When the Highwaymen were the Unknowns Reply

MILT THOMAS

Painting by Al Black from Ralph Oko collection

Painting by Al Black from Ralph Oko collection

If you live in Vero Beach or anywhere on the Treasure Coast, you have no doubt heard about The Highwaymen, the collective name for a group of loosely-aligned African-American artists known for their vivid and pristine Florida landscapes. But few people know their true origins —  common laborers struggling to survive in the Jim Crow south until a well-known Fort Pierce artist, A.E. “Bean” (or “Beanie”) Backus (1906-1990) discovered their innate talent.

That is about to change.

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Vero Beach High School Golden Grads “mass” reunion/picnic May 9 1

MILT THOMAS

Old Vero Beach High School on 19th Street, site of Freshman Learning Center today.

Old Vero Beach High School on 19th Street, site of Freshman Learning Center today.

High school class reunions are nothing unusual, but this one could break records. Instead of celebrating one class year at a time, the VBHS Golden Grads Reunion/Picnic is set to include everyone who attended Vero Beach High School at least 50 years ago. The event will be held on May 9 at the Indian River County Fairgrounds. Over 500 class members and guests have already signed up to attend. Hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and starting at 10:30 a.m. it will feature a traditional Florida barbecue of beef, pork, chicken, catfish, gator tail and more.

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Vintage Vero: U.S. 1 once envisioned as boulevard fit for Paris   Reply

JANIE GOULD

Janie Gould

Janie Gould

During the land boom of the 1920’s, Royal Park started to spring up in central Vero Beach, east of the railroad tracks. It was planned to be the equal of anything in South Florida, with lovely Mediterranean-style homes, a golf course and a central boulevard lined with shops and cafés. The brainchild of developers Waldo Sexton and Walter Buckingham, it had two main residential streets, each lined with royal palms that they planted. John Unruh, a local attorney and grandson of Buckingham, remembers those palms. More…

The Thompson name is imprinted in local history 3

ja thompsonMILT THOMAS

If you have ever visited or driven past the J.A. Thompson Administrative Center, or J.A. Thompson Rotary Field, or had a child who attended Thompson Elementary School, magnet, pre-school or Lifelong Learning Center, you may have wondered, “Who is this J.A. Thompson?”

Anyone who attended an Indian River County school between 1948 and 1969 would know that he was the longest continually serving school superintendent in Florida history. During his terms (plural because he was elected twice to four-year terms, then appointed as today), “Coach” Thompson oversaw major changes in the school district including construction of all the current Vero Beach area elementary schools and the high school, as well as the racial integration of the entire school system.

No one knew him better than his son, Jim Thompson, who at the age of 82, just retired after serving 30 years as an official for high school football, basketball and baseball games. “We moved to Vero in 1937 from Citrus County when he took a teaching job and also coached football and basketball.”

The elder Thompson taught for two years, then left to manage the Florida Theater before serving in the Coast Guard during World War II as a radio repairman. After the war, he returned to Vero and to his first loves, teaching and coaching. “Then,” according to Jim Thompson, “in 1948, he decided to run for school superintendent, and won.”

At that time there were three high schools in the county – Vero Beach, Fellsmere and Gifford, and each community had its own elementary school, including Wabasso and Winter Beach. Public school enrollment totaled 2,166, about ten percent of what it is today. “The school district administrative office consisted of three rooms on the second floor of the old courthouse,” says Thompson.

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Artifact and Fossil Road Show Monday May 5 Reply

Dr. Richard Hurlbert

Dr. Richard Hurlbert

Dr. James Adovasio

Dr. James Adovasio

Have you found something that could be a fossil, artifact, shard of pottery that you would like to have identified?   Then you should come speak to the experts at the Artifact and Fossil Road Show Monday May 5 at the Heritage Center in downtown Vero Beach.

Between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. you can view local collections, a stone tool technology display and other exhibits from Florida’s deep past. Three of the leading scientists will be there to answer your questions and help you with fossils or artifacts you have found: Florida State Museum of Natural History paleontologist Dr. Richard Hulburt and Mercyhurst University archaeologists Dr. Andy Hemmings and Dr. Jim Adovasio. All three are currently involved with the Vero Man excavation in progress behind the county administration building.  The dig and the Road Show are sponsored by the Old Vero Ice Age Sites Committee (OVIASC). Admission is free.

For additional information please contact OVIASC representatives Randy Old at 584-3424, Sandra Rawls at 778-5274 or Dick Kerr at 231-4691.

The walls have spoken at Vero’s Heritage Celebration 1

Heritage Celebration attendees, volunteer Cynthia Baita at left

Heritage Celebration attendees, volunteer Cynthia Baita at left

Vero Heritage, Inc. presented a retrospective on Vero Beach and Indian River County history and architecture March 13 at the Heritage Center in downtown Vero. The themefor this fourth annual Heritage Celebration was “If these walls could talk,” and the center was filled with displays, artifacts, oversize photos and other exhibits depicting not only local history but also ongoing historic preservation efforts. The displays included a series of panels with photos of restored buildings called the “Wall of Fame,” as well as an equal number of panels showing historic buildings that have fallen victim to the wrecking ball  on a “Wall of Shame.”

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How Floridians Coped when Times were Hard 1

Janie Gould

Janie Gould

The Emerson Center Florida Humanities Series, in partnership with the Florida Humanities Council and sponsored in part by Marine Bank & Trust, continues with Vero Beach resident, Janie Gould, who will present “Sea Cows, Seaweed and Spanish Moss: How Floridians Coped when Times were Hard” on Thursday, March 6 at 7 p.m.

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Work begins at Vero Man site Reply

David Gunter of the Indian River Farms Water Control District stands in the foreground; student volunteers from Mercyhurst University stand in the background

David Gunter of the Indian River Farms Water Control District stands in the foreground; student volunteers from Mercyhurst University stand in the background

MILT THOMAS

Excavation work has begun on the long-anticipated Vero Man archaeological project. On January 6-7, a five-foot deep, 60′ X 24′ trench will be dug at the site near the Indian River County Administration complex and a weather port erected to protect the work area. For more information, go to  http://www.oviasc.org. InsideVero will give full details about the dig, history and expectations in our next monthly edition, due out on January 15.

Woman grew up in little house on Vero’s wooden bridge 1

JANIE GOULD

Janie Gould

Janie Gould

After an industrial accident in Jacksonville caused a heavy equipment operator named Ben Wood to lose his right arm, he also lost his job and home, and his wife died.  He later remarried and in 1938 moved to Vero Beach, where he found a job running the hand-cranked drawspan on the town’s wooden bridge across the Indian River.  He and his family, including daughter Charlotte Wood DeVane, lived in a little house on the bridge.

Q: “How did your father get that job?”

A: “My understanding is he actually voted for the right governor, who I think was Spessard Holland. And Dr. Harrell, a family doctor in Vero, helped him go through the procedure to get the job.”

Q:  “In other words, it was a political job?” More…