He worked for six Florida governors and two presidents, helped found 1000 Friends of Florida, and is active in the Everglades Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
His resume is impressive. But the Apollo School Foundation, kicking off a new speaker series, wanted Nathaniel Reed, 81, well-known as a storyteller, to share his childhood memories of Hobe Sound and Jupiter Island.
Reed packed the restored school house on Jan. 22, telling tales about everyone from Katharine Hepburn to Trapper Nelson.
Legendary architect Maurice Fatio is believed to be the Apollo School’s designer. Fatio also built mission-style homes for wealthy clients in Palm Beach and Jupiter Island, one of America’s wealthiest ZIP codes.
Hobe Sound residents and generous Jupiter Island donors worked to restore the two-room school, built in 1924, after it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
Reed’s parents, Joseph and Permelia, first came to Jupiter Island in 1932, fell in love with it, and bought 16 acres stretching from the Indian River Lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean. The Great Depression soon devastated South Florida.
“I grew up in a bubble of care and love, with no knowledge of the Great Depression,” Reed said. As a child, he didn’t know there was no work, that development had collapsed from Miami to West Palm Beach.
Years later, Reed said, an old man came up to him and said he had worked on Artemis, the house Reed’s parents built on the island. The man “said the contractor split the work into two six-hour days so two crews could be paid, and your father always paid us for overtime. He gave us a living when there was nobody earning anything around us.”
Later the Reeds operated a resort and club, renting cottages to an eclectic group of winter visitors. Friends of the Reeds from Greenwich and Denver began to buy land on Jupiter Island, and workers moved up from West Palm Beach to build them what “even in today’s terms were big houses.”
The island also attracted “a great many actors, producers, set designers” and other friends of Reed’s parents from his father’s years as a Broadway producer.
Hepburn visited, and played on the island’s tennis courts.
Reed recalls frequent trips to Trapper Nelson’s camp on the Loxahatchee River, still a favorite with today’s tourists who visit Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Reed’s father had cleared an area and added a fireplace and picnic table near the “wild man of the Loxahatchee’s” place. The Reeds and their five children would travel there on weekends aboard the family’s 32-foot yacht to cook steaks and hamburgers, “and it seems to me the adults drank a lot of beer.”
“We all enjoyed being with Trapper Nelson,” he said, even though Trapper did what Reed recalls as “a terrible thing for a child. Which was to shake hands, and that damn black snake that wrapped around him went down his arm onto your arm and around you a couple of times. Then it would look back at you.”
Reed remembers golden days of fishing in the Indian River Lagoon and days of bustling activity during World War II, when trainloads of men came to Camp Murphy, before the land became Jonathan Dickinson State Park. And, after then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an order that military officers and diplomats couldn’t leave the country, Jupiter Island became a favorite getaway for them.
Residents from Banner Lake, a predominately African-American community in Hobe Sound, provided locally-grown okra, lettuce, tomatoes and other fresh vegetables for diners at the Jupiter Island Club. And, as younger men were drafted, retired men went back to work, Reed said, and “far more jobs opened” to African-Americans on the island.
Reed tells more stories in a $100 book about the island, “A Different Vision.” For information, call 772-546-2666. For information on the Apollo School speaker series, visit www.apolloschool.org.
Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Find her blog posts and others at The Palm Beach Post Opinion Zone. Column courtesy of Context Florida.