Q. Do you have any information about old building foundations in Oak Hammock Park and about a possible Indian mound?
A. Unfortunately not very much. One of the city's loveliest parks, Oak Hammock, located at 1982 S.W. Villanova Road, now features beautiful walking trails, a pavilion, boat ramp, fishing piers, children's play area and paved parking. It was established in 2000.
Though the subject of a long battle between the city and the operators of a religion-based children's home for the rights to purchase the property, it doesn't appear the home was actually ever built there or near there. Western Port St. Lucie was mostly cattle ranches before being bought for development by General Development Corp., so the building may be related to this.
We are unaware of an Indian mound in the area. These are generally found near water and the water there is a man-made canal. There is an Indian Mound in the Spruce Bluff area, along the North Fork of the St. Lucie River.
The naturally unspoiled area came into prominence in 1981 when a fisherman found the skull of a young woman along the side of the canal. It was believed to have been the victim of Gerard Schaefer, a Martin County sheriff's deputy who was had been convicted in 1973 as a serial killer. Through the early 1990s, when development was sparse, the wooded area was said to be a popular site for parties and "satanic rituals."
Q. When did the population of Port St. Lucie first exceed that of Fort Pierce? And what proportion of St. Lucie County do the two cities now represent?
A. According to the annual population study conducted by the University of Florida, Port St. Lucie became St. Lucie County’s most populous city in 1988, with over 42,000 residents, thanks to a growth spurt. At the same time, the population of Fort Pierce had declined slightly to under 39,000.
The 2010 U.S. Census found the city’s population approaching 165,000, more than 59 percent of that of the county. Fort Pierce holds just under 15 percent, with the rest living in the unincorporated county, which includes River Park, Indian River Estates, White City and Lakewood Park as well as smaller neighborhoods and rural land.
The July 1, 2019, U.S. Census estimate was 201.846. Other estimates suggest the city population was above 208,000 in 2020.
-- U.S. Census Bureau, University of Florida, City of Port St. Lucie, archives of Palm Beach Post
Q. What is the history of the property on Westmoreland Boulevard where the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens are now located? (Pt 1)
A. Early City records show that the land was part of the Pruitt Fish Camp. Then in 1981 the site was approved for residential development (Moonraker Bay PUD). That development program was for a 374 residential unit development. The only construction on the site was the installation of the roads and utility infrastructure. In 2002, the City of Port St. Lucie purchased the property under the Florida Communities Trust Land Conservation Program.
Once the City had purchased the property utilizing the grant it worked on several concepts to integrate the public recreation component that was required by the Florida Communities Trust. Concepts of parkland, marinas were considered and then finally a botanical garden idea was accepted. The area became part of the Community Redevelopment Area in 2006. The Botanical Gardens site plan was approved by the City Council on March 24, 2008, and opened on March 6, 2010.
-- Daniel Holbrook, AICP, Director of Planning and Zoning, City of Port St. Lucie, FL
Q. My grandparents were among the first 200 residents of the city. Prior to living there they would stay at Burt Pruitt's fish camp. Do you have any information?
A. Recent research by one of our members has uncovered a great deal of information about Burt Pruitt and the Fishin' Farm. from the Spring 2015 edition of Port St. Lucie magazine, published by Indian River Magazine Inc.
This seems to loom large in many memories of very early residents and locals. We have only sketchy information and would like to be able to have a nice package of photos and stories to share about this pre-GDC landmark. It was located along the south side of the North Fork of the St. Lucie River, between Port St. Lucie and Morningside boulevards, near the Sandpiper Bay Resorts Wilderness Golf Course (now the Tesero development. The wide dirt path leading to it was known as Cane Slough Road.
It is remembered as place of epic card games, snakes hanging from trees over the river, fantastic snook fishing, wild turkeys, a variety of wildlife and "old man Pruitt's pet," a 5-foot alligator. A long-time St. Lucie resident recalls, "He would get out a couple of mullet and whistle that gator up. He came right up the bank and picked the fish from the ground."
According the the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission, the area was a wildlife refuge protecting "Florida wildlife as it was when the great chiefs Micanopy and Osceola camped, hunted and fished by the shores of the great St. Lucie River."
Q. I’ve heard about the raft races at the yacht club on Prima Vista Boulevard, when did they run? Do you have any pictures?
A. According to longtime PSL resident Walter Deemer, the Port St. Lucie Exchange Club (now defunct) organized the popular raft race event until the late 1980s. (Our files show it existed from at least 1980-1986.) It was restarted in 1995, but only lasted 3 years. A commercial event group attempted to hold a raft race in the Tradition neighborhood in 2016, but it was canceled.
Deemer said the funniest raft had an outhouse on it which got under the eastern Prima Vista Bridge okay, but had to be tipped to a 45-degree angle to get under the western one, which rafters did not realize was lower.
The photos here are believed to be from the 1984 raft race. Some entries held parties and some were more competitive. There was a big rivalry between the two daily newspapers, the News (pelican head raft) and the Tribune. (Question from Michelle Rifenburgh)
Q. With many northerners retiring here, why was a "downtown" never planned? It seems like even the smallest towns anywhere else have downtowns.
