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The Kroegel Family Story

Written as published in "Tales of Sebastian" courtesy of the Sebastian Area Historical Society.

The story of Gottlob Kroegel, first homesteader in Sebastian area,

who left Chemnitz, Germany in 1870 after his wife died, and came to

New York with his two sons, Paul, aged seven and Arthur, aged two,

As told by his grandfather Frieda Kroegel (Mrs. J.T. Thompson)

C.F.G Kroegel home on the bluff (Barker’s Bluff). © 1910

They went to Chicago where they lived until 1880.  Arthur was left with his Uncle Adolf’s family in Crestline, Ohio until he finished school. Gottlob and son Paul then seventeen came to Sebastian in 1881 and settled on top of Barker’s Bluff, so named because Mr. Baker had a trading post on the top of the mound from 1842 to 1849 when he was scalped by Indians (According to an early newspaper article). Gottlob Kroegel first built a palmetto shanty which was blown away by a Hurricane a short time later; then he built a large frame house on top of the mound.

The soil was rich on the mound and Gottlob raised winter vegetables, mainly green Valenti Beans, and he planted the first orange grove in Indian River County. He also built the first fruit packinghouse which still stands. Gottlob Kroegel was forty four years old when he came to Sebastian and he died on his homestead in 1923 at the age of eighty six.  He wore a long beard and he spoke broken English, and was a happy man who loved little children and they all loved him.  He was a very friendly interesting person. Gottlob Kroegel sold the shell mound in 1908 to St. Lucie County for the first paved road from Micco to Stuart.     

The mound was 1000 feet long, 400 feet wide at the widest point, and higher than the tallest trees. A railroad track was built to move out a train load of shell everyday from 1908 to 1913. The shell mound dated back thousands of years B.C., and contained relics of camp fires, pottery of many designs and ages, and bones of animals long extinct such as mastodons, saber tooth tigers, giant sloths, and whales.  While the mound was being removed, Gottlob Kroegel built a new house which he moved into on New Years day, 1910.  The house later became the home of Mr. & Mrs. J. T Thompson and still stands today (1989).

Paul Kroegel built a boat ramp on the river shore  and built most of the early boats , and his famous boat Audubon, also the 35 foot yacht Irene, and the fifty foot schooner Wanderer. He studied navigation and won his Captain’s papers when he was 21 years old, and was known as Captain Paul from Titusville to Key West. He played his accordian at square dances at each port of call, and was very popular. Paul Kroegel’s travels ended in October 1900, when he married Ila Lawson, daughter of the pioneers Ivey and Cassie Lawson who homesteaded in Sebastian in 1889. 

The Paul Kroegel’s two children are Rodney and Freda (Mrs. J.T. Thompson, deceased). Paul Kroegel was appointed first commissioner of the new County  St. Luice by the governor in 1905 and held office for fifteen years, and was chairman of the board that built the first paved road from Micco to Stuart and the first bridge across Sebastian River. He also built the ferry which preceded the first bridge. His name headed the list on the cornerstone of the old Courthouse in Fort Pierce for 60 years until the building was remodeled.

Paul Kroegel loved to watch the pelicans from his home on Baker’s Bluff which was located on the home western shore of Indian River opposite of Pelican Island. When sportsmen on yachts and plume hunters began shooting gayninties, Captain Paul was very distressed. He waged a persistent campaign to get Federal Protection for the pelicans and he contacted influential people by letter and in person until he finally was rewarded by President Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamation making pelican Island the First National Wildlife Refuge in the United States on March,14, 1903, and within a week he received his nomination as the Fire National Wildlife Refuge Warden in America.  

The proclamation by President Roosevelt was the begging of a great National Wildlife Refuge System we have today which today has nearly four hundred wildlife refuges.  Paul work with pelicans has been praised in many books, magazines, newspapers and other media.  A special memorial celebration was held in his honor at the Sebastian Yacht Club by the U.S. Department of the famous people interested in conservation have visited Pelican Island and the home of Paul Kroegel. They include authors, artists, ornithologist, photographers and others. Even today hundreds of people visit his home annually.  (Tales of Sebastian, 1990)

Sebastians most famous citizen was born January 9, 1864 and died March 8, 1948 at his home where he lived for 67 years, at the age of eighty four years. He was the Warden of Pelican Island for twenty three years until 1926 when pelicans moved away for a few years.  Paul Kroegel had done his work so well that no protection was needed for Pelican Island until 1963 when the Department of Interior appointed the second warden. 

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