This page is an attempt to give one a glimpse into the colorful history that has brought the Town of Orchid to where it is today.
Prior to the "Town of Orchid" incorporated, the area existed as the "Community of Orchid", unincorporated. Known as such as far back as 1887 when mail service was established by President Grover Cleveland. President Cleveland appointed Miss Susan Morh as the first Postmistress. Primary used of the land by those early settlers was for growing pineapples, bananas and leaf crops. The land also boasted an abundance of wild game such as deer, bear, wild turkey and wild hog.
The area received its moniker "Orchid" due to the profusion of wild orchids that grew and thrived. The wild orchids still thrive today in the "Town of Orchid."
Some of the first settlers in the "Community of Orchid" were Stephen Kelita Michael and his wife, Laura Elizabeth Miller Michael. One of their children, A.B. Michael, having taken over his father’s groves, had established himself as a businessman in the area in the early 1900's.
Numerous descendants of the original settlers continued to live in the area near Orchid. Joe Michael, one of the descendants of the original settlers, “fearing encroachment of development," came up with the idea of reserving a portion of Wabasso Island for a public park. This is where the Environmental Learning Center now stands. He also rallied the support of the citrus growers, commercial fishermen and sportsmen in expanding the Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge and served as chairman of the Indian River Preservation League.” And it was he who established the Town of Orchid.
On May 12, 1965, the "Community of Orchid" was incorporated. The First organizational meeting for the Town of Orchid was held March 7, 1966. The first Town Council members were elected. They were Mayor George Lier, Vice-Mayor Mrs. Joe (Ann) Denby Michael, Council members Mrs. George (Jeannette Michael) Lier, Mr. Joe Michael and Mrs. N. B. (Helen) Ryall, Sr. The Town also had a City Clerk, Mrs. Louise Johnston, the daughter of Joe Michael and Ann Michael, and the Council retained a local law firm as legal advisors. The Mayor or any three Council members could call council meetings at two hours notice.
Mayor Lier, in a statement to the Indian River News, stated, "The whole idea of the unhurried atmosphere of the ol' South being continued by the incorporation of the "Town of Orchid" deeply appeals to me. I appreciate the efforts of my constituents in making it possible for me to be Mayor of a Town, that will continue to be as naturally beautiful as it was when the pioneers first came here--a lovely area with Florida Sunshine and the resultant healthy atmosphere for work, play and rearing children--where the blue herons walk in the front yard and the big white cranes stand silently in the waters of the River."
Vice Mayor Ann Denby Michael stated, "It is my prayer that, in reactivating the "Community of Orchid" as the "Town of Orchid", we may remember to preserve its natural beauty for our children, their children and for the State of Florida."
After the 1986 purchase of the Town by Deerfield Groves, Joe Michael decided to separate his personal property from the town he and his wife, Ann, had governed with their family for many years. Joe Michael separated his land because he wanted his land to go to the Fish and Wildlife Service for preservation rather than to developers. At that time, Orchid was a community of a handful of households.
In 1990, ten grove owners were the only residents of the town on Orchid Island between Windsor and County Road 510. Orchid Island Association Limited (Robert Haines III of Avon, CT was a general partner and President of this group) bought the Town in September 1988. Part of the deal was to dis-incorporate a tract on Earring Point so that these grove owners could live outside of the Town of Orchid. So the original residents no longer lived in Orchid.
Mr. Haines' intent was to build a few hundred homes, thus luxury-sized lots were marked out around an 18-hole golf course. Sites stretched between the ocean and the Indian River saw homes begin going up in the gated community priced at up to $3 million.
A Home Rule Charter of Orchid, FL was adopted on September 20, 1988. The Charter states that “The Town of Orchid in Indian River County, Florida, which was created by the Florida Legislature, shall continue as a municipal corporation with a Council-Manager form of government.” The Charter called for a five-member board but at that time there were never more than three and all three were appointees. The Mayor was Robert H. Haines IV, the son of the developer.
Since the town did not have a planning and zoning commission, Mayor Robert Haines IV and Councilmen Robert Bradshaw and Wayne Schasane served both functions. The only member of the public to express concern over the plan was Millie Bunnell of the Indian River County Historical Society, who said she wanted to make sure it identified Jungle Trail as being historic. An amendment to that effect had already been proposed. “According to the plan, the town [was] expected to have 1,343 housing units on 480 acres of developable land for a gross density of 2.79 units per acre.” The 2010 population was projected at 2,801 with 700 of those being full-time residents. At that time, there were “four homes in Orchid. Two [were] mobile homes placed there [by the developer in 1989 and occupied by council members so that they could be legal residents of the town], while the others [were] a $40,000 home built in 1939 and a vacant $40,000 home built in 1980…According to the plan, the only public facility the town expects to build over the 20-year planning period is a Town Hall, which would be built with property taxes.” “Hutch” Haines IV, Mayor, lived in the old riverfront house.
