Storied Walls

The house called Immokolee chronicles the eventful life of Dorothy Binney Palmer
Z 8431 Immokolee Road 2019 557 Hdr (copy)
The home's original pool has been replaced by this updated one, but the old one still stands on the property, a short distance from the house. When built, it was only the second pool in St. Lucie County. One Vero Beach resident remembers traveling to Immokolee to learn to swim.

 

Dorothy Binney Upton, heiress to the Crayola crayon fortune, newly divorced from publishing giant George Putnam, built a home in 1930 in the farthest outreaches of Fort Pierce and called it “Immokolee.” The name is derived from a Seminole word for “the home place.” Her Mediterranean Revival retreat, today listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built 4 miles from her parents’ home in Indrio, once a Scandinavian settlement called Viking organized in 1895 by Minnesotan John Helseth, who helped incorporate the Farmers Bank of Vero. 

Immokolee was situated not on the water as were the homes of most affluent winter residents, but 7 miles from downtown Fort Pierce in the remote recesses of the wild, heavily wooded hammocks of St. Lucie County only miles from a bulldozed Seminole encampment once led by its matriarch, Sallie Tommie.

When Dorothy, accustomed to at least three servants, including a chauffeur, first saw the parcel of 40 acres for which she had paid $2,775, she pulled on high boots, tied a scarf over her forehead and chopped her own path through the dense tropical tangle. Then she hired six men with grub hoes to do the same and purchased a Chevrolet truck and a Caterpillar tractor. She selected a Ford roadster for her new husband, Frank, whom Edwin Binney, Dorothy’s father, had just made vice president of the St. Lucie County Bank.

In the days that followed, the 5-foot, 10-inch mother of two sons, who once climbed California’s Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S., continued to slash through the undergrowth with a machete, unfazed by the steaming heat, the snakes or the mosquitoes. She dug up and replanted oak saplings as a windbreak for a future citrus grove, added bamboo and Australian pines, planted papayas and tuberoses, draped vines of white jasmine and yellow begonia on trees already festooned with Spanish moss, turned a natural swale of water into a lily pond, and planned a home that would nestle as snugly into its surroundings as a cabbage palm in the embrace of a banyan.

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