Tag Archives: Port of Stuart

“Port St Lucie” Originally Planned for “Martin County” Along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Port St Lucie
An ad for the town of “Port St Lucie,” by Sewall’s Point Land Company that ran around 1913. It reads: ” Sewall’s Point Land Company is developing the new town of PORT ST LUCIE  in the northeasterly corner of Palm Beach County at the junction of the St Lucie and Indian rivers, directly opposite the St Lucie Inlet.” At the time, this area was Palm Beach County, today it is Martin. (Ad courtesy of Tom Thurlow)

I have often wondered why Port St Lucie is inland. Where’s the port?  Well apparently the name “Port St Lucie,” had been around before the City of Port St Lucie was incorporated in 1961, as originally Port St Lucie was going to be a town that would have been in today’s Martin, not St Lucie County.

The above ad ran around 1913 and was part of Henry Sewall and Hugh Willoughby’s  Sewall’s Point Company’s original development campaign to develop Port Sewall and Golden Gate as the “Great Port of Stuart.” At the time, this area was Palm Beach County but became Martin County in 1925.

Under the ad’s photo it reads: “Looking across one of the Lakes toward the St Luice River and the Inlet.” I imagine the lake was either North or West Lake, still located in today’s Willoughby Creek area. The ad also states that the location of Port St Lucie will be “directly opposite the St Lucie Inlet.” Viewing  a copy of the 1911 Port Sewall promotional map below, one can see exactly where that is located, Old St Lucie Boulevard, Stuart.

port sewall

The advertisement in the long winded style of the day continues:

“The lands west of the railway is laid out in tracts for FARMS and GARDENS. East of the railway are the business lots and large residence lot for the PORT OF ST LUCIE and the WATERFRONT is divied into lots of about two acres each for FINE RESIDENCES and WINTER HOMES. Ten acres are reserved for a PARK and five acres for a large TOURIST HOTEL on the water front. Situated at the junction of the St Lucie and Indian Rivers and St Lucie Inlet with a climate tempered by the soft breezes from the GULF STREAM and every month in the year a GROWING MONTH and FRUITS, FISH, FLOWERS and VEGETABLES in abundance….TENNIS, FISHING, MOTOR BOAT, SAILING RACES, CRUISING INLAND WATERS.

The kicker phrase: PROFIT AND PLEASURE combined in an IDEAL LOCATION…

Well, the land bust and the Great Depression came to Florida in the mid 1920s so the “Town of Port St Lucie” and its great port were never built, but let’s fast forward to 1961 a bit north in St Lucie County, and the “City of Port St Lucie” surely did!

Believe it or not, today Port St Lucie is the 9th largest city in the state of Florida. With their high population they are a bigger political player than Martin County and I am thankful for their commission’s support of strict fertilizer ordinances and pro river issues in this year’s legislative session. Port St Lucie is a key player today and in the the future for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The county has also been very supportive!

Back to our history lesson…

Before the 1950s, Port St Lucie was mostly ranch and fishing camp lands as this photo from Bud Adams for the publication Port St Lucie at 50, A City for All People, by Nina Baranski shows.

PSL ranches

The story goes that in the 1950s the wilderness favored by hunters and anglers was discovered by Mike Cowles  whose company published Look Magazine and also had ties to the Ft Pierce Tribune. Cowles was “taken by the beauty of the St Lucie River and the land along its banks” buying eighty-five hundred acres south of Ft Pierce. In 1953 through his “St Lucie River Land Company,” he filed the River Park plat, and began to develop and promote it. (Port St Lucie at 50, A City for All People, Chapter 2.)

Cowles eventually traded  his land holdings for stock in, newcomer to the game, General Development Corporation, (GDC), becoming chairman in 1959. After acquiring more ranch tracks, GDC made plans to incorporate into a city and with “hardly any residents” did so with full support of the legislature in 1961.  And as we know, the rest is history…..

It’s interesting to note that the history of Martin and St Lucie Counties has always been intertwined, and that whether 1913, 1961, or today,  it is the beauty and attraction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon that on a core level connects us all. Our future long-term  job, together, is to save it.

Southern PSL 1957

This photo is not great quality but allows one to see  how undeveloped St Lucie County was…This photo is courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, and is on the inside cover of “Port St Lucie at  50.” It is a rare aerial of the southern portion of St Lucie County taken in 1957 before its incorporation and development.

