Culture / Travel

This UnKnown Island Makes for a Great Vacation Escape

No Cars, Lot of Cocktails

BY // 06.20.16

It’s been inhabited for more than 10,000 years (first by Paleo-Indians), but remains one of Florida’s best-kept secrets. I had never heard of Useppa until a stay with my mother- in-law, who informed us that the owners, Gar Beckstead and family, had invited us to Useppa Island Club for lunch. The island is accessible only by boat and open strictly to
 club members and their guests, which means minimal traffic (unless golf carts count). The island is one mile long and a third of a mile wide.

Aside from world-class tarpon fishing and boating, genteel country club sports such as croquet, tennis, chess and cocktailing rule. Banyan trees covered with orchids and other tropical vegetation provide epic archways over the Pink Promenade, which travels along the central ridge of the island and was originally constructed of crushed shells and pink sand in 1903.

Useppa Island Club
Useppa Island Club

The rooms at the Collier Inn and the Island Rooms & Suites evoke old Florida; you can also purchase one of the precious beach cottages sprinkled across the island. We learned at the Barbara L. Sumwalt Museum, which is dedicated to preserving Useppa’s history, that the island was developed in 1894 by Chicago streetcar tycoon John M. Roach, who built a hotel for his friends. New York advertising exec/developer Barron G. Collier purchased it in 1906 as his private vacation estate and hosted Herbert Hoover, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds and Gloria Swanson. The U.S. government used Useppa as a base for the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba.

Beckstead acquired the island in 1976 and is devoted to restoring Useppa’s elegance and preserving its tropical beauty.

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