Saving McKee

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It’s been 20 years since McKee Botanical Garden reopened and a curious crowd came, eager to see what the newly restored historic landmark looked like. 

They were thrilled. The tropical treasure created a century ago by Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton, which had attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists during its heyday, was a wonder to behold.

It was a fairy-tale ending for what had become an abandoned, overgrown eyesore on U.S. Highway 1. Most of the original 80 acres had been sold to a residential developer, and the remaining 18 were a tangled mess about to be bulldozed to make way for a shopping center.

While much has been written about the individuals, groups and organizations that contributed to the garden’s rebirth, helping clear pathways, rebuild bridges, restore historic buildings, and raise millions of dollars, two women — Suzan Phillips and Susan Schuyler Smith, who met by chance and shared a vision — played key roles. 

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