Historic Vero Beach
The Bethel Creek House of Refuge
Along with shipwrecks, Vero Beach’s Jaycee Park was home to the Bethel Creek House of Refuge. Built in 1875, the refuge was the first location selected for construction in Florida and provided shelter and relief to at least 34 shipwrecked vessels before it burned down in 1917. It was rebuilt by the Coast Guard in 1927 and closed again in 1929. Towers were then built on the site to lookout and guard the coast from German warships. The foundation of the Bethel Creek House of Refuge is still visible at Jaycee Park today.
There are countless shipwrecks of Florida’s beaches, and
Vero Beach is no exception. The Breconshire, built in 1883
was a three masted, iron hulled steamer traveling from
New York to Tampa on the night of April 29th, 1894 when
Captain Robert Taylor ran the vessel aground in 20 feet of
ater due to faulty navigational charts. The Coast Guard,
responding to the call of distress, attempted to tow the
steamer off the reef, but the Breconshire began taking on
water. On April 30th, the order was issued to abandon ship.
No lives were lost, and at low tide, the boiler of the ship is
still visible from Humiston Park. Today, the Breconshire is
a popular location for diving in calm weather due to the abundant marine life and historical value.
The Driftwood & Ocean Grille
Owned and constructed by Waldo Sexton, a Vero Beach visionary from Pinhook, Indiana, The Driftwood and The Ocean Grill have a colorful history. The Driftwood was originally built in 1932 as a vacation home for Waldo Sexton’s family. Reports say that he built the Driftwood without blueprints, simply shouting orders at construction workers in order to get the job done. The breezeway building is still the oldest construction on the property. Waldo Sexton collected antiques and oddities such as bells from ships, cathedrals and locomotives, as well as paintings, maps, cannons, statuary and more. Eventually The Driftwood was converted to a hotel because so many travelers would ask to stay the night and examine Waldo Sexton’s collections, many of which are still present today.Mr. Sexton contracted the same architects who designed the Biltmore Estate, to construct what is now known as the Ocean Grill in 1932. He then rented it to local businesses beginning with The Hot Dog Stand. It then became Gus and Emma’s until German-born Gus and his wife had to leave town because residents believed he was a German spy. Next, it became Club Mac, owned by Alex MacWilliam, who turned it into a local hot spot for the naval soldiers and officers of WW2. After the war, it became the Tropics Bar and Restaurant, which is rumored to have been a favorite of infamous Chicago gangsters, until finally it became the Ocean Grill. Visitors today can step back in time and still see much of the original decor.
Vero Beach was originally known as The Narrows, and Johns Island was the earliest settlement in The Narrows founded in 1880. Mr. Laroche, a civil war survivor, relocated his family from John’s Island in Charleston, SC to the Narrows after Charleston was devastated during the war. The Johns Island cemetery is particularly historical, with the first marked grave being 1889.In 1891 a civil war soldier from Iowa, Mr. Dawson, established the first general store and library in Indian River County boasting somewhere around 2,000 books. Unfortunately, the expansion of the intercoastal waterway destroyed some of the old buildings, but it is thought that the old library still possibly exists as part of the Frank Forster Reserve, a walking trail in North Vero Beach that cuts from the Indian River across AIA and straight to the beach.