- Saint Lucie County
- Year Founded: 1901
- Founded by: Lt. Colonel Benjamin Pierce
Fort Pierce, named for its first commander Benjamin Pierce, brother of President Franklin Pierce, was established in 1838 as a military installation constructed by the U.S. Army for the purpose of being a main supply depot during the Second Seminole War. Abandoned in 1842 at the end of the Second Seminole War, the fort burned down the following year. Prior to this time, Spanish explorers began settling Florida dating back to 1565 with Pedro Menendez founding a fort on the Indian River Lagoon he called Santa Lucia which later became the county’s name St. Lucie.
The village of Fort Pierce started as a general store surrounded by a few houses and incorporated in 1901. By 1915, Henry Flagler’s railroad brought prosperity to town and new schools and buildings enhanced newer neighborhoods. During the Land Boom of the 1920s, Fort Pierce was transformed into the Mediterranean style, which many historic older buildings have been preserved and are used today. During World War II, Pierce Beach was developed as a Navy base and trained individuals for combat as UDT later known as SEALs from 1943 to 1945. Today, Fort Pierce is home to the National Navy SEAL Museum which attracts thousands of visitors.
After two decades of postwar development, the city began to decline. By 1988, many historic buildings had been demolished and several older neighborhoods began to suffer from neglect. Beginning in 1994, the city was reborn with new streetscapes and public buildings revitalizing and restoring its image.Downtown Fort Pierce is located along the Indian River Lagoon, which provides direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. Downtown has retained its old Florida charm and scale with the historic restoration of the 1200-seat, 1923 Sunrise Theatre for the Performing Arts, unique retail shops, restaurants and art galleries. Surrounded by historic neighborhood districts, downtown is a short walking or biking distance to the City Marina, golf course or beach access. The waterfront hosts weekly public events such as the Saturday Farmer’s Market and monthly Friday Fest.
Fort Pierce is focused on becoming the best-designed small city in Florida. Public and private projects are designed with a shared vision of the future and highest quality redevelopment. The city is taking advantage of architechtural history and design tradition as its citizens find new ways to retain the best qualities of the past on the way to a better future.
Story of City’s Founding
Fort Pierce, often called the Sunrise City, has been the hub of St. Lucie County, Florida for over 100 years. Situated on the “Treasure Coast”, named after the famed sinking of a Spanish treasure fleet in 1715,Fort Pierce is one of the oldest communities on the east coast of Florida. It is believed that the name “St. Lucie” was first introduced to the area by the Spanish. The name was given after the Spanish began construction of a fort on December 13 the feast day of the Roman Catholic Saint Lucia. The Santa Lucia colony was established somewhere between Vero Beach and Stuart around 1567. The Spanish held Florida from 1783-1819. Seminoles and runaway slaves began to settle on the Treasure Coast. The U.S. territory of Florida was created by Congress in 1832. The Armed Occupation Act of 1842 provided for the settlement of the unsettled part of east Florida. The territory of Florida became a state in 1845. During the Second Seminole Ward (1835-1842), the U.S. Army began setting up military posts throughout the state, and in 1937 Col. Benjamin K. Pierce (brother to the future 14th president) sailed down the Indian River from St. Augustine. A year later, he built a fort out of palmetto tress near an Ais Indian mound on what is now know as Old Fort Park on the Indian River. The Florida East Coast Railway’s first steam locomotive came to Fort Pierce in 1894 with Henry Flagler having trains to Key West before World War I. The railroad brought an increase in the area’s population and the importation of pineapples from Cuba. Ultimately with frequent freezes and disease, the pineapple trade gave way to citrus and cattle in the area. On July 1, 1905, St. Lucie County was established with Fort Pierce as county seat, which had been part of Brevard county. Indian River, Okeechobee and northern Martin counties were all part of the new St. Lucie County. On February 2, 1901 54 of the 66 voters who resided in the proposed village of Fort Pierce, voted to incorporate. Today the City of Fort Pierce is approximately 29 square miles with a population of 40,000.
Little Known Facts
- Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston lived and is buried in Fort Pierce
Key Historical Events
Event: Old Fort Park
Old Fort Pierce Park is the site of Fort Pierce, a military installation constructed by the U.S. Army in Florida with the purpose of being a main supply depot for the army during the Second Seminole War.
Event: Annual Cracker Trail Ride
Held in February, the ride begins just east of Bradenton and ends in Fort Pierce, Florida. The week-long ride is approximately 110 miles long, riding an average of 15 miles each day. Riders may ride as many days as they wish the culmination of rides is a parade through the historic Downtown