Leaving A Legacy ~ Treasure Hammock Ranch

Dated: April 2 2024

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Cattle at Treasure Hammock Ranch

While Vero Beach is known for its gorgeous beaches and high-end gated communities, there are large parts of Indian River county that host something quite the opposite - citrus orchards and cattle ranchlands.  When Vero Beach pioneer Waldo Sexton arrived in the area, it was 1913, six years before the city was incorporated. At the time, Sexton was involved in the agricultural industry and came to Vero to sell farm equipment, specifically, an oxen-pulled deep tilling machine. He fell in love with the area and stayed put, purchasing 100 acres of beachside land and 120 acres west of town. By 1917, Sexton had planted 10,000 citrus trees on his mainland property. He also started a cattle ranch and dairy farm. Now, four generations later, the Sexton family still owns and operates their ranch and homestead called Treasure Hammock.

By 1943, Waldo Sexton had acquired more than 600 acres of ranching property. The ranch and surrounding lands comprise the headwaters of the Sebastian River. One of the reasons Sexton expanded the ranch was to house more dairy cows to meet the demand for milk at Vero’s Naval Air Base. Originally devoted to breeding dwarf Guinea cattle derived from European strains and Brahman cattle, the ranch produced a small, thrifty hybrid for Florida's subtropical conditions. The Sexton family refined the cattle production standards, and in 1953, became a founding member of the Florida Beef Cattle Improvement Association.

Treasure Hammock ranch is now under the current care of Waldo’s grandson, Sean Sexton, his wife Sharon, and their son, Mike Sexton. The Sexton family now raise seedstock and feeder calves crossing Angus and Brahman breeds, still suitable for Florida’s climate, but producing high-quality beef.

Ranching and beef production have been central to Florida’s heritage for more than 500 years. Cattle were first introduced to the state in the 1500s by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, and by the 1600s there were 34 ranches in Florida with 20,000 head of cattle. By the end of 2023, more than 20,000 head of cattle were being cultivated in Indian River county alone and 1.62 million head statewide. Florida cattle seedstock producers continue to provide a foundation of sub-tropically raised cattle for commercial herds around the U.S. and other parts of the world.

The Sexton family has a deep love of land. It was hard for them to conceive that, at one point, the ranch might eventually become a residential subdivision. As a result, following provisions of the 2001 Florida Rural and Family Lands Protection Act and in conjunction with Indian River County, the Sextons established the first agricultural conservation easement in Florida ensuring that the ranch will be used exclusively for agriculture in perpetuity.

The Sextons continue traditional methods of ranching to include rounding up the cattle using riders on horses, cultivating winter forages in the cool season, and moving cattle from pasture to pasture – called rotational grazing. Cattle are still driven and moved from the east to west side pastures of the ranch along the “Ranch Road,” now 82nd Avenue, and cross the Lateral C Main Canal on a wooden bridge.

Round Up Cattle

The Sextons have kept historical structures on the ranch intact, all built with vernacular materials and workmanship and maintained in their original state. Treasure Hammock Ranch contains examples of a historic barn, a dipping vat, butchering pen, a one-of-a-kind wooden squeeze chute, swiveled swinging gates introduced by Waldo, all which are still in use for 81 years. A set of mechanical cattle scales are still certified and operating since the 1950s.

Cattle at Sunset

Sean Sexton has combined his love of the land with his creative writing and art talents. Since 1973, he has kept journal-sketch books drawn from his life, particularly of scenes on the ranch. He was awarded an Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the State of Florida and was a presenter at the National Grazing Lands Coalition Conference speaking about the subject of art and agriculture. In addition, Sean has been a regular performer at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. In 2016, Indian River County named Sean as its first Poet Laureate. Sean stays heavily involved in the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation, a local literary organization, as a board member and founding chairman of the Annual Poetry and Barbeque event where he selects and invites poets from around the U.S. to perform.

Mike Sexton has been passing on his love of the land also. When Mike isn’t working on the ranch or selling real estate, his wife Chandler MacWilliam Sexton and his three children; daughter Emerson “Emmy” Tate, son Ralph “Mac” and daughter Rymer spend family time at the ranch several days a week. In 2013, Treasure Hammock Ranch and Farmstead became a National Historic Site and was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In July of 2023, the Sexton family received approval for a Historical Marker on the site and fifth generation Sexton, Emmy Tate, pulled the cord to reveal the new marker.

The Sextons believe in sharing their heritage with others and regularly open the ranch to visitors. Members of the Pelican Island Audubon Society have conducted bird searches on the property, and the Florida Native Plant Society has also arranged field trips. Lifelong Learning students from Indian River State College have visited as well as members of the Indian River Land Trust. Children from Indian River public schools also visit including kindergarteners. Every year, prior to the school F-CAT tests, fourth graders come to the ranch to learn about local history.

Often, you might see artists from near and far, including Sean, spending time capturing the amazing flora and fauna of this unique Florida landscape. Indeed, Treasure Hammock Ranch is truly a treasure.

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Alex "AMAC" MacWilliam IV

It was bound to happen the day Alex MacWilliam, IV was born…the Alex MacWilliam Real Estate family legacy would carry on. Fast forward to September 2013, when Alex IV joined the firm, and the famil....

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