The Jupiter Island Story: A Short History
By Frank Lund, Local Historian
The story of Jupiter Island is about land and the respect that the people living on that land have for it.
The earliest people to populate the Island were the Ais and Seminole Indians. Like most of Florida, the first European explorers on the Island were the Spanish.
The real history of the Island began in the early 1800s, when land was plentiful and ownership of that land was the gateway to wealth. The Island's history began with the onset of the age of land speculation in the "Jungle" of America - Florida.
In 1815, the King and Queen of Spain and the Governor of Florida awarded Don Eusebio Gomez a Royal Land Grant of roughly 12,000 acres. Known as "Gomez Grant," it covered a vast land area surrounding the Loxahatchee and Indian Rivers, as well as a narrow strip of barrier island between the St. Lucie Inlet and the Jupiter Inlet. The name given this land area was derived from the Spanish word for the supreme god of Roman Mythology, "Jobe" (pronounced Hoe-Bay), which eventually evolved to the Anglicized version, Hobe Sound. The barrier island was identified as "Jupiter," a variation of the Spanish "Jobe."
In 1821, the same year in which Florida became a United States possession, Gomez sold 8,000 acres of his land (not including Jupiter Island) to Joseph Delespine for $1 an acre. In 1822, Delespine sold 4,000 acres of his land to Michael Lazarus for $4,000. Two years later, in 1824, Lazarus sold the 4,000 acres for $50,000.
Gomez left Florida for Cuba, and his remaining 4,000 acres – including Jupiter Island – remained unsold until 1892, when a group of Englishmen bought the land with the intention of developing it as a pineapple plantation. Forced to establish the validity of title for the land, the group became embroiled in a huge legal undertaking that eventually led to a court hearing. As explained in Joseph V. Reed's The History of Jupiter Island, at that hearing, a witness asked, "But how did the United States get possession of this land from Spain, and what right had Spain to it in the first place?" To answer the question, the examiner turned to an old tome on land titles and read to the court:
"The United States acquired this land from Spain by treaty in 1820. Spain acquired possession of the land by virtue of the fact that Christopher Columbus in 1492 discovered and claimed it for Spain.
Columbus got his authority for making his voyage and discovery from Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain.
Ferdinand and Isabella got their authority for sponsoring the voyage from the Pope of Rome.
The Pope of Rome got his authority by virtue of the fact that he said he was the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
Christ got His authority by the fact He was the Son of God.
And God created the Earth."
"'Such is the pedigree of Jupiter Island!'"
Two years later, a second group of English investors, acting through the Land Mortgage Bank of Yorkshire, bought investment property in north Florida, and also expressed interest in purchasing land in south Florida along the Indian River. They formed the Indian River Association, Ltd., and purchased the 4,000 acres of the Gomez Grant from the pineapple growers. The Indian River Association acted as absentee owners and the pineapple growers as tenant farmers.
The following year, 1895, brought a downturn to land speculation in Florida. A severely destructive winter freeze ruined the citrus and pineapple industries that had become the economic base of the area. The Indian River Association designated William Angas, a Scotsman, as their representative in Florida, and assigned him the task of "damage control" in what looked like sure financial disaster for the company.
For 10 years, Angas worked out of Jacksonville. By 1905, he had averted financial ruin by liquidating all of the group's property, except the 4,000 acres (organized under the name Hobe Sound Company) in south Florida. The Indian River Association decided to hold the land, and Angas agreed to act as the group's representative and operating head of the Hobe Sound Company.
The Hobe Sound Company holdings included Jupiter Island and acreage on the mainland. Angas worked to develop the property, although his development plan proceeded slowly until 1911. In that year, with the construction of a bridge on the north end of the Island (the current bridge replaced the old bridge in the mid-1980s) and a road extending partially toward the south end, the Island became more easily accessible.
In 1916, Angas built a small hotel and three cottages. The complex – called The Island Inn – established Jupiter Island as a winter colony for northerners.
After almost 20 years of careful and slow development of the land on Jupiter Island, the Indian River Association directed Angas to sell the Hobe Sound Company holdings.
