Searching for a better life

Numerous paintings by renowned local artist A.E. “Bean” Backus and various artists of the Florida Highwaymen can be viewed at the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery in downtown Fort Pierce throughout the year. An upcoming exhibit titled Kindred Spirits:Paintings and Letters from the Kiplinger Family Collection will bring additional Backus paintings as well as some by Florida Highwaymen artist Alfred Hair. Rick Crary tells the story behind the exhibit in The Fine Art of Friendship, beginning on Page 50.

Why did we come here?

If you weren’t the one leading your family’s move to Florida, your children or other descendants may be asking that question one day.

We as Floridians are a collection of immigrants or descendants of immigrants who came here for a particular reason, whether it was for the sun and semi-tropical weather, to follow family who had already landed here, a job transfer or simply for a new adventure. The universal reason: to seek a better life.

As a native Floridian, I always wondered why my family landed in Florida. While we have documents about our family’s early days here, we really don’t have anything telling us what prompted them to choose what we now call the Treasure Coast. On my maternal grandmother’s side, my great-grandfather, Robert Reed Gladwin, was a railroad messenger who undoubtedly passed through the region. He arrived with his parents and siblings in Melrose, Florida, in 1880 and as an adult began working as a railway messenger agent. With Henry Flagler’s railway reaching Fort Pierce in 1894 and Miami in 1896, he undoubtedly passed through Fort Pierce. Based in Jacksonville, he certainly saw the promise of the region during stops in Fort Pierce, and in 1901, just days before the city of Fort Pierce was incorporated, moved his family there to run a wholesale fish operation and later a boat-building company.

On my paternal grandfather’s side, I never had conclusive evidence for what prompted them to come here exactly 100 years ago this year and explore the reason in Enns of an Era, the story beginning on Page 58.

Researching newspapers and the family documents available, I concluded that my great-great uncle, Paul Enns, read an advertisement for Fort Pierce in the Sept. 22, 1922, edition of the Kansas City Star. The ad invited readers to visit a Kansas City office building to learn more about the Indian River region. Subsequent ads told of scheduled train trips to Fort Pierce, and I know from one newspaper account that Paul’s brother, John, made a scouting trip to Fort Pierce in April 1923, and Paul likely accompanied him.

Paul apparently spent several months coming up with his own idea for a residential development, while his brother, Nick, focused on a citrus grove. Together, they moved from Kansas, along with their nephew, my grandfather, E.R. “Putz” Enns, and arrived in Fort Pierce sometime in the late summer or early fall of 1923. At the height of the Florida Land Boom, they created the Maravilla development in Fort Pierce and established an 80-acre citrus grove. After the Land Boom went bust, Paul became interested in the city’s newspaper, the News-Tribune, and that became his sole business focus for the next 30 years.

So I essentially found the answer to the question, which I couldn’t have done without family documents. As someone who does a lot of local historical research, I’ve come to realize how important it is for people to preserve documents instead of discarding them in the trash pile. A great example of preserving these types of documents was Knight Kiplinger keeping the correspondence of his grandfather, media pioneer William Monroe “Kip” Kiplinger, with artist A.E. “Bean” Backus and Highwayman painter Alfred Hair. Writer Rick Crary details the friendship between Kiplinger and Backus in The Fine Art of Friendship, beginning on Page 50.

And, speaking of history, don’t forget the annual Treasure Coast History Festival on Jan. 13, which was launched by Indian River Magazine seven years ago. The festival, free with no ticket required, will be held at the St. Lucie County Regional History Center, 414 Seaway Drive, Fort Pierce. The festival features free tours of the museum. I’ll be hosting a session at 11 a.m. featuring some of the area’s pioneer families. See you there!





Gregory Enns
Reach Gregory Enns or 772.940.9005.

See the original article in print publication

Nov. 13, 2023

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