In October 1990, Ernie Polverari was hired as the first Town Manager. According to Bruce Barkett, the Town’s long-time attorney, “Polverari was instrumental in transforming a tiny community that just happened to be incorporated into a real town with a budget and other structures of government.” Polverari served many functions including serving as police chief and building inspector.
In 1991, the newly defined Town of Orchid had a real resident population of nine including Ted and Lynn Leonsis, Lynn and Marilyn Velde, Emily Appleton (McDonough) and Richard and Christine Avery, who built the first oceanfront home. Property owners and club members received a letter dated August 15, informing them that a foreclosure suit had been filed so the face of Orchid changed dramatically as the golf, tennis and beach facilities were closed and a minimum level of security was maintained. In spite of the changes, the Town Council continued to meet on a regular basis. Orchid Mayor, Robert Haines IV, said the town was a separate entity from the developers. “We are here as a town, regardless of (what happens with) the developers and we should keep the town’s staff intact…The town’s property owners would be well advised to keep someone looking out for their holdings.”
In September, the Town Council completed the budget process and voted to reduce the mill rate to 3.5. At the final budget meeting, “virtually all of the comments by the public and town officials were directed at news that Rep. Charles Sembler was considering introducing a bill to abolish Orchid.” Sembler wanted to dis-incorporate the Town because of its developer-controlled Council. He brought this up at a County Commission meeting the week before. Sembler was particularly concerned about those Council members who lived in trailers provided by the developer. Bob Sibson, who, along with his wife Sally, was an early property owner, and Ann Zugelter, who, along with her husband Dan also owned property, began a “Save the Town” mailing/telephone campaign. Property owners responded by contacting Representative Sembler to express their negative reactions to the possibility of abolishing the Town of Orchid. County “Commission Chairman Dick Bird favored keeping Orchid as a municipality because ‘the development can market itself better and the residents can control their own destiny.’”
The fact the council has never had a property owner on the council since the developers bought the town in 1988 is probably another reason Sembler is considering abolishing Orchid, “ said Leonsis. Therefore it is fitting that Leonsis and Velde were the first residents appointed to the Town Council since developers had purchased the property. Their September 29, 1991 appointments helped Haines meet the mandate in the Town rules that said the Council should be made up of five people. Lynn Velde said he wanted to make the “Town Council responsive to the residents rather than acting as an arm of the developer.” “(Sembler) was not aware of this move from developer to citizen control,” said Bob Sibson, a property owner who made Sembler aware of the change. Ultimately, Sembler’s proposal to the County Commission failed.
In November of 1991, John Kurtz, President of Vista Properties Management, Orchid’s new court-appointed receiver, closed the sales office and began a complete inventory of everything on the property. Also in November, young Haines “raised the ire of Leonsis [now Mayor] and Velde [Vice-Mayor] after failing to attend several Council meetings. Although declared a resident of Orchid, Haines was spending a lot of time with his father’s business in Connecticut. [This led to the request that Haines resign.] About that time, the development’s new receiver [Haines III was facing “a barrage of legal action”] gave Parente and Schasane short notice to sign a lease or vacate the premises.” Parente’s resignation was accepted and Emily Appleton (McDonough), the third property owner in the Town, was appointed in December of 1991 to fill the fourth Council slot. A fifth spot was open at this time as Haines submitted his resignation as well.
Eventually Robert Haines III defaulted on more than $50 million in loans and twelve lawsuits were filed. “The doors to the elegant, $8 million West Indian-style Orchid Island Beach Club were locked, the cabanas, dining room and airy terraces visited only by the wind and a security guard. Across State Road A1A, the Arnold Palmer-designed, 18-hole championship golf course sits unused, closed to play with only a skeleton crew to maintain it. A telephone answering machine answered calls to the Orchid Island Golf and Beach administration and sales office with a message saying the office is closed until further notice. Financial difficulties have turned the multi-million dollar exclusive development into a ghost town.
So the Town Council faced some real challenges as it wondered about the Town’s future. The above-mentioned Council members were appointed to serve until 1992 (Schasane’s resignation was accepted in February of 1992) when the Town held its first real election since 1966. So, in March of 1992, Leonsis, Velde and Appleton were reelected and Ann Zugelter, who had moved in to Orchid in February of 1992, was added to the Council. Later Barbara Greenbaum, who moved in the following July, was also elected to the Council. The Town Council proposed and passed a Code of Ordinances including many planning and zoning restrictions relating to its future development. The Town also acted to correct discrepancies in zoning and rezoned certain parcels within the town from multi-family to single-family. This was done to “preserve the character of the community.
