In 1855, about 100 acres of land along the Indian River was purchased by explorer Henry William Racey. His son, Charles Henry Racey, built a home atop the 4,500 year old mound; the site became known as “Mount Elizabeth”. Around 1891 he built a three-story wooden house atop the mound and started a pineapple plantation. That house burned to the ground in 1921.
In 1936, Atlanta businessman Willaford Leach and his wife Anne Bates Leach, a Coca Cola heiress, purchased Mount Elizabeth and the surrounding property and built the Mediterranean Revival home that exists today. Named “Tuckahoe” (thought to be a Native American term for “Welcome”), the estate was completed in 1939 with the latest in architectural design for that time. Sitting on approximately 54 acres of riverfront woodland and rolling lawns, Tuckahoe was the hub of social life in Martin County and the setting for countless parties attended by the local social set and WWII soldiers from nearby Camp Murphy.
The Leach family moved to Palm Beach in 1950 and sold Tuckahoe estate to the Catholic Church for use as a Novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Sisters later operated Florida’s only 2-year liberal arts college until 1972 when the entire property was purchased by Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), a 4-year college offering degrees in marine science. The Mansion became the college’s administrative offices. After closing FIT in 1986, The Mansion and surrounding property stood vacant for more than a decade until local community leaders led a referendum drive to encourage Martin County to purchase the property. Purchased by the County in 1997, the property became the site of Indian RiverSide Park. During the accompanying restoration of the Tuckahoe mansion, archaeological excavations were undertaken to study the Mount Elizabeth Mound.
This burial and ceremonial mound was constructed approximately 4,500 years ago by people of the Late Archaic Period, and is the highest mound in South Florida, presently at 40 ft. above sea level. It was seasonally occupied or used for ceremonial purposes from that time up until around 800 A.D.. The mound, which was originally 60-feet high, contains broken pottery, tools, fish bone and shell ornaments and other discarded items used their daily lives. The people of this site were subsistence hunter-gatherers who at first hunted big game mammals inland on what was then vast wet marshland and coastal hammocks. As they progressed to the coast, they included fish and smaller game along with gathered flora foods and shellfish. The abundant shells that make up this large midden were harvested from the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean.
Overlooking the beautiful Indian River Lagoon within Martin County’s Indian RiverSide Park, The Mansion at Tuckahoe, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, sits atop Mount Elizabeth Mound, which was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Together, The Mansion at Tuckahoe and Mount Elizabeth Mound create one of the most historically significant sites in Florida.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
ADDRESS: 1707 NE Indian River Dr
Jensen Beach, FL 34957
HOURS: sunrise to sunset, free admission
(Some special programs may have additional fees/admission)
The Mansion at Tuckahoe is currently operated by the Martin County Parks & Recreation Department of Martin County. It is available to be privately rented for weddings, parties, fundraisers, birthday parties and more, during the week and and on weekends. Guided historic tours of the Mansion occur between mid September and May on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.
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page information credit: Martin County, Historical Markers Database, Wikipedia, Florida Memory Project, Tuckahoe Mansion, jacquithurlowlippisch.com
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors