The Curator’s Corner

THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF MARTIN COUNTY

What’s going on?

Every month, our Curators, Jim Ferrare – Car Curator, and Chessy Ricca – Curator of Art & History Collection, will review what exciting exhibits and events are happening for the month.

keeping you up to date on what is going on AT THE ELLIOTT!

Art & History Collection

From Chessy Ricca

June - The Forgotten Town of Port Mayaca

By Chessy Ricca

Previously, I had written about John Ashley and what was happening in his life leading up to his death 100 years ago this year. According to records, John over the hot summer season of 1924, probably was laying low. Even though John Ashley was out of the papers and seeking refuge, his nemesis, Sheriff Bob Baker, was soon-to-be off the hook on a prohibition law conspiracy trial because the witnesses who testified against Bob were indicted on perjury charges. While we take a break from the Ashley story, we will shift our focus to western Martin County to a forgotten town called Port Mayaca.

Lake Okeechobee during the time of John Ashley was full of catfishermen, farmers, and pioneering families. Before the great hurricane of 1928, Lake Okeechobee’s shoreline was teaming with life. Herbert Hoover’s dike had not yet blocked the view of endless water. Model-T touring cars could putter up and down the poor quality road that took you into another ancient world. For hundreds of years, the area of Port Mayaca was a meeting place. Before the canal was built, there was most likely a natural river that flowed out of the lake and to the east or southeast. To the south east starts the Everglades and to the east lay cypress, pine, and prairie. It didn’t take long before this beautiful and unique spot in Martin County was discovered and developed.

The St. Lucie Canal which connects Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic, was approved for dredging in 1914. The dredging of this canal created jobs locally and sparked an agricultural boom with Port Myaca’s Valencia orange citrus. In an article from the South Florida Developer in 1926, the eastern shore was described in a way we will never see today.

How the tropical beauty of Lake Okeechobee’s eastern shore is to be transformed into a model city of magnificent proportions and how western Palm Beach and Martin County farmers and citrus fruit growers are to be provided with a new and worthwhile shopping and jobbing center in the new city of Port Mayaca, was made public today for the first time by Mr. George M. Osborn, general manager of Mayaca Company – a Phipps corporation of which Mr. John S. Phipps is president and Mr. W. J. Conners a director and large stockholder.

One of the intentions of the St. Lucie Canal was to make Stuart the gateway to the Everglades. The first tangible result of the canal for large-scale agriculture was the pioneering effort of the Port Mayaca development around 1925. Port Mayaca was created by Bessemer Properties, Inc., a Phipps company which saw the opportunities for agriculture through scientific water control by tapping on to St. Lucie Canal with pumps to provide irrigation in dry spells.

The fledgling town of Port Mayaca installed a water pump, fire hydrants, and a handful of residential homes along Kanner highway. On the east side of the lake sat a few stores, a church, and a general store. A few miles east, between Port Mayaca and Indiantown, lies the Port Mayaca Cemetery, run by the city of Pahokee. A few years later in 1928, a post office was established.

When the hurricane hit in 1928, the town came to a stop. All efforts were focused on finding the lost living or deceased. Within the Port Mayaca Cemetery is the mass burial of the unclaimed bodies discovered in the area around the Lake. Florida at this time, especially around the lake, entered into a depression long before the rest of the country. The 1928 hurricane did put a temporary hold on agricultural production, but the area still remained a stop for tourists who wanted to see the unrivaled beauty of Lake Okeechobee’s shores. This was short lived, however. The River and Harbor Act of 1930 authorized the creation of the Herbert Hoover dike between 1932 and 1938. The Flood Control Act of 1948 added further flood protection and water control and by the 1960’s the Herbert Hoover dike received upgrades that made the canal a major Port. Agriculture continues to flourish in 2024 but what is left of the town is either paved over or in a sugarcane field.

Today, very little remains from the old times of Port Mayaca. When the new bridge was built over the canal and Port Mayaca lock and dam, the town of Port Mayaca became a memory. The area slowly began disappearing to the unobservant eye. This new bypass was the beginning of the end. All that remains is the Cypress Lodge from the 1930’s and the ancient sandy ridge line which is walkable today on a scenic nature trail. If you want to see some old train engineering, to the east of the Port Mayaca lock and dam, near the town of Indiantown, is the old train bridge that crosses the St. Lucie Canal. In operation, the bridge is a must see! One of the last historical buildings was knocked down this month of May 2024, marking the end of a time when you could stop on the corner at the Port Mayaca general store and buy a Pepsi to sip at a nearby bench while taking a break to enjoy Lake Okeechobee’s once pristine vistas.

Chessy Ricca

Curator of Art & History Collection

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

P: (772) 225.1961 Ext. 125
C: (772) 561.308.8309
E: [email protected]

May - The Ashley Gang Continued

photos of the Ashley's Gang in Florida

In a continuation of last month’s newsletter, we will dig into John Ashley’s life 100 years ago, but especially the months leading up to his death on November 1, 1924. We last left off telling parts of the story of the moonshine still shootout. There, John’s father, Joe Ashley, met his death along with deputy Fred Baker (no relation to Sheriff Bob Baker).

The night of the moonshine still shoot-out, John escaped capture by heading southwest towards Gomez. Gomez was established in 1815 as a Spanish Land Grant and to this day the area still carries a small sign on a corner along the Dixie Highway just north of Hobe Sound. Legend states that once John’s father was killed, John continued protecting his encampment. He was not alone. John also had to protect Laura Upthegrove along with farmhand and grocer, Albert Miller. This is Laura’s mother’s account of what happened that night.

Laura was living at Riviera and I was living at Salerno. Laura took me to Salerno and when she got back, it was dark. Old man Ashley wanted her to take him to the camp in the woods. When she reached the camp, she decided to stay because the lights on her car were bad. There were three tents and the boys begged her to stay until daylight. She had her dog “Old Bob” with her. When the sheriff came up, her dog ran out and barked and the sheriff shot him. Then they fired into the tents and shot old man Ashley, killed him as he was putting on his shoe and then he fell onto the cot. After the old man was killed, John stayed around for two months to get Laura out of jail.

As John was running from the sheriff and posse the day his father died, John’s sister came to his aid. Her account of what happened was short and mildly detailed. “The same day the old man was killed, John came through the woods. Just as the officers came to my place and had parked their cars, they spied him and called to him to “come up here.” John called back, “You come over here”, and they proceeded to shoot at John. He returned their shot, but purposely over their heads. Then he turned and walked off. That night John slept in our barn loft.” There are more accounts from members of the community who made a decision to help John that night.

Another tale comes from Reverend Lundy of the local AME church who told John to hide out on the roof of the church. This way the reverend would avoid a lie by telling the sheriff’s that John was not inside the Reverend’s church when probed about John’s whereabouts. When we look at the facts of this story, we see that the local community was on the Ashley’s side. Newspaper accounts from 1924 claim that John’s neighbors burned down the town of Fruita where the Ashley family resided and farmed. But it wasn’t the angry community who burned their own. The house of Wes Mobley, John’s brother-in-law, was set ablaze, Albert Miller’s grocery store went up in flames, and a nearby fruit packing house said to have been used by the Ashley’s at times was not standing by daylight. The sheriff and his men sure were proud to stand for a picture both before and after the burning of Fruita.

Chessy Ricca

Curator of Art & History Collection

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

P: (772) 225.1961 Ext. 125
C: (772) 561.308.8309
E: [email protected]

April - The Ashley Gang

As we are nearing the one-hundred-year anniversary of the death of the locally notorious moonshiner, John Ashley, it is only natural to question what was happening in John’s life leading up to his death on November 1, 1924. Why was he killed and what was the cause?

January 1924 began on a somber note when John’s father, Joseph “Joe” Warren Ashley was killed by a member of the sheriff’s posse at his moonshine camp while putting on his slippers one rainy night after hearing John’s dog, “Shine” barking close by.  Joe was sixty-four years old. At this time, John was almost a year into being on the run again and was staying with his father while helping him in the distilling business. The moonshine still camp ambush was sparked by a train station robbery that took place two nights prior in Port Salerno (Then just called Salerno), only a few miles north. The report stated that $12.50 was taken from the railway office. The assumption was that the robbers were the Ashley boys. When Palm Beach County Sheriff Bob Baker caught wind of a train station robbery, he ordered a posse of 50 men to hunt John Ashley once again (John has been “hunted” since the killing of DeSoto Tiger in 1911). After a search mission for the boys and an hours long gun battle between the posse and the few locals at the newly discovered moonshine camp, John famously escaped west back into the Everglades, leaving his father and Sheriff Fred Baker dead and his girlfriend, Laura Upthegrove, splattered with lead shot. Laura survived but was quickly taken into custody along with 11 other Ashley family members who may have known something regarding John’s whereabouts.

