Tag Archives: Tuckahoe

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.

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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))

Unknown, Sacred Indian Mounds of the Indian River Lagoon

Ancient Aye Indian mound and gravesite, possibly 3000-4000 years old overlooks the Indian River Lagoon at Ft Pierce but is but is unrecognized. The park is known today as "Old Fort Park."
Ancient Ais Indian mound and gravesite, possibly 2000-4000 years old overlooks the Indian River Lagoon but is but is unrecognized. The park is known today as “Old Fort Park,” Ft Pierce. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch)

When I was a teenager, one time my mother, a historian, pulled the car over on the side of the road near “Old Fort Park” in Ft. Pierce. She said,” Let’s get out of the car, we are going to look for Indian shards.” “Cool,” I thought, but how could that be? We were driving right along Indian River Drive in a residential area just outside of downtown Ft. Pierce. I’d been here a thousand times….

So anyway, she parked the car and we actually walked across the street, closer to the river, and right there lying on top of the pushed up earth, were discarded oyster and clam shells and splinters of pottery that my mother explained belonged to an ancient mound building culture.  I was amazed. Later, we walked up the remains of the forty foot midden, turned around  and looked out over the beautiful Indian River, through gigantic gnarled oak trees. I imagined I was an Ais Indian, looking out for the British or Spanish and their Indian collaborators  who one day would destroy me and the Indian River too. (http://indianrivermag.com/LIVE/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=136)

According to the Florida Anthropologist 2002, Volume 55 3-4, a total of 49 shell middens, circles or graves have been found in Martin County and were determined to be in much better condition than the ones  that had been plowed down in neighboring and over developed Palm Beach County. These Indian mounds were determined to be anywhere from 3000-4000 years old, possibly older, and belonged to various Florida mound building tribes. In Martin County they were named the Ays or Ais. (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00027829/00090/1j)

The “Old Fort Park” is in St Lucie County, but Martin County’s most well known Indian midden is known today as “Tuckahoe.” The mound was once 60 feet high and overlooks the Indian River as well. I learned that  many of the Indian mounds, even parts of Tuckahoe, were all or partially bulldozed and the shells  used to pave the early streets of the area. (http://www.mansionattuckahoe.com/htm/mansionHistory.htm)

How resourceful? How horrendous and completely unthoughtful.

This partial map below shows where some of the major coastal and interior mounds in Martin County are located: Mount Elizabeth or Tuckahoe; Hutchinson Island; House of Refuge; Rocky Point; St Lucie Inlet; Joseph Reed Shell Ring; Peck ‘s Lake Complex; Banner Lake Complex; Hobe Sound Complex; Jupiter Sound Complex; Jupiter Inlet Complex; Indiantown and Barley Barber.

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A few years ago after a big storm, the Indian Mound on Hutchinson Island was opened up by the sea. Bones and artifacts were found, studied and reburied because today we have a deeper respect for these grave sites, these sites of culture that  many of our ancestors, like mine,  destroyed.

Perhaps the spirt of the Ais Indians broke forth that day, and in the rolling waves was brought back to the shoreline. Maybe they are somehow helping us who care and empathise save what’s left of their Eden – the beautiful,  the sacred, the Indian River Lagoon.

Photos: (https://www.google.com/search?q=indian+mounds+photos+florida&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=5LE5U-CeD63gsATZvYHADQ&ved=0CCgQsAQ&biw=1598&bih=803)