In 1923, Angas sold the entire property to an investment group known as Olympia Improvement Company. This group planned two subdivisions for Jupiter Island. The first was designated Olympia Beach, and it included the land from the Gomez-Beach Road fork to Bridge Road and divided the parcel into lots 100 feet in width. The second was called Bon Air Beach. It included the area along what is now North Beach Road (the name proposed by Olympia Improvement was "Royal Palm Boulevard").
In 1925, Olympia Improvement sold out to a company called Picture City. The Florida land boom was approaching a peak.
The Picture City vision for the Jupiter Island and Hobe Sound area was that of an east coast Hollywood. Their plans for the mainland parcel called for a Grecian-style town named Picture City. The concept was to bring production companies and movie stars to Picture City and encourage them to make their homes on Jupiter Island in Olympia Beach and Bon Air Beach (South Island and North Island, respectively).
In 1926, the Florida land boom crashed! In only two years, Picture City decided to abandon their development plans. Their Hobe Sound Company Jupiter Island property and holdings were sold at a bankruptcy sale for $1,116,000 to a partnership consisting of Anthony and Mary Duke Biddle; Mary's brother, Angier Duke; and Malcolm Meacham.
Shortly after the sale, the Great Depression arrived, forcing a further downturn in the Florida real estate market. The economic crises of the period negatively affected Florida as well as the rest of the nation. In addition, after Mr. Biddle's death, his widow Mary was left with the responsibility for the property.
In 1933, Mrs. Biddle was convinced by her attorneys that liquidating the Hobe Sound Company and its holdings would be in her best interest. They further suggested that the sale of property should be at the lowest possible sum in order to stabilize her tax position by reflecting a loss.
The price for the property was set at $25,000. A group of lawyers from Biddle's office bought the assets and property and sent Forrest Hyde to Jupiter Island to see what their $25,000 had bought. What Hyde saw was a rundown resort, The Island Inn, badly in need of expensive repairs, with a delinquent tax bill of $40,000. Hyde wanted no part of the investment. Through John Simpson, The Island Inn manager, Hyde was put in touch with William S Barstow.
Barstow, a retired utilities executive and former partner of Thomas Edison, had lived on the Island for several years. When approached by Hyde, Barstow contacted three other Island residents: Arthur S Dwight; Joseph V. Reed; and Joseph Reed's brother-in-law, Samuel F. Pryor. The group formed a new Hobe Sound Company and bought the property at the $25,000 price Hyde's group had paid, and, in addition, gave the Hyde group 20% of the common stock in the new Hobe Sound Company.
The purchase made by Barstow, Reed, Dwight and Pryor included the Inn, the golf course, employee houses, and unsold land north of the fork at South Beach Road and Gomez Avenue. It also included other real estate on the mainland.
In 1934, Joseph V. Reed purchased the other owners' shares in the Hobe Sound Company and began a new period of Island development. The entire property remained under Reed family ownership until 1996.
In 1944, with 75 residents on the Island, Joseph V. Reed and his wife Permelia founded the Jupiter Island Residents Committee and The Island Club and its Board of Directors. In the next year, 1945, Joseph Reed donated the land for the police station and the firehouse. Proximity to the wooden cottages and main Clubhouse was of paramount importance. The Reeds also gave the land that is now the Hobe Sound Beach to Martin County for use as a public beach.
Golf has had a long history on the Island. As early as the 1890s, the Scottish pineapple plantation owners played golf on the sand islands that now comprise the Jupiter Island Golf Club. The modern, nine-hole course was built in 1922, and the second nine holes were designed by landscape architect, Dick Webel. The project was completed in 1957.
The story of Jupiter Island is one about land, a story that began with a land grant in 1815. In 1968, over 150 years later, the granting of land came full circle. A portion of land at the southern end of the Island was given to The Nature Conservancy as a wildlife preserve. In 1976, 500 acres of land at the north end of the Island was given to the United States Department of the Interior, again as a preserve.
The story seems to be cyclical. It began as a story of the development of natural land, and ends as a story of careful preservation. The most important issue for current-day Jupiter Islanders is to keep the relentless Atlantic Ocean at bay. The issue is not so different from that of 1815, or 1892, or 1905, or 1933. The issue is respect and preservation. The issue is the land.