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Edenlawn, the Real-Life Inspiration for Zeke Adams' Home

In the Zeke Adams Mystery series, the former pineapple plantation and current cottage community he owns in Eden, Florida, is called Pineapple Fields.

It is based very closely upon a place called Edenlawn Plantation. I used to live there. Though I moved away, Edenlawn has never left me.

I rented two different cottages at Edenlawn, located in Jensen Beach which long ago had absorbed the little town of Eden where the plantation stood. The first cottage could only be called a dive. I was very young and worked in a marketing copywriting job in nearby Stuart that paid very little. I somehow found this affordable apartment in a remarkable, tropical wonderland.

Imagine a jungle-like paradise in which winding paths cut through bougainvillea, exotic palms, various species of philodendron, asparagus ferns, Christmas cacti, Mexican flame vine—and more greenery than I could ever identify. In the center stood a gigantic 800-year-old live oak whose enormous, octopus-arm lower limbs needed to be supported by concrete pillars. On the outskirts of the thick explosion of growth were trees laden with Caribbean avocados, Key limes, and tangerines.

Peacocks roamed the property along with chickens. A white swan held court in a lily pond near the entrance. And giant cages housed colorful macaws that squawked at incredible volume. Sleeping late on weekends was difficult in Edenlawn.

The property was owned by Albert Dumond Merwin, Jr., AKA “Duke.” He worked the plantation with the help of his live-in partner, Arthur H. “Phil” Phillips, and was assisted by David Childs and his wife, Patty, who later became owners when Duke passed away.

Duke’s Grandfather, William H. Merwin, bought the land in 1885 from Captain Thomas E. Richards, the founder of Eden. The first building was a simple hunting and fishing cabin. When the pineapple boom arrived, the property turned into a plantation and a 1,000-ft. dock was built over the Indian River to load pineapples into paddle-wheel steamers and flat-bottom sailboats.

In 1910, the Merwins transported a two-story house on a barge more than 200 miles south from Jacksonville. That structure still stands and is the model for Zeke’s abode.

When the pineapple boom turned into a bust, the plantation was used for growing ferns and Amaryllis lilies (though to this day you can still find pineapple plants here and there). By the 1930s, when Phil joined Duke, it was clear that tourism would be the best cash crop. They began building guest cottages, until the partners shipped off for World War II. When they returned, they continued transforming the property into a resort, adding tennis and shuffleboard courts as well as St. Lucie County’s first swimming pool. In the 1950s, a fancy restaurant was added to the main house and it flourished until the late ‘60s.

The resort declined, and the seasonal cottages became full-time residences for a bunch of low-rent reprobates like myself. Duke, Phil and David maintained the nursery side of the business, selling ferns and palms, and waged the endless war against humidity, hurricanes, insects and the relentless jungle that attempted to swallow everything.

I won’t go into what I remember as an idyllic lifestyle, because you’ll find all of that in the Zeke Adams Mystery series. Suffice to say, there were lots of parties, many hangovers and tons of fishing and boating. But I wanted to tell you that Pineapple Fields is not pure fantasy and that its model still exists along the shore of the Indian River with Lake Eden to its west. Duke died in 1991, right after I had moved away. David and Patty Childs ran the property for years until they sold it to a developer. Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne destroyed the dock in 2004, but the moldering cottages still exist. The property sits suspended in time, waiting to see what the developer does to it.

But it remains for now just as it always did. At least in my memory. And in Zeke’s world.

Order Pariah, Book 1 of the Zeke Adams Mystery series, here:

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