A few of our favorite stories
The Tommie family, offspring of Seminole Chief Chupco, is thought to be the Treasure Coast’s oldest family.
BY GREGORY ENNS
Indian River Magazine Publisher
In the 10 years we’ve been publishing, readers have been quick to tell us which stories they like. Even several years after a story has run, many of our readers readily recall the details of their favorite stories.
To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we are sharing here some of our staff’s favorite stories over the years. You can find the complete versions on our website at indianrivermagazine.com, where you can also vote for your favorite stories.
The celebration of our 10th anniversary will continue on Saturday, Jan. 14, when we host the Treasure Coast History Festival in downtown Fort Pierce, where we will feature subjects in some of the stories below. The festival is free and open to the public.
While much of the region’s written history focuses on settlers of European descent, the Treasure Coast’s oldest family is likely a group of Seminole Indians known as the Tommie family, which had been in the region perhaps as early as the 1900s. Members are descendants of Chief Chupco, a Seminole leader in the Third Seminole War.
In 2007, we shared the history of the family in which we also discovered that family members were descendants of Polly Parker, one of the most significant women in Seminole history. Until the early 1980s, many members of the Tommie family had lived in chickees on property off Midway Road in Fort Pierce.
They were later forced off the property by the landowner, but the family regrouped when 68 acres of land was deeded to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The land was named Chupco’s Landing and became the new home for the Tommie family.
The property also includes the Chupco Youth Ranch where various events celebrating the family’s heritage are held throughout the year in an arena that seats 400 people.
Waldo Sexton, creator of some of Vero Beach’s most iconic landmarks, was also the patriarch of a large and creative family that has been profiled in Indian River over the years.
We started out our first season as a magazine with a feature on the great late Waldo Sexton, creator of Vero Beach’s most beautiful buildings, many of which were built out of material salvaged from early 20th century Palm Beach mansions. These include the Ocean Grill, Patio and Szechuan Palace restaurants, McKee Botanical Garden and the Driftwood Inn.
The story of Sexton, who was patriarch of a large, creative and successful family, resulted in subsequent stories on the Waldo Sexton home lovingly cared for by his grandson, Mark Tripson, and his wife, Hildie. Our Homes of the Treasure Coast section also featured the home of Sharon and Sean Sexton, another Sexton grandson.
Later we profiled Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co., started by Marygrace Sexton and her husband, Bobby, a grandson of Waldo Sexton. And two years ago, to help readers understand the various Sexton connections, we explored the many branches of the family tree.
Family patriarch Ralph Sexton, who shared memories of his father with us in the 2007 article, died in 2014 at the age of 86.
Edwin Binney, inventor of Crayola Crayons, began spending time in St. Lucie County beginning in 1911 and was the driving force behind the creation of the Fort Pierce Inlet and the Port of Fort Pierce. CHAPMAN FAMILY PHOTO
Crayola inventor Edwin Binney’s stop in Fort Pierce in 1911 on a fishing trip began a new chapter in what would become one of the Treasure Coast’s most colorful families. Binney, who would soon become a guardian angel for the region, dredged the Fort Pierce Inlet and created the Port of Fort Pierce in the 1920s. He later saved the St. Lucie County Bank from closing by making large deposits in it. We shared much of the family’s history in our first issue, in which we also told of the aviator Amelia Earhart’s secret flight to Fort Pierce.
Earhart entered the Binney family picture when she married publisher George Putnam, the ex-husband of Binney’s daughter, Dorothy, who followed her father to Fort Pierce and built the Immokolee estate. To avoid publicity, Earhart made a secret flight to Fort Pierce in the 1930s shortly after the birth of Putnam’s granddaughter, Binney.
Our first issue in 2006 featured much of the family history, including the story of Earhart’s secret flight, and showcased Immokolee, which today is still lovingly cared for by Dorothy Putnam’s granddaughter, Sally Chapman and her husband, Jack. “They’re going to have to carry us out of here feet first,’’ Sally says.
HOW WE BECAME THE TREASURE COAST
Gold coins found in Spanish shipwrecks gave the region its Treasure Coast moniker.
Gold and silver treasure that spilled on our shores when 11 ships sank in 1715 during a hurricane gave our region the name the Treasure Coast. Because of the public’s fascination with the story, we’ve featured various installments beginning in 2007 and leading to the 300th anniversary of the disaster in the summer of 1715.
The story continues to fascinate with treasure salvors still recovering finds off St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties.
THE LAST MASTER
Golfer Errie Ball played in the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934. PGA ILLINOIS SECTION PHOTO
In 2007, we discovered that the last golfer invited to the original Masters tournament in 1934 was living in Martin County.