Ann Zugelter said that Ernie Polverari hasn’t gotten the credit he deserved for his vision for Orchid. He worked with Mary Jane Vreeland, the Town Planner, and, together, they and the Town Council drew up a Master Plan (very unusual for such a small town) and set up the Code of Ordinances to protect the future of the town. These ordinances were a shield that was so restrictive that it prevented the purchase of the property by a CA hotel chain and Mobil Oil, among others. Ernie Polverari, Mary Jane Vreeland and the members of this first real Council deserve a lot of the credit for the Orchid that exists today.
Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club began development and continued to guard the deep community pride in the Town of Orchid as the community began to grow. First Union bought the property for the Resolution Trust Company for $19 million in May 1993. By March of 1994, the golf course was back in playing condition.
In October of 1994, the property was purchased for $20 million by TorWest, a company controlled by W. Galen Weston. At its November 21 meeting, the Town Council swore in Dr. Jim Zickler to replace Barbara Greenbaum who had submitted her resignation. Emily Appleton also began another term in office. Leonsis stepped down as Mayor and Lynn Velde was unanimously approved as the new Mayor. Leonsis would be Vice-Mayor through December and would leave the Council in January since he was moving to Virginia.
At first home sales were sluggish and by 1996 there were only 34 residents. Town staff included a town manager, town clerk, town attorney and a part-time planner. That year, the Council approved plans for ocean front apartments.
In 1998, the Town Council was comprised of Lynn Velde, Mayor, Warren Crandall, Vice-Mayor, Barbara Greenbaum, Charles Pistole, and James Zickler. Vernon Daniel was appointed to replace Zickler in 1999.
In 2000, the Town Council had changed. Warren Crandall was Mayor and Barbara Greenbaum, Vice-Mayor. Daniel, Pistole, and Velde continued to serve on the Council. Still under consideration were several applications for use of the 510 parcel of land, zoned for commercial use. On March 31, 2000, the Town of Orchid received official recognition from the US Postal Service and Orchid, FL 32963-9504 became an official mailing address.
In January 2001, the Town Council chose Walter Sackville, from a handful of volunteers, to fill the term of Lynn Velde who had resigned. Later that year, the first Town Manager, Polverari, passed away. In the fall of 2001, Torwest purchased the 510 property. In 2002, the Town made overtures to Galen Weston to see if he would sell the 510 property to the Town. Weston declined the offer.
The second Town Manager, David Jakubiak was hired in February 2003.
In March of 2004, Orchid again had an election, as there were five candidates for two vacant seats on the Council. Richard G. Dunlop was elected and Warren Crandall was re-elected. The Council chose Crandall to serve as its Mayor and Sackville to serve as Vice-Mayor.
In July of 2004, Chuck Pistole resigned from the Council and, at the regular Council meeting on July 7, John Brehmer was appointed to fulfill the term.
In April of 2005, the Town hired its third Town Manager, Ms. Maria Aguilar.
The make-up of Council remained the same until the elections of March of 2006. At that time there were three vacant seats which were filled by Sue Joyce (chosen as Vice Mayor), Paul Johnson and Francis "Bud" Oatway.
In March of 2008, Ms. Deb Branwell assumed the vacancy left by Maria Aguilar and remains the Town Manager.
In November of 2008, Warren Crandall decided not to run for re-election. There were two seats open and Richard Dunlop retained his seat while William "Bill" Troxell filled the vacancy of Warren Crandall.
2010 saw a very close election process with Sue Joyce being replaced by Harris F. Webber. Bud Oatway served as Vice Mayor from 2010 to 2012.
November of 2012 saw a change in the make up of Council with the retirement of Richard Dunlop and the decision of Councilman Troxell not to seek re-election. Those seats were filled by Harold A. "Hal" Ofstie (chosen as Mayor) and George D. Mekras (chosen as Vice Mayor).
The Town of Orchid is "built out" with only 31 remaining buildable lots. Gratefully the Town never reached the proportions predicted. There are 330 single family residences, 90 condominium residences. The Town of Orchid has certainly grown from a population of 7 and is one of Florida’s most scenic and desirable places to live.
If you would like to view a complete history of the Town Councils of the Town of Orchid, please click the orchid.
If you would like to review a comprehensive look at the history of Orchid, please feel free to stop by Town Hall.
Sources – club website, personal interviews, Ann Zugelter, Emily McDonough, Barbara Greenbaum’s files, the Town Archives (including a Press Journal article on Indian River County History dated November 19, 2000).