St. Lucie County History

St. Lucie County
 
Workers sit on the back porch of a pineapple packing house in Fort Pierce. Pineapples were the area's largest agricultural industry throughout the 1800s.
According to historians, it is believed that the name "St. Lucie" was first given to this 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, as old Spanish maps identify this area as Santa Lucia, which included roughly what is now known as Vero Beach to Stuart. The Spanish held Florida from 1783 to 1819. Seminoles (Creek Indians from Alabama and Georgia) and runaway slaves began to settle on the Treasure Coast. The Anglo-Saxon version, "St. Lucie," would not be officially used to identify the area until the 1900s.

 

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 War (1835-1842), the U.S. Army began setting up military posts throughout the state, and in 1837 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 trees near an Ais Indian mound on what is now known as Old Fort Park on Indian River Drive.

The Florida East Coast Railway's first steam locomotive came to Fort Pierce in 1894. Eventually Henry Flagler took his trains all the way down to Key West before World War I. The railroad expansion helped create a population boom for the area, but it also brought the importation of pineapples from Cuba. These imports combined with frequent freezes and persistent disease caused the collapse of the pineapple trade. Citrus and cattle soon drove the area's agricultural engine.

On July 1, 1905, St. Lucie County was established with Fort Pierce serving as its county seat. The town was previously part of Brevard County. At the time what is now

 
The Brighton Seminole family poses for this photo in the early 1900s dressed in traditional Seminole garments.
Indian River, Okeechobee, and northern Martin counties were all part of the new St. Lucie County. However, there are some historians that believe the county was established on May 24, 1905, but the event wasn't celebrated until July.

Now more than 100 years later, St. Lucie County is approximately 600 square miles with a diverse population that includes two cities and one village: Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie and St. Lucie Village. With more than 270,000 people living here, St. Lucie County is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. And it's no wonder, with its 21 miles of unspoiled beaches, charming neighborhoods, progressive businesses and friendly people, St. Lucie County is truly the crown jewel of the Treasure Coast.

 

Fort Pierce
It's widely known that Fort Pierce was named after Lt. Col. Benjamin K. Pierce, who established a U.S. Army fort here during the second Seminole War in 1838. But it would take more than 60 years for the area to become officially the City of Fort Pierce.

On Dec. 29, 1900, a notice was posted calling all registered voters to assemble at Davis Hall, Fort Pierce, Brevard County, Florida, on February 2, A.D. 1901, for the purpose of organizing a municipal government. On that date, 54 of the 66 voters who resided in the proposed village voted to incorporate. They elected A.C. Dittmar as mayor, appointed D.L. Alderman, A.Y.W. Hogg, P.P. Cobb, L.L. Carlton and F.M. Tyler as the City's five aldermen. H.I. Klopp was elected as city clerk and D.S. Carlton as marshal. Those 66 residents have now grown to more than 40,000.
 

Port St. Lucie

 
The original Board of County Commissioners pose for this photo in 1905.
Its history may not be as old as Fort Pierce's, but the story behind Port St. Lucie is just as interesting.

In 1958, General Development Corporation purchased the River Park property as well as an adjoining 40,000 acres. A subsidiary of Mackle Co., GDC had a budget of $50 million to develop a new community on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River.

The population boom was on. Full-page ads drew the interest of retirees from the Northeast, offering them 80 x 125-foot lots for $10 down and $10 a month. Homes sold for as little as $9,000. Soon ranchers began selling pasture land that they had purchased for just $6 an acre for as much as $225 per acre. At its sales office on U.S. 1 and Prima Vista, GDC sold as many as 300 lots a day.

 

*Information based on data from St. Lucie Historical Society.