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The book Port St Lucie 50 Years, A City for All People, by Nina Baranski, can be purchased at the Historical Society of St Lucie County (http://www.stluciehistoricalsociety.org)

The Almost Great “Port of Stuart,” along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon

1911 Seawall's Point Land Company map
Portion of 1911 Sewall’s Point Land Company map showing area off of Sewall’s Point and Stuart where the great “Port of Stuart” was being developed.

The headlines of the South Florida Developer on December 29th, 1925 bragged about a Stuart along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon very different than the one we know today:

“Port of Stuart, Florida’s New Gateway. “

“The Opening of the St Lucie Inlet to the commerce of the world will bring to Stuart and all Martin County that belated recognition to which it is rightfully  entitled by virtue of its strategic geographic location.”

“W.B. Shearer, recognized international authority on ports and waterways, makes the positive statement that of all the East Coast’s four hundred miles of waterfront, the harbor at Stuart is the the only port with natural advantages suitable for a naval base…”

“St Lucie Ship Canal Locks- the first link in the chain of waterways that will eventually form a navigable canal from the Atlantic  to the Gulf of Mexico is the “St Lucie Ship Canal” now 95% complete. It’s completion will open up the fertile western portion of Marin County…”

As these headlines show, the “Port of Stuart” was not just a dream, in the early 1920s, it was a becoming reality.  Details of the port still exists in dusty federal, state and local documents. If it were not for the Great Depression of the late 1920s and the difficulty for the ACOE in dynamiting the Anastasia rock from the bottom of the St Lucie Inlet, it could have been a reality.

So how could this be? Today an idea like this would be heresy!

Well, Captain Henry Sewall, for which the peninsula of Sewall’s Point is named, was one of many responsible for this “heresy.”  Not only had he led locals  to  open the St Lucie Inlet by hand in 1892, he had served as county commissioner, and state representative. 

In 1910 Captain Sewall and his powerful business friends, including adventurer Hugh Willoughby, founded “Sewall’s Point Land Company,” as Captain Sewall had inherited the tip of Sewall’s Point and large portions of waterfront and other lands along Stuart through his family linage to the famous Miles-Hanson Grant.

According to Sandra Thurlow’s book: “Sewall’s Point, the History of a Peninsula on Florida’s Treasure Coast,” after the formation of Sewall’s Point Land Company, the men got right to work building the Sunrise Inn on Old St Lucie Boulvard, and miles of roads in today’s Golden Gate; (see map above), government, bonds were held by the county and a turning basin at the tip of Sewall’s Point was dredged; this fill created today’s Sandsprit Park.”

A turning basin at Sewall’s Point? You’ve got to be kidding.

They were not.

Even poetry was written for the dream, ironically by beloved environmentalist,  Ernie Lyon’s father: 

Just One Place for the Harbor
by Harry Lyons
1924

“Brave sailors in Atlantic storms, 
A harbor need for aid.
 They skirt the coast of Florida,
Lest commerce be delayed.
When hurricanes sweep o’er the deep,
And ships grave perils face,
‘Tis the duty of all mariners,
To seek an anchorage place.
You’ll find the place for a harbor here,
Where the old St. Lucie flows.
There is room for ships at Sewall’s Point,
Where the Indian River goes.
No where else is there such an inlet,
Down below or up above.
There is just one place for the harbor!
Stuart the town we love!
From Stuart to Fort Myers at last,
We’ll have a waterway,
When the canal is finished,
And they’re hastening the day.
Across Lake Okeechobee,
From the Gulf of Mexico,
Oil and phosphate, fruit and lumber,
Into Stuart soon will go.”

Sewall died in 1925 and the bottom fell out of the real estate market around 1926. Around the same time, two devastating hurricanes put the nail in coffin of the Stuart Port at the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

It is interesting to note that the St Lucie Canal, C-44, between Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River was completed not only for transportation and trade, but for flood control of agriculture and people working south of the lake. The prosperity associated with the canal for the local people of Stuart never came and the canal ended up being a major factor in the destruction of their beloved waterways…

Well time goes on, new dreams come and go; new fortunes are made and lost. But for old times’ sake, one can stand at  Sandsprit Park, and look out to Sewall’s Point remembering  perhaps Stuart’s biggest dream, the lost dream, and for many, a dream well lost, the dream of the “Great Port of Stuart.”

*Thank you to my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow,  for sharing her historic articles to make this write up possible.