- Martin County
- Year Founded: 1914
- Previously known as: Potsdam
Stuart and the surrounding areas have close ties with Florida’s Spanish and Seminole Indian heritage. Stuart sits on the St. Lucie River, which has appeared on maps long before pioneers reached the area. In 1565, Pedro Menendez was sailing to Havana from St. Augustine for supplies until they reached a river too broad to cross and built a fort to protect themselves from the hostile natives. They named the fort Santa Lucia as it was December 13, Santa Lucia’s Day on the Catholic calendar. The fort was short lived and its location cannot be verified, but the name Santa Lucia, or St. Lucie, became the name of the river.
In 1815, Don Eusebio Gomez asked King Fernando of Spain for a Royal Grant of 12,000 acres of landholding that included all of Jupiter Island and some 9,000 acres on the mainland, this became the Gomez Grant in what is now Hobe Sound.
After being driven out of Georgia, the Seminoles settled in the area that is present day Indiantown. It was approximately 14 miles northwest of there that the final battle of the Seminole War was fought.
It wasn’t until the 1870s when Gilbert’s House of Refuge was built on Hutchinson Island that families began moving into the St. Lucie River region. It was named after the pirate Don Pedro Gilbert who would ease his ship, Panda, across the sand bar into the St. Lucie River to evade his pursuers. Gilbert’s House of Refuge was one of five houses of refuge from Vero Beach to Biscayne Bay that gave shipwrecked sailors shelter and sustenance.
In 1892, one of Stuart’s early settlers, Otto Stypmann chose the name Potsdam for the area after his hometown of Potsdam, Germany. March 12, 1892, The United States Postal Department made the Potsdam, Florida Post Office official, which was run out of Otto’s house as he served as postmaster. The name remained until the establishment of the Florida East Coast Railway in 1985.
This began when John Laurence Jensen, an immigrant from Denmark, in 1881, and set up his pineapple plantation, which became the town of Jensen Beach. By 1895, Jensen was called the “Pineapple Capital of the World,” shipping over one million boxes of pineapples each year during the June and July season. To help deal with the increased Pineapple production, a Pineapple Factory was built.
A hard freeze in 1895 devastated most of the small pineapple plantations. Also, two fires, 1908 and 1910, destroyed most of Jensen Beach and its remaining Pineapple farms. The industry finally collapsed in 1920 due to a wide variety of financial and agriculture problems. Growers decided to turn their efforts in another direction: raising citrus. The pineapple has become a symbol of Jensen Beach. The fruit legacy is celebrated annually during the Jensen Beach Pineapple Festival.
In the 1880s, Homer Hine Stuart, Jr. purchased property and built a bungalow on the north side of the St. Lucie River and grew pineapples just like everyone else in the area was doing. He donated land for a railroad depot and in return his surname name was given to the railway stop after Henry Flagler brought his railway down the Florida east coast to Palm Beach. When, general store owner Walter Kitching convinced Flagler officials to move the depot to a site in front of his store, the name Stuart came to the south side of the river with the depot.
With the arrival of the Florida East Coast Railway, pioneer life changed dramatically. Reliable transportation made it much easier to ship fish and pineapples, the region’s major products. The tourist industry blossomed and social life revolved around the arrival of trains that now brought the mail. After the Stuart railway depot was moved to the south side of the St Lucie River, passenger and freight depots, railway spurs, boat docks and a ferry landing formed the hub of pioneer Stuart. Today, Stuart’s Flagler Park is in the location of the community’s former commercial center. The only vestige that remains is the former General Merchandise Store, today’s Stuart Heritage Museum.
Stuart’s first tourists were outdoorsmen who came to hunt and fish. Maine hunting guide, John Danforth brought a houseboat down to serve as the first hotel, and then later built the Danforth Hotel. Former President Grover Cleveland discovered the region’s good fishing and stayed at the Danforth Hotel. The news of Stuart’s fabulous fishing spread and other hotels, boarding houses and apartment houses were built to accommodate tourists. Boat building and commercial fishing changed to meet the needs of tourists and sports fishermen.
By 1919, there were seven wholesale saltwater fish houses in nearby Port Salerno as the inlet in St. Lucie County had filled in. At this time between three and four hundred fishermen fished out of Salerno in the winter. Most boats came to Salerno from Vero and Fort Pierce.
The Stuart Commercial Club, the forerunner of today’s Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce, was created in 1911 to promote the region and facilitate road and waterway improvements. An auto bridge across the St. Lucie River was high on their wish list. Stuart was incorporated in 1914, four years before the bridge across the St. Lucie River was finally open for traffic.
In 1913, Harold Anderson Lincoln, known as Abe, bought a farm in Palm City. Being the only man in the area to own a camera, he quickly became very popular and took many of the photos of early Palm City, Stuart and Salerno residents.
The completion of the Dixie Highway that would cross the St. Lucie River at Stuart helped create the Great Florida Land Boom of the 1920s. The St. Lucie River Region was caught up in the development frenzy. The Commercial Club campaigned for the creation of a new county and key members went to Tallahassee to plead the cause. Things fell into place after the decision was made to name the new county after the incumbent governor, John W. Martin. On August 5, 1925 Martin County was official.
There were many challenges. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s the Federal Government aided in construction of the Roosevelt Bridge, the Woman’s Club and Library, the Log Cabin, used by the entire community, and in 1937, with the Art Deco addition to the courthouse.
