Tag Archives: William Lyman Phillips

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