The “Secret” of Waldo Sexton

He loved Buddhas and elephants. He adored family and embraced hard work and attention to detail. Wherever he looked, he wanted to see something fun and interesting, worth staring at.

Those are just three matter of facts that can be gathered through material observation and assumption with very little personal knowledge of Waldo Sexton. The structures he built, the home(s) he made, the relationships he bolstered and traditions he began – all are particular and unique to the history of Waldo Sexton and, eventually, the history of Vero Beach.

“Vero Beach pioneer Waldo Sexton (1885-1967) was one of the 20th Century Florida’s biggest dreamers and doers. The quirky and imaginative Sexton established Vero Beach Dairy and the Mckee Sexton Land Company. It was as a developer that he left his greatest mark, building some of the Treasure Coast’s most notable landmarks, often using objects from the ruins of Palm Beach mansions.”
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.

The Waldo Sexton Homestead History weekend was held Jan. 3-5 at Waldo’s Secret Garden, located at 5000 12th St. If you missed it – do not fret – there’s always future history presentations and events, and there is plenty of material about the history of Vero if you know where to look and who to talk to. Ruth Stanbridge, a local historian, was one of the speakers at the weekend event, and she is a woman with a plethora of knowledge of Vero Beach’s history and history specifically of the Sexton family.

For those who have never experienced Waldo’s Secret Garden, imagine this: You enter through an enchanted walkway, under light-dazzled arches, giant trees and leaves flowing on either side, glimpses of sunshine and blue skies peek through the greenery as the wind blows through Mother Nature in all her glory. You come upon a two-story “treehouse” – Treehouse in the sense that it is comprised of a vast amount of incredible carpentry, and trees surround the magnificent structure from every angle. Upon entering the patio area, there are plants of every kind, elegantly favoring the environment and the wrought-iron tables and chairs that welcome visitors to sit and stay awhile. A beautiful garden goddess statue overlooks the setting, as if she is human in nature, watching over the plants and activities among them.

A wrought-iron shell-themed chair sits along the back patio beneath The Treehouse. One of many unique pieces of furniture in and around this Waldo Sexton homestead.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.

When entering the back patio area, around the corner from the initial entrance, guests are welcomed with a cozy yet spacious opening filled with long wooden tables and wooden chairs alike, each uniquely their own, sacred to the trees that they were sacrificed from with attention drawn to each tale-telling ring of oak, maple, or cypress. Lights dangle from above, providing an additional essence of Waldo Sexton.

A full circle around the house leads you back to the initial entry point and up the stairs into the living room of the treehouse. As a point of wonder, there’s a random dinosaur in the yard, which goes to support the premise of everywhere, in each direction, there is always something of interest to be infatuated with.

Two of many things that Waldo Sexton enjoyed and collected were Buddhas and elephants of every shape and variety of home decor. This elephant and Buddha are in the living room of The Treehouse.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.

The living room is adorned with elephants, Buddhas, books, photos, detailed brickwork with a ceiling-tall fireplace and wood stove built into it. Comfortably simple, Florida-style couches fill the area, and the dining room is quaintly off to the back. The dining room has an abundance of knick knacks, including additional Buddhas, safari sculptures, vintage records, and yet another heavy duty wooden table. The kitchen is picturesque, black and white checkered tiles with a character-driven white stove, refrigerator, and sink, enclosed by yellow walls. In the halls of this floor are hollowed out wall spaces, purposely placed as accent hideaways.

Each of the bedrooms have the essentials – and again, character is given with the wide open window spaces that allow a view of the beautiful landscaping outdoors.

The pictures shown help to better guide the above word-guided imagery, however visual justice can only be given to this homestead by seeing it in person.

Tours are available throughout the year by appointment only. Nobody currently lives in the Treehouse, although descendants of the Sexton family live in the house adjacent to it, and the property as a whole is home to the Griffin family ranch, a cattle ranch with the brand 29 Bar. The house next door used to be the home which Sexton built for his daughter, Barbara, and her husband, John Tripson, and their children, and the grounds were formerly home to Sexton’s Vero Beach Dairy, eventually Tripson Dairy.

Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Waldo’s Homestead Weekend event, the attending members of the public were graced with a cowboy (and cowgirl) demonstration by Rob Griffin and a few members of his ranch crew.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.

At the Homestead Historical weekend event, this family – father Rob, son, Will, and daughter, Isabella, along with a family friend, demonstrated with a hot iron on a plank, how the family brands their cattle and horses, explained what their ordinary day consists of, and what the cattle ranch lifestyle is like. Isabella, age 8, demonstrated some of her barrel racing skills, while Rob and Will showed onlookers their abilities of whip-cracking and steer lassoing.

The event initiated Friday evening with a formal dinner, and welcomed speakers Commissioner Fran Adams and Major Eric Flowers. Saturday, speakers were: Calvin Reams of the Florida Farm Bureau, Larry Lawson of Indian River Hauntings and the Florida Bureau of Paranormal Investigations, and Mr. Willie Johns, the Chief Justice of the Tribal Courts of the Seminole Tribe. Sunday’s speakers included Augustus Mayhew, Palm Beach Historian, author, and columnist, Ruth Stanbridge, Indian River County Historian, Dr. Harry Hurst, author of The Bridges of Indian River County, The War’s Impact on our County’s Bridges, and Larry Harp, author and bridge expert.

Augustus Mayhew shares his memories of ‘The Treehouse and his memories of Waldo Sexton. Mayhew confirmed Waldo’s love of Buddhas and elephants, and said Waldo would go to Palm Beach estates and pick up Architect Addison Mizner’s pieces of interest that now grace properties that Sexton partook in building throughout Vero Beach.

Ruth Stanbridge, who is a walking library of historical facts about the long ago days of Vero Beach, the farms, Waldo’s, Sexton Plaza, the story behind why the Treasure Coast is called the Treasure Coast (hint: it had to do with the 1715 Fleet), strives to document as much of the historical information as she can, through documentation done in collaboration with the Indian River County Historical Society.

It is through folks such as Stanbridge, Lawson, Johns, Mayhew, Hurst, and Harp, as well as the Tripsons, why Vero can embrace and retain the true value of how the city has evolved into what it is today, a true gem. Stanbridge handed out pamphlets that reiterate the concept, “Once a historical site is destroyed, we cannot get it back.”

For additional information, visit waldossecretgarden.com or email waldosgardeninfo@gmail.com. The Historical Society has two locations: One at 2336 14th Ave. in Vero Beach at the Vero Beach Railroad Station, and the other at Hallstorm House and Farmstead, located at 1723 Old Dixie Highway SW, Vero Beach.

Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Bamboo surrounds Waldo’s Secret Garden. The cricks and creaks that are heard as visitors walked through the beautiful surroundings were a true testament to the presence of Mother Nature and all of Her beautiful pieces of natural artwork.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Author and bridge expert, Larry Harp.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
The crowd at Waldo’s Secret Garden watches as the Griffin family demonstrates cattle lassoing and methods they use to brand their steer.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Intricate detail given to pieces of woodwork surrounding The Treehouse. This shows a slice from a large tree used as a ceiling decor as a part of the establishment.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Dr. Harry Hurst speaks to visitors during the Homestead Weekend event.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Ruth Stanbridge speaks to visitors about the 1715 fleet and the time that Vero Beach Airport was taken over by the U.S. Navy and turned into a Naval Air Base during WWII.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
The kitchen inside The Treehouse, with black and white decor and a sense of “home” feeling.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Yes, that really is a dinosaur. Definitely something interesting every which way one looks.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
One of the bedrooms at the homestead.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Demonstration of branding “29 Bar” by the Griffin family.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Rob Griffin, getting the branding iron hot and ready to demonstrate on a piece of wood.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockddale.
Isabella, age 8, demonstrating her barrel racing skills.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.
Photo by Jennifer Stockdale.

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