During World War II, Witham Field was constructed in Stuart to train Navy pilots. It was named after Paul Homer Witham, a native son killed in the Aleutian Islands early in the war.
In the late 1930s, The Stuart Sailfish Club was established to bring fishing tourist to Stuart that was promoted as the “Sailfish Capitol of the World.” Stuart still uses that title today.
Story of City’s Founding
In the 18th century, several Spanish galleons were shipwrecked in the Martin County area of Florida’s Treasure Coast. The multiple wrecks were reportedly the result of a hurricane, and the ships were carrying unknown quantities of gold and silver. Some of this treasure has since been recovered, and its presence resulted in the region’s name. In 1832, pirate Pedro Gilbert who often used a sandbar off the coast as a lure to unsuspecting prey, chased and caught the Mexican, a US merchant ship. Although he attempted to burn the ship and kill the crew, they survived to report the incident, ultimately resulting in the capture and subsequent execution of Gilbert and his crew. The bar from which is lured his intended booty is named “Gilbert’s Bar” on nautical charts. The Treasure Coast area that became Stuart was first settled by non-Native Americans in 1870. In 1875, a United States Lifesaving Station was established on Hutchinson Island, near Stuart, and provided a home and a livelihood for those first residents of the St. Lucie River region. Today, the station is known as Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge and is on the National Register of Historic Places. When Stuart was incorporated as a town in 1914, it was located in Palm Beach County. In 1925, Stuart was chartered as a city and named the county seat of the newly created Martin County.
Little Known Facts
- Stuart is the Sailfish Capital of the World
Name: Lyric Theater
Location: 59 Southwest Flagler Avenue
Historical Significance: Built to serve as a movie house in 1926, it is now used primarily as a stage and music venue.
Name: Old Martin County Courthouse
Location: 80 East Ocean Boulevard Old Martin County Court House, built in 1937, is an
Historical Significance: The historic Old Martin County Court House, built in 1937, is an Art Deco style courthouse building.
Name: Burn Brae Plantation-Krueger House
Location: 1170 Southeast Ocean Boulevard
Historical Significance: Built in 1894 and was home to one of Stuart’s pioneer families
Name: Stuart Heritage Museum
Location: 161 S.W. Flagler Avenue
Historical Significance: Built in 1901 by George W. Parks, to be his Geo. W. Parks Grocery and General Merchandise Store.
Name: All Saints Episcopal Church
Location: 2377 N.E. Patrician Street
Historical Significance: erected in 1898 is the oldest church building in Jensen Beach
Name: Jensen Beach Christian Church
Location: 1890 N.E. Church Street
Historical Significance: built in 1910-1912.
Name: The Mansion at Tuckahoe
Location: 1921 North East Indian River Drive
Historical Significance: Tuckahoe was built in 1938 as the home of Willaford Ransom Leach and his Coca-Cola heiress wife Anne Winship (Bates) Leach.
Name: Mount Elizabeth Archeological Site
Location: 1921 N.E. Indian River Drive
Historical Significance: prehistoric midden and an archaeological site.
Name: Stuart Welcome Arch
Location: between 2369 and 2390 Northeast Dixie Highway
Historical Significance: It was built in 1926 to mark what was then the town line between the town of Jensen to the north and the town of Stuart to the south.
Name: The Seminole Inn
Location: 15885 Southeast Warfield Boulevard
Historical Significance: It was built by S. Davies Warfield in 1926.
Name: Cypress Lodge
Location: 18681 SW Conners Highway
Historical Significance: An historic two-story frame country inn at Port Mayaca
Name: Gate House
Location: 214 South Beach Road
Historical Significance: Historic home on Jupiter Island.
Name: Georges Valentine Shipwreck Site
Location: Offshore of the House of Refuge
Historical Significance: The site of the historic shipwreck of an Italian barquentine from 1869.
Name: House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar
Location: 301 Southeast MacArthur Boulevard
Historical Significance: Oldest surviving building in Martin County.
Name: Olympia School
Location: 9141 Southeast Apollo St.
Historical Significance: Historic two-room elementary school building built in 1925.
Name: Trapper Nelson Zoo Historic District
Location: 16450 Southeast Federal Highway
Historical Significance: Home to the “Tarzan of the Loxahatchee” built in 1933 in Jonathon Dickinson State Park.
Name: The New Monrovia Schoolhouse
Location: 4450 SE Field St., Stuart
Historical Significance: Known as the “Salerno Colored School,” the 25-by-30 foot wood-frame building served generations of black primary students from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Name: Historic Home
Location: 3034 Jefferson Street
Historical Significance: Built in 1924
Name: Golden Gate Building
Location: 3225 South East Dixie Highway
Historical Significance: Built in 1925, is an historic real estate and land development office building
Name: Historic Home
Location: 660 SW 34th Street
Historical Significance: Built in Palm City in 1925
Name: The Periwinkle House
Location: Jensen Beach
Historical Significance: The former home of pioneer J.J. Pitchford, one of the oldest houses in Jensen Beach.
Name: Captain Sewall House
Location: Indian Riverside Park
Historical Significance: The house was originally built in 1889 at the southern tip of the Sewall’s Point peninsula and not only served as a home, but as a post office