Tag Archives: waldo sexton

McKee Jungle Gardens, “The One Thing In Florida You Must Not Miss!” 1937 Stuart Daily News

Photo of McKee Jungle Garden ad, The Stuart Daily News, 1937, courtesy Knight A. Kiplinger.

Video link “Going Places with Graham McNamee – McKee Jungle Garden” vintage original:  (https://youtu.be/3zY7SZT1B-c?list=PLWV6Eymwwv0PWs7iU-3oFyLXk5rNKJ3Lv)

As a young child, I remember my parents taking me to visit McKee Jungle Gardens near Vero. What a  magical place! That visit certainly planted seeds in my head, and a love for all things “Florida.”

I remember towering magnificent palms; a mammoth-sized cypress tree trunk that looked like it came from the age of the dinosaurs; interesting rustic structures that matched the mood of the tropical paradise; beautiful giant lilies floating in shallow ponds reflecting purple and greens like a Monet painting; a gigantic, long, mahogany table; as well as my favorite thing to see at the time, monkeys, parrots, and other animals!

The McKee Jungle Gardens was founded in 1929, when engineer and land developer, Arthur G. McKee teamed up with famed Vero legend and entrepreneur, Waldo Sexton, in the creation of an 80-acre tropical hammock just west of the Indian River Lagoon. Tropical landscape architect William Lyman Phillips was hired to design its beautiful and acclaimed streams, ponds, and trails. The indigenous vegetation was augmented with ornamental plants and seeds from around the world. In 1932, the garden was opened as a tourist attraction. Although very successful for several decades, it shut down in 1976, post Disney and I-95, and most of its land was sold for development. The site remained vacant for twenty years until the Indian River Land Trust rescued the area legacy, purchasing it in 1995. The current Garden, McKee Botanical Gardens, was formally dedicated in 2001 and is now a Florida landmark. On January 7, 1998, the property was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places under its original name, “McKee Jungle Gardens.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McKee_Botanical_Garden)

Perusing page 4 of the 1937 Stuart Daily News, celebrating the opening of the Cross State Canal from Stuart to Ft Meyers, featuring McKee brings back happy memories for me. About three years ago, I visited the new McKee Botanical Gardens and the magic is still there! I find Florida’s old-time famed gardens so much more appealing than today’s focus on boring “floratam lawns and perfectly manicured hedges.” Today or yesterday, showcasing Florida’s tropical beauty is Florida at its best!

VISIT McKEE BOTANICAL GARDENS TODAY:

Today’s 18 acres:  McKee Botanical Gardens Web-Site: https://mckeegarden.org

History, McKee Botanical Garden, formally McKee Jungle Garden: https://mckeegarden.org/about-us/

“Old highway Notes,” McKee Jungle Gardens, great info: http://oldhighwaynotes.blogspot.com/2015/04/mckee-jungle-gardens.html

Florida Memory: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/165302
Location south of Vero Beach, west of IRL

Bios:

Aurthur G. McKee: http://case.edu/ech/articles/m/mckee-arthur-glenn/

Waldo Sexton: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldo_E._Sexton

Waldo Sexton’s Vero Mountain/Harry Lyons’ Stuart Mound and the Spirits of the Indian River Lagoon

An artist's drawing of Harry's Lyon's Mound to be located on Bessey Edition, Stuart, Florida, 1941. (Drawing Courtesy of Rick Crary)
An artist’s drawing of Harry Lyon’s mound, overlooking the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, near today’s St Lucie Crescent at  Bessey Point, Stuart, Florida, 1941. Artist, Charles Morgan, father of Mrs Arthur Dehon. (Drawing Courtesy of Rick Crary.)

Personalities taller than mountains are part of the history of our Indian River Lagoon Region and their spirits are still with us today.  Let me explain…

In the early 1920s Harry Lyons, ( Ernie Lyons’ father) was a dreamer and promoter of Stuart. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may recall his promotional song for the Great Port of Stuart. Harry had many ideas to promote Stuart and another occurred around 1941 when the drawing of the Stuart Mound above was composed.

My mother, historian, Sandra Thurlow, transcribed the following from Mr Harry Lyon’s memoirs regarding the building of his gigantic mound at Bessey Point  near today’s road, St Lucie Crescent,  that was to overlook the St Lucie River:

“The proper material is at hand in abundance, and the bulk of it could be delivered by barge (dredged from the river). Most states, including Florida, have numerous ancient earth mounds, some very large indeed, so nothing could be more ‘American.’ The mound would be a must for tourist and home-folk alike who would ascend and spend hours at the summit, paying .50 cents or $1.00  charge….” to the City of Stuart no less…

Well fortunately, or unfortunately, Mr Lyon’s name is still around but his mound “never got off the ground,” although in 1960 his northern neighbor,  Waldo Sexton’s did.

Sexton, the legendary eccentric salvager/builder of Vero Beach, is well known for his creations and influences including the Driftwood Inn, McKee Jungle Garden, the Patio Restaurant, and many other creations which have shaped the ambiance of Vero Beach.

His finale was “Waldo Sexton’s Mountain,” that he created from dredge fill at Bethel Creek, adjacent to  the Indian River Lagoon. It was touted as a tourist attraction but for Sexton, the impressive mound  was to also be his burial ground.  This drawing by Mittnach displays what it looked like.

photo

In time, the mountain thrived but eventually fell into disrepair and was pillaged for its beautiful tiles. As mentioned, Patriarch Sexton, used to getting what he wanted,  had the dream of being buried under the mound, but this dream did not come true.

Sr. Sexton passed in a nursing home and later, Ralph, his son, during a severe northeastern storm in 1972, in distress, decided to use the mound’s fill to reinforce the foundation of his father’s beloved Driftwood Inn, located across the street.

According to an article written by Denis McCarthy years ago, after destroying the mountain, “terrible things ensued.”  Eventually Ralph along with The Driftwood Inn, so beautifully located between the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean, became a “distressed” property.

Then a series of odd tragedies occurred leading people to believe that Waldo’s ghost had truly cursed the great mound for those who were going to misuse it.

First, a  developer trying to purchase the “denuded” mountain property had a heart attack; the next wealthy  businessman “buyer” was killed in a plane crash on his way home after visiting and deciding to buy the property; later, one who did buy, fell ill, got divorced  and went broke. Eventually a Mrs Heusen purchased The Driftwood Inn as the mound property sat empty and weedy. But Heusen took a different approach and decided to work “with” the ghost of Waldo Sexton keeping his signature style for all to see.

Waldo seemed pleased. Mrs Heusen publicly claimed she saw his ghost and that he often opened the door for her in the restored restaurant….

“I know this sounds weird, she said in McCarthy’s interview, but these things are real…”

Another thing to note is that according to McCarty’s article, Sexton was a “guru of environmentalism” in that he, like Frank Lloyd Wright, built with nature instead of against it. McCarty thought that perhaps Sexton’s ghost  was telling us “enough is enough.” –No shopping centers on my mound. “Stop, before it’s too late!”

In conclusion, McCarthy says Sexton’s message most simply stated was: “Follow my example, and build in harmony with nature, not opposed to it…”

So if you believe in ghosts or spirits, you may want to take heed. 🙂