John Ashley had previously escaped from Raiford Prison in North Florida for the third and final time in September of 1923. Another Everglades retreat wouldn’t be difficult. He was forced to live in the woods west of Hobe Sound away from potential capture in order to plan an escape out of Florida. Remember, back then anything west of Dixie was called the Everglades. His brother William “Bill” Ashley came up from Miami to join John but Bill didn’t make it very far. Bill was captured around Hobe Sound. Captain Von Behren of the Florida National Guard issued more guns and ammunition to be sent to Hobe Sound to assist in the capture of John Ashley.

In the Spring of 1924, John Ashley appeared to pose such a threat to the local people of northern Palm Beach County that an actual machine gun was included in this order. From April 1924 until September 1924, John Ashley was hiding out in Port Salerno, securing enough provisions to last him six months at sea. Now we have to ask, where was he going and why?

 

Chessy Ricca

Curator of Art & History Collection

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

P: (772) 225.1961 Ext. 125
C: (772) 561.308.8309
E: [email protected]

March - Derek Jeter

The Patrick Armstrong collection of Derek Jeter memorabilia is perhaps the only one of its kind. Patrick began collection when his son, Brian, started playing baseball in 1997 at the age of four. Together, the father and son would collect cards and spend hours going through them and organizing based on pricing books. For Patrick, collecting was all about spending time with Brian. Eventually Patrick’s son grew up to play shortstop just like Jeter who proved to be an excellent role model. After many years of collecting, Patrick began to realize that his collection told a story through Jeter’s milestones. Interestingly, the two never thought the collection would reach its current size!

This is the first time Patrick Armstrong has made his collection available to the public in an exhibit. When asked what Patrick’s favorite item in his collection was, his response was the first autographed photo of Jeter with four World Series rings. This item, along with many other Jeter baseball cards, baseballs, jerseys and photographs will be on display throughout the entirety of the exhibit ending in October 2024.

Chessy Ricca

Curator of Art & History Collection

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

P: (772) 225.1961 Ext. 125
C: (772) 561.308.8309
E: [email protected]

February - Upcoming Spring Exhibits

Many of our exhibits are shifting to prepare for the Spring 2024 season. The Audubon Society of Martin County has their photography contest on display beginning in late January. This exhibit captures some intimate moments with many of Florida’s native bird populations as well as other celebrated wildlife endemic to our state.

The month of February will welcome our next Local Artist Spotlight featured artist, Ruthann Hewson. Ruthann started oil painting shortly after she, her husband Dr. Bill and their 3 daughters moved to Stuart in 1972 and spent many days enjoying the local parks, beaches, and waterways. She found Stuart and surrounding communities to be perfect subjects for her canvases. Ruthann paints colorful, realistic landscapes, nautical scenes, flora, and fauna as well as buildings, bridges, and boats, capturing the beauty and essence of her subjects without making drastic changes to what nature created and what man has constructed. You will be able to see Ruthann’s work in our Forum meeting space beginning February 20th, 2024.

Our baseball gallery has some exciting pitches taking place starting with saluting Derek Jeter. Patrick Armstrong and his son began collecting Derek Jeter memorabilia since Derek first entered the scene in the early 1990’s. This new exhibit will feature items and images that retell the story of those milestones while commemorating Jeter’s unique career. The Captain’s Corner: Derek Jeter’s Journey from Kalamazoo to the Elliott will open on February 23, 2024.

Debuting on February 12, 100 Years of Martin County Through the Eyes of Curt Whiticar exhibits the history of our county from a different perspective. This exhibit details the artistic renderings of local legend, Curt Whiticar, his family history, and Martin County history with paintings, artifacts, and private photographs.

Stop by The Outrigger restaurant in our upstairs restaurant space which includes some of Frances Langford’s estate items. The Elliott is also working diligently with the Martin County Digital History Initiative project headed by the Martin County Library System. This project is live and visible on the Martin County Library website, https://martindigitalhistory.org

Have a great February 2024 and stay tuned for many more artistic and historical exhibit in the near future!

Chessy Ricca

Curator of Art & History Collection

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

P: (772) 225.1961 Ext. 125
C: (772) 561.308.8309
E: [email protected]

January - History, Art & Education

The holiday season in the curatorial department brings lots of excitement. Exhibit changeovers, packing away one exhibit to make room for another, and even giving a makeover to an existing exhibit space! There’s something going on around every corner.

