With the help of Ms Kelly Arnold, my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, has a web-site! My brother, Todd; my sister, Jenny; my father, Tom; and I –are very happy that people can now contact her directly to purchase or discuss her local history books.
Mom’s web site tells you where you can buy a book locally, or you can even arrange to get one at her Sewall’s Point home–she will sign the inside cover should you wish. Her work is meticulously researched, cited, and contains wonderful photographs and maps that take you back to a time of wild beauty and raw grit.
Undoubtedly because of my mother, Martin County has one of the best documented historys in Florida. All of her books, Sewall’s Point, The History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast; Stuart on the St Lucie; Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River; and Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History; are about the pioneer families that came here to live and thrive because of our waters-a precious resource that must be restored.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
I was recently struck by this beautiful coat of arms, or crest, or piece of art, hanging in the airport in Andros, Bahamas. My husband and I had flown there; it is only a 45 minute flight from Stuart. Adros, as most all the islands in the Bahamas, has a connection to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon region here in Martin and St Lucie Counties.
Before I start, I’d like to say that I was not only struck by the beauty of this crest with its sailfish, flamingo, and conch but somewhat taken aback by the Spanish ship in the middle under the ancient South American Indian sun symbol of the Great Creator.
The words under the crest read, “forward, upward, onward, together…”Hmmm?
Italian, Christopher Columbus, sponsored by Spanish, king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, came to the Bahamas first in 1492 by ship; years later as the Caribbean became filled with mining operations and sugar plantations of great wealth, the native Arawak/Lucayns people of the islands were forced into slavery. The natives fiercely resisted, but most died of small pox due to having no immune system against Spanish disease. According to documentation, by 1520 the culture was “extinct.” As a former culture they had thousands (40,000 across the Bahamian Islands.)
The story of their annilation is one of the the most brutal instances of genocide in our human history.
Later captured African slaves were forced to replace the Arawak peoples on plantations, and ironically later in the 1800s the Black Seminoles of the United States emigrated via canoe from Florida to Andros. Many live there today in Red Bay working as sponge divers and artisans. After great tribulation, and they are still struggling today, the Bahamas became independent this time from England in 1973.
Time goes on. Things change and people move on for new dreams. Dreams in America. Where justice prevails for “all.”
One of the black families that came to our Indian River Lagoon Region in 1898, not from Andros but from Exuma was the Christie Family. My family holds the Christie family very dear as my mother, who wrote the History of Sewall’ Point in 1992, formed a close relationship with the Christie family as they had worked not as slaves, but a free men and women over generations, for the Andrews family and others who held great land holdings and beautiful winter properties on the peninsula of Sewall’s Point.
According to historian and author, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, “No one family has lived on Sewall’s Point with out interruption longer than the Christies. Their friendships knew no color barrier.”
The Christie Family’s knowledge and relationships with the powerful early families of Sewall’s Point is really what gave my mother, the ability and foundation to write her first book which has led to her career and great documentation of our area.
For the past seven years, I have served with Commissioner and former Mayor, James A. Christie, Jr. who is one of longest-serving public servants of the City of Stuart along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. We serve on the Treasure Coast Council of Governments together. As an elected official, Mr Christie has been a great supporter of the river movement. He will be retiring this September; I will be there to honor him.
So, yes, it really struck me, considering the destruction of native peoples, the environment, slavery, the birth of new counties and the death of old ones, that the crest was so happy and beautiful and read “forward, upward, onward, together…” surrounded by the birds and fish and sea life.
May we find the optimism in this difficult and sometimes horrific world. Let’s save our rivers and yes, let’s work together to “overcome.”
A great book is on “this subject” is History of the Caribbean by Frank Moya Pons
“Sandra Thurlow was a resident of Sewall’s Point for twelve years before she became fascinated by its history. In 1986, the Town of Sewall’s Point commissioners ordered the demolition of a lovely old home that stood on a bluff overlooking the St Lucie River. Queries revealed that it was once the High Point Rod and Gun Club, a wildness retreat for a coterie of politically powerful Philadelphians. Further research uncovered a wealth of local history that needed to the shared and preserved. ”
As you may already know or have guessed, Sandra is my mother and the house was one the children of Sewall’s Point played in and got into trouble having lots of fun….And yesterday, we as a family honored Sandra’s 75th birthday and today she will be featured in my blog. 🙂
Even though she is my mother, it is my opinion that no one has done more for “Stuart’s” local history and no one has written more about the pioneer families who made their way along this wilderness, once known as “Santa Lucia” or the “Indian River Region.”
When I came back to visit Sewall’s Point and Stuart after graduating from University of Florida in 1986, I could tell things had really changed at the Thurlow house. My sister Jenny was getting ready to go off to school, I had been gone four years and our bedrooms were being transformed into offices. –Offices full of shelves and drawers of historic negatives, old maps from my father’s law office, abstracts, camera equipment, historic photos, taped interviews and the beginnings of what would become personal computers.
“Wow, ” I thought, “that’s cool, she and dad certainly will not suffer from empty nest syndrome when Todd leaves in another two years….”
As the years went on, she and my father, dove into the history of our area, and the history of our area is the history of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. A teacher by early profession and native of Gainesville, by 2008, my mother, with the help of my dad, had written and published four books: Sewall’s Point, the History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast; Stuart on the St Lucie; Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River; and together with my sister-in-law Deanna, Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History.
My mother taught me not to brag. But today I am bragging. It’s time. She has inspired and educated not only me but thousands of people. She has given talks, presented slide shows, worked with students in our local high schools, and has won state awards for her work.
I think she has helped make Martin County one of the “best documented histories” of our state. And through it all, whether she is writing about Captain Richards and his daughter Lucy of Eden struggling to grow pineapples in the sandy soil along the Indian River; or the first pioneers of Stuart trading with the Seminoles and calling their new-found paradise, “Stuart on the St Lucie;” or the early fish houses pouring over in Jensen Beach; or the shark fishermen in Salerno; or the lonely House of Refuge Keepers longing for the site of a ship or boat in river or ocean and who sustained themselves from the great riches of its waters; and even the documentation of the great detriment that came to this place through the false hope of canals and connection to Lake Okeechobee, she writes about the relationship of people to the land and the relationship of people to the water. The water is our history and we are the water, as that is why we came to this land….
Thank you mom for all of your work and happy birthday! Stuart is 100, you are 75 and I, your oldest, am 50. Time is flying, and the water that defines this place is still defining it as we fight to bring it back to health so that future generations can have some stories and write some books too.
Sandra’s books are available at Stuart Heritage, 161 Flagler Avenue, Stuart, FL 34994 in Downtown Stuart.(http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com) and through Amazon and Barnes and Nobel.