Vero Beach has affectionately been known as the place “Where the Tropics Begin” for its unique flora featuring a variety of botanical species that scarcely exist farther north. From the world famous Indian River citrus to Lakela’s mint, beautiful orchids, live oaks, Royal Poinciana trees and coconut palms, Vero Beach has made a name for itself with unrivaled natural and imported beauty and diverse plant life.
From 1932, when pioneers Waldo Sexton and Arthur McKee founded McKee Jungle Gardens, hundreds of thousands of visitors have visited this immaculate slice of Florida. In addition to the incredible plant life, many enjoyed seeing a variety of animals such as tropical birds, alligators and monkeys at McKee, one of the original Florida tourist attractions. While the former 80-acre park has been transformed into a mixed used residential development, about 18 acres have been restored as McKee Botanical Gardens and serves as a wonderful homage to the former glory years of the park. If you were ever fortunate to see the towering site of the Royal Palm cluster in the center path of the park, you will surely understand that paradise on Earth does exist!
In addition to the strong agricultural background, Vero Beach also has a well-known and fondly remembered tie to the sports world – Dodgertown – the Winter Home of the Dodgers. First from Brooklyn, then from Los Angeles, Vero Beach played host to the iconic team that America loves. Local schools would let kids out early to see the springtime Grapefruit League classics featuring Dodger greats such as Jackie Robinson, Steve Garvey, Sandy Koufax and many others. Seats were hard to find when Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson and the boys in pinstripes came to play their west coast rivals. Thought to be the premier venue for spring training in its day, Dodgertown remains and is occasionally used for youth sports or local concerts.
While the legacy of the Dodgers is well-know, another facet of Vero Beach’s history – and one that is directly tied to the Dodgers – is not! Did you know that Vero Beach had a Naval Air Station in 1942 and was home to over 1,400 navy airmen and marine core personnel? The station also had over two-hundred and fifty aircraft used for training and simulated bombing runs. In fact, when the Navy vacated after the war, a local business used the availability of the barracks to lure the Dodgers to town in 1948. The site was also instrumental in luring Piper Aircraft to Vero Beach in 1957. Piper has been one of the largest employers in the area for nearly six decades since.
While these anecdotes are fun to remember, they help to weave the fabric of this quaint and unique seaside town we know as Vero Beach. As written by Jimmy Powers in the New York Daily News in the late 1940s: “The Dodgers have an excellent rookie camp in Vero Beach. Vero Beach is much farther north than Miami, as a result too decent and too quiet for the hoodlum element to bother with. Its streets are clean. Its citizens are highly respectable. It has great civic spirit.”
Indeed to this day, in the place “Where the Tropics Begin”, some things never change!