If you’ve eaten in our upstairs Outrigger café recently, you probably noticed all the clocks! Interestingly, those clocks were a part of the old Elliott Museum exhibit. After years of clocks being on display, we decided it would be best to restore the café space to Frances Langfords’ Outrigger restaurant. Years ago, the Historical Society of Martin County acquired some historical parts of the Langford estate, including Frances’s personal photographs, Outrigger memorabilia, Chanticleer history and much more. Now, her personal effects, art, and career memorabilia can be seen on display in our newly redesigned Outrigger Café, operated by Philly Down South.

Our main exhibit gallery space on the Elliott Museum’s first floor is getting ready to take on an entirely different look in celebrating King Tut! This exhibit comes all the way from Egypt! Previously, Carlton Ward and Mac Stone’s insightful Path of the Panther was showcased in this space. Seeing hidden beauty in Florida’s wilderness through their photography will be missed by many.

January also brings us a new local photography exhibit, but they are no strangers to the Elliott Museum! We will be welcoming the return of the Audubon Photography contest exhibit called “Florida’s Natural Beauty” opening January 22nd, 2024 in our first floor Art Down the Hall exhibit space. Sadly, the museum will be saying farewell to the surreal “Mystic Florida” exhibit with paintings by Elizabeth Esther Kelly. Elizabeth’s art has brought much color and mystique to our downstairs halls.

2024 will be full of history, art, and education! Have a wonderful New Year!

 

Chessy Ricca

Curator of Art & History Collectio

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

P: (772) 225.1961 Ext. 125
C: (772) 561.308.8309
E: [email protected]

Autos and More

from Jim Ferrare

May

From the desk of the Car Curator, Jim Ferrare

Car events for this month include:

  • Car shows every Wednesday night from 4-7PM
  • Cars N Coffee on the second Saturday of the month (4/13/24)
  • Garage tours every Thursday at 11 AM

Tap this link to our Car Events Calendar for more details

Guests can take a cruise in one of our classic cars

(minimum donation required except for Sterling members)

Use of the museum garage and tools.

You can bring your classic car or daily driver into our garage for simple repairs or maintenance ( appointments only, donation required)

Come and see our Motorcycle Collections grouped together to include: Harley, Indian, Sun, Yale, Moto Guzzi and more!

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for any questions and note, Events will be canceled for lightning or steady rain. Please call us before coming out to confirm at (772) 225-1961

Jim Ferrare

Car Curator

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

(772) 225.1961 Ext. 111
Jim’s EMAIL

 

April

From the desk of the Car Curator, Jim Ferrare

Car events for this month include:

  • Car shows every Wednesday night from 4-7PM
  • Cars N Coffee on the second Saturday of the month (4/13/24)
  • Garage tours every Thursday at 11 AM

Tap this link to our Car Events Calendar for more details

Guests can take a cruise in one of our classic cars

(minimum donation required except for Sterling members)

Use of the museum garage and tools.

You can bring your classic car or daily driver into our garage for simple repairs or maintenance ( appointments only, donation required)

Come and see our Motorcycle Collections grouped together to include: Harley, Indian, Sun, Yale, Moto Guzzi and more!

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for any questions and note, Events will be canceled for lightning or steady rain. Please call us before coming out to confirm at (772) 225-1961

Jim Ferrare

Car Curator

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

(772) 225.1961 Ext. 111
Jim’s EMAIL

 

March

From the desk of the Car Curator, Jim Ferrare

Car events for this month include:

  • Car shows every Wednesday night from 4-7PM
  • Cars N Coffee on the second Saturday of the month (3/9/24)
  • Garage tours every Thursday at 11 AM

Tap this link to our Car Events Calendar for more details

Guests can take a cruise in one of our classic cars

(minimum donation required)

Use of the museum garage and tools.

You can bring your classic car or daily driver into our garage for simple repairs or maintenance ( appointments only, donation required)

Come and see our 1923 Nero-Car motorcycle. This motorcycle has many unique features.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for any questions and note, Events will be canceled for lightning or steady rain. Please call us before coming out to confirm at (772) 225-1961

Jim Ferrare

Car Curator

Historical Society of Martin County
Elliott Museum
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge Museum

(772) 225.1961 Ext. 111
Jim’s EMAIL