History of the Area
From a Book By Sandra Henderson Thurlow
The Atlantic Ocean, the Indian River, the North
and South Forks of the St. Lucie River, and countless
creeks played major roles in the history of Martin
County. Inhabitants depended on the bounty of
the water, as did the pioneers who settled here
in the late 1800s.
The Gulf Steam is a shipping lane just off our
coast. In 1876, before the region was settled,
the U. S. Government built Gilbert’s Bar House
of Refuge on Hutchinson Island. A keeper and his
family offered assistance to victims of shipwrecks.
the 1880s, Homer Hine Stuart, Jr. purchased property
and built a bungalow on the north side of the
St. Lucie River. He donated land for a 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. There was
no vehicular bridge across the St. Lucie River
at that time
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.
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.
Our 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, then later built the Danforth Hotel. The
Stuart House, another hotel, evolved from Broster
Kitching’s first combination post office and store.
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.
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.
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
On August 5, 1925 Martin County was official.
The Boom was beginning to waver so the grand plans
for a new courthouse were scrapped and the new
county government moved into an empty schoolhouse.
former Commercial Club evolved into the Martin
County Chamber of Commerce and was officially
incorporated in 1928. 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
During World War II, Witham Field was constructed
in Stuart to train Navy pilots and Camp Murphy,
a sprawling 35-square-mile U. S. Army Signal School,
was built in Hobe Sound. Coast Guard facilities
expanded on Hutchinson Island and lookout towers
dotted the landscape. Some of the servicemen married
local girls and many returned to the area after
the war. Jonathan Dickinson State
Park was created from the vast acreage that was
formerly Camp Murphy.
The Chamber of Commerce worked to provide economic
security and attract tourists and industry. In
1941 a phenomenal sailfish run brought attention
to the waste of killing and discarding catches.
The species needed to be preserved, as a result,
the release system was established.
promoted itself as the Sailfish Capital of the
World —. Stuart Fishing Guides, first published
by the Stuart Daily News in 1935, and distributed
by the Chamber of Commerce attracted thousands
to the region. Ernest F. Lyons, longtime editor
of the Stuart News was responsible for most of
the text and the Fishing Guides were chock full
of ads from local businesses. Lyons, an avid sportsman
and environmentalist, helped inspire local
residents not only to enjoy our good nature but
to preserve it.
Sandra Henderson Thurlow, works with the
Historical Society of Martin County and Stuart
Heritage, Inc. to preserve and share local history.
Her photo-filled books, available at the Stuart
Heritage Museum and Elliott Museum, as well as
bookstores, are a must for anyone who has an interest
in the history of Martin County. This is a condensation
from one of many of Sandra Thurlow’s books.