“Look at that view!” Gloria Fike exclaims, throwing open the door to the second story veranda. The water of the Indian River sparkles under the sunlight, the tops of the palm trees sway softly in the breeze. “This was Mrs. Leach’s bedroom,” Fike remarks, “and she had the best room in the house!” The Mrs. Leach she is referring to is Coca-Cola heiress Anne Winship Leach, married to Willaford Ransom Leach. The house is The Mansion at Tuckahoe, perched upon a hill in Jensen Beach.
By day, Fike is a code enforcement officer for the Stuart Police Department. During her own hours, she devotes her energy to a cause most dear to her heart: the preservation and archeological exploration of the mansion. “It was built on an old Indian mound,” Fike explains. The story goes that when Mrs. Leach learned about the Seminoles, she decided to name the property Tuckahoe. It’s thought to be a Native American word. Originally built in 1938, the mansion has a history full of these stories. And Fike, as vice president of the Friends of Mount Elizabeth, knows each one.
Fike is one of the original members of the Friends of Mount Elizabeth, also known as FOME. The group, formed in 2001 and named after the mound on which the mansion sits, has been largely responsible for the restoration of the property. When FOME was formed and Fike was asked to join, she jumped at the chance. Fascination with the site aside, Fike had a personal reason for wanting to be involved: Anne Leach, daughter of Willaford and Anne, had been an aid in her gym class when she was in seventh grade.
In the early days before the restoration began, the major challenge was bringing awareness to the property. “A lot of people didn’t even know this place existed,” Fike remembers. “What we did was have events, called sundowners, and invite the movers and shakers of the community to attend.”
The events grew in size and popularity, with the house playing host to two large events of 300 to 400 people before the restoration was even complete. “We took sheets to cover the crumbling plaster, and an antique dealer in Atlanta brought props,” she says. One of Fike’s own daughters, Kim Falconer, handled the planning and public relations for these events. Falconer used her contacts in Miami to bring something novel to the area. One such party even included a Cher impersonator. “People to this day still don’t know it wasn’t her,” Fike chuckles.
Fike herself also has strong roots in the area. Her own father, Henry Cabre, bought Casa Lumber in the 1930s – one of only two lumber yards in Stuart at that time. Each summer Fike worked at the lumber yard, and continued to do so even after returning from nursing school. Today, she has her own family in Florida, including daughters Kim and Amy, and two grandchildren. And, of course, she has the house on Mount Elizabeth. “That mansion is a passion of mine,” she smiles. One that is certainly appreciative of the tender love and care.