive child.
An empty house sat like a lone sentinel amongst the vines and sweeping palm trees. I never approached the house as it seemed to hold too many memories, but I made the lagoons my second home.
In my mind of memories, this area is a sacred place and I feel so lucky that I was able to wander its magical shores. I somehow feel the spirit of the place helped form the person I am today.
A lot has changed since those day, but I still recall it all with great fondness…
Very recently my mother contacted me saying she had a hunch, and had it for quite some time. Her hunch was that the Dommerichs of Sewall’s Point may be related to Louis F. Dommerich and Clara J. Dommerich who founded Florida Audubon.
Wow that would be cool! Why wouldn’t we know this?!
It is well-known and written about recently in “Conservation in Florida, A History of Heroes,” by Gary L. White, that the Dommerichs of the United States became wealthy socialites, and used it for “good cause.”
“On March 1, 1900, in their Maitland, Florida home, near Orlando, they organized with friends the first Florida Audubon meeting. In time, Florida Audubon changed the world, and the fate of shore birds in Florida. Until the Florida Audubon campaign these birds were being recklessly slaughtered in late 1800s for their beautiful feathers. Their chirping, starving, chicks were left to rot in the sun. Thousands, and thousands, and thousands of birds were shot—entire rookeries decimated—all to adorn ladies hats….
Within a decade, through advocacy and education, Florida Audubon had turned this slaughter around. Today we protect birds, and ten percent of what once graced the skies is remaining…
What a legacy….saved by a shoe-string.
So back to our detective work. The couple that owned the Mt Pisgah property were Margaret and Louis Dommerich, Louis died in 1982. The older Louis F. must have died in the early 1900s. Could Louis be related to Louis?
I knew just who to contact to find out, my mom’s friend historian Alice Luckhardt who specializes in genealogy. I wrote her and she wrote back in one day. Mom’s hunch was right!
From: “Alice L. Luckhardt”
Subject: Dommerich Family
Date: August 1, 2015 at 4:31:49 PM EDT
To: Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hi Jacqui –
As you and your Mom know finding information on families is my special area of research.
I have attached a MS Word document I did up of what I found and attached a photo of Louis Ferdinand Dommerich (1841-1912) – the one with his second wife, Clara who started the Florida Audubon Society – bring together many of the local branches across the state. In the Blake Library on microfilm are the obits (Stuart news issue dates) for Louis and his wife Margaret, who lived in Sewall’s Point, who both died in 1982.
DOMMERICH, LOUIS F. November 14, 1982 Pg A8 OB DOMMERICH, LOUIS FERDINAND November 15, 1982 Pg A5 DA DOMMERICH, MARGARET WHITEHEAD October 29, 1982 Pg A8 OB
Louis Ferdinand Dommerich born Feb. 2, 1841 in Germany, died July 22, 1912 in NYC
Louis F. Dommerich was born on February 2, 1841 in Cassel Germany. His father was a college professor. In 1858-1859, Dommerich came over to the United States where he worked for as an apprentice in a German factory, Noell & Oelbermann, which served as a direct agent for a foreign manufacturing. He was employed there for ten years before becoming a partner in the renamed E. Oelbermann & Co. In 1889 the company was renamed once again to Oelbermann, Dommerich and Co. His company specialized in dry goods exchange and bank dealing in textile commerce, and became so successful that it had manufacturing companies all across the United States and Europe.
In 1885 Dommerich visited Florida for the first time, and two years later he visited Winter Park and stayed in the Seminole Hotel. In 1891 Dommerich bought 400 Acres of land in Maitland, Orange Co., Florida. His holdings included the orange groves on Lake Minnehaha. It was there that he built his first home in Maitland and called it “Hiawatha Grove” to serve as his winter residence. He kept also a home in NYC. The house constructed was a 30 room-mansion surrounded by 130 acres of landscaped grounds and 72 acres of citrus trees. The mansion was an impressive three-story frame house containing multiple turrets and gables. His wife, Clara J. Dommerich (his second wife, married in Oct. 1884) established the Maitland Public Library in 1896 — started with 360 books and Louis Dommerich was its major contributor. In 1907 he donated $3,000 in memory of his late wife, who died in 1900. From 1897 to 1904, Dommerich served on the Rollins College Board of Trustees. He and his wife founded the Florida Audubon Society in mid-1900 in the their home because of the all the bird feathers being used in fashion hats and served as president from 1901 to 1911. Supporters of the Florida Audubon Society in 1900 were President Theodore Roosevelt, railroad baron Henry M. Flagler, Gov. William Jennings, the presidents of Rollins and Stetson colleges and the editors of leading newspapers in the state. In 1903 Dommerich donated $5,000 towards Rollins College’s first endowment. In 1907 Dommerich donated $500 to help secure Carnegie Library and in 1910 he donated $1,000 to help secure a science building. Back on the Board in 1909, he remained a trustee until his death in 1912.
Louis Ferdinand Dommerich died at the age of 72 on July 22, 1912. His son Alexander Louis Dommerich served on the Board of Trustees as his other son Otto Louis Dommerich helped Hamilton Holt finance the College in 1927. By the time Louis Ferdinand Dommerich died, his company had become one of the most prominent commercial banking houses in the world. Hiawatha Grove stood until 1954, when the property was sold for $420,000, the house was torn down to make way for homes in the area.
Louis Ferdinard Dommerich and first wife Julie Louise Dommerich (1843-1882) – one of their sons was Otto Louis Dommerich (1871-1938). A son of Otto was Louis Ferdinard Dommerich, born May 4,1906 in NYC, married to Margaret, their had a home first in NYC and later in Deer Park Meadow in Conn. and on Sewall’s Point.
Louis F. Dommerich, born 1906 died in Martin County on Nov. 11, 1982. His wife Margaret died in 1982. This Louis was the grandson of Louis F. Dommerich who with his second wife, Clara started the Florida Audubon Society.
Their son was Louis Alexander Dommerich, born 1929 and died 2004.
Well thank you Alice and thank you mom! And thank you that I was born in a time when I got to experience “Paradise Found”, because so much of paradise has been lost.
Thank you my mother’s (Sandra H. Thurlow) chapter on Mt Pisgah in her book Sewall’s Point, a History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast,” form which content and photos come.