Well into his 90s, Errie Ball was still playing golf and giving lessons at the Willoughby Golf Club in Stuart when we caught up with him nine years ago. During his interviews with us, Ball shared the letter legendary golfer Bob Jones wrote inviting Ball to compete in the original Masters in Augusta.
Ball turned 100 on Nov. 14, 2010, and was inducted to the PGA Hall of Fame in 2011. The last Master died on July 2, 2014, at the age of 103 at Martin Medical South in Stuart surrounded by family.
Rancher Bud Adams and his family are one of the largest landowners in the state. Adams’ photographs have been featured in the magazine since its inception. CINDEE ADAMS
In 2015, we featured one of our own, Bud Adams, whose photography we have displayed in our Back Country department ever since the start of the magazine 10 years ago. Adams and his family are among the largest landowners in the state. Through astute business and conservation practices, Adams built an agricultural and family legacy that will last for generations.
Adams, who turned 90 earlier this year, still takes photos and remains active in the family ranch along with his three sons and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Lucia Zora, who spent her retirement in a house on South Indian River Drive, was one of the country’s first female animal trainers.
In Bravest Woman in the World appearing in 2010, we explored the life of Lucia Zora, one of the country’s first female animal trainers. Her parents were early pineapple farmers along the banks of the Indian River and Zora spent her retirement in their landmark brick home on South Indian River Drive in Fort Pierce. It was hard to get the sawdust out of her shoes, so Zora and husband and fellow animal trainer, Fred Alispaw, decorated the home with much of their memorabilia from the circus and even tended to a baby elephant on the grounds.
Zora died in 1936 at the age of 59 and was buried in the family plot of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Card. During the course of our reporting, we discovered that the final resting places for the “bravest woman in the world’’ and her parents were unmarked graves at Riverview Memorial Park, formerly the Fort Pierce Cemetery. At this writing, we are working to rectify this. Stay tuned.
OUTBOARD ATLANTIC CROSSING
Al Grover is the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a outboard in 1985.
We found we had a history-maker in our midst when we profiled Al Grover in 2011. Grover, who spends winters in Vero Beach, made maritime history when he became the first person to cross the Atlantic in an outboard in 1985. Grover made the crossing with his son in a boat Grover designed and built himself at his marina in Freeport, N.Y. The boat, outfitted with two 65 hp Evinrudes, motored from Newfoundland to Portugal.
We are happy to report that Grover, 89, and his wife of 65 years, Artie, still winter at their home on the beach and leave for Long Island every summer once the tomatoes Artie tends in her garden in Vero have ripened.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON
Writer Zora Hurston spend her last days in Fort Pierce.
We retraced the last years of the life of celebrated writer Zora Neale Hurston with our inaugural issue in 2006, interviewing several people who knew Hurston during her last years in Fort Pierce until her death in 1960.
Author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston was buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce’s Garden of Heavenly Rest until 1973, when novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt placed a marker at the site believed to be hers.
One person we met in the course of producing the story was Hassie Russ, who recalled her days as one of Hurston’s students when the writer was a substitute teacher at Lincoln Park Academy.
Hassie with her husband, Charles, are owners of Granny’s Kitchen, the oldest retail business in the Lincoln Park area of Fort Pierce.
The Russes are known for cooking favorites such as oxtails, smothered pork chops and fried chicken. In 2009, the restaurant underwent a $329,000 renovation that included a new banquet room, office space and an apartment.
Today, Hassie still regales customers with stories about Hurston when they visit her restaurant while tracing the footsteps of the famous writer.
The criminal career of John Ashley and his gang came to an abrupt ending.
In the early 20th century, a band of outlaws known as the Ashley Gang terrorized the Treasure Coast, robbing banks and leaving lawlessness in their wake. The gang had all the elements for a headline-grabbing story line: handsome ringleader John Ashley, who wore a patch over his eye, family loyalty, romance, Robin Hood-like acts of kindness, bootlegging, an Everglades hideout, bank and train robberies, shootouts, escapes and betrayal.
It all came to an end Nov. 1, 1924, when St. Lucie Sheriff J.R. Merritt and his posse gunned them down in an ambush after being tipped off by Ashley’s girlfriend. The question that lingered for years and prompted an inquest was whether the gang members were shot trying to escape the lawmen or whether they were summarily executed. The law officers were later cleared.
In our 2007 story, we found the last living person, Ed Register, who remembered as a young boy seeing the bodies of the Ashley Gang laid out on Second Street in front of Will Fee’s hardware and mortuary in Fort Pierce. And we shared the recollections of Edwin “Hap’’ Merritt, who stated flatly that his grandfather had no intention of bringing the Ashley Gang members back alive that night.
Register died in 2013 at the age of 93 and Merritt died in March at the age of 77 — the last links to one of the Treasure Coast’s most notorious crime stories.