In most cities and towns, downtowns grew over many years. When Port St. Lucie was founded in 1961, it was planned as mostly residential area that would be sparsely populated.
Initially General Development Corp.'s goal seemed to be to sell land, not necessarily houses. The first sales targets were future retirees in the North. Even then many downtowns were already dying in favor of shopping malls. As people came into PSL's huge geographic area, malls with basic goods and services were built and later larger malls to serve the city's far-flung neighborhoods were developed.
GDC did attempt to develop a central shopping area in the 1980s called Village Green Shopping Center (shown), which featured mall-like stores in a park-like atmosphere. It was near the southwest corner of U.S. 1 and Walton Road. The endeavor never really took off, though there were a movie theater, some retail stores, a good-sized Chinese restaurant, an ice cream shop and a pool hall. County government offices moved into some of the units.
Most of the Village Green Shopping Center was demolished in 2006 to make way for "old-fashioned downtown." The 70-acre property contains the city's Civic Center. A large area of the property has long involved in legal disputes, that is now under discussion for development of an hotel, apartments, retail stores and restaurants.
Q. How many years was the small golf course in Sandpiper named Wilderness Golf Club in operation?
A. General Development Corp got zoning permission to build the course in May 1974. Originally 18 holes were planned but the second nine was never developed. Houses, condos and townhouses were to be built around it, but were never approved for GDC.
I recall walking on the course in 1995, shortly after we moved to the Sandpiper Bay area. At that time, I think the course was not being used. News articles and ads show activity there until late 1994.
GDC was on the way out and selling off lots of its land. At one time it negotiated with the city to buy the course and other land. It was eventually sold to developers and zoned for residential use. It is the site of the current Tesoro community on Westmoreland Boulevard.
Q. What are the boundaries of Sandpiper Bay?
A. The Sandpiper Bay Community was developed and named by General Development Corporation (GDC). The resort in its boundaries, now known as Club Med -- Sandpiper, bears the name as does the city’s gateway signage at its entrances. The geographic boundaries are the North Fork of the St. Lucie River to the south and west, Port St. Lucie Boulevard to the north and US 1 to the east (minus the commercial strips along the latter two).
These boundaries were re-validated by a district court ruling in the early 90s during/after the bankruptcy of GDC. Within the Sandpiper Bay Community’ boundaries are a number of HOA / Condo associations, all with their unique identity, including the Sandpiper Bay Homeowners Association, Ballantrae, The Anchorage, River Vista, etc. Sandpiper Bay is the area where the city of Port St. Lucie originated, although there had been previous development in the unincorporated area of River Park.
"The Sandpiper Bay area (Sandpiper) is defined as the area within the following boundaries: Beginning at the intersection of the East shoreline of the North fork of the St. Lucie River and Port St. Lucie Boulevard proceeding East along the South side of Port St. Lucie Boulevard to Delano Road and then South along both sides of Delano Road and Carthage Road across Howard Creek and continuing South along the West side of Giffen Avenue and Bakersfield Street to the Martin County line, thence South to the South boundary of the city, thence West along said South boundary to the North fork of the St. Lucie River and then North along the East shore of the said river to the point of beginning, all being and lying within the corporate limits of the city of Port St. Lucie, Florida."
Q. Who was St. Lucie (Santa Lucia)?
A. As recent visitor to Italy, Dr. Gary Weiner was reminded about St. Lucie County's, and therefore PSL's, namesake: Santa Lucia. He was visiting Collegiate College of Michele Arcangelo in the medieval village of Lucignano when he noticed a 17th century painting of the martyrdom of Santa Lucia of Syracuse by Giacinto Geminiani. He shared his discovery with the City Council, including the photo here.
Q. Where did Midway Road get its name?
A. Though it is a northern boundary of PSL, Midway Road was created in 1893 as the main street of White City, an unincorporated area of St. Lucie County. At the core of the World's Fair that year in Chicago was an area that quickly became known as the White City for its buildings with white stucco siding and its streets illuminated by electric lights. A major attraction of that fair was the Midway Plaisance, which housed exhibits, entertainment and rides. Thereafter, many other fairs called their areas of sideshows, games of chance or skill, or other amusements the "midway."
According to the Chicago Historical Society, some planners of the World's Columbian Exposition envisioned the Midway portion of the Fair as a lesson in ethnography and human development. The villages created in the Midway were supposed to provide visitors with glimpses of "primitive" cultures, in contrast with "civilization" as presented in the White City. Most visitors, however, went to the Midway not for its alleged anthropological insights, but for entertainment (including "Little Egypt") and shopping, enticed by the Ferris Wheel and other attractions and concessions.
Q. Where did the "wild" peacocks in PSL come from?
A. They are not technically "wild," but escapees from private homes and ranches. They were brought in as decorative pets before at least the 1980s. A woman who lived near what is now Veterans Parkway is believed to have raised them as a hobby. At one time, there were "Peacock Crossing" caution signs near Lyngate Park. Then-Police Chief Hank Schlesselman had declared them a traffic hazard. This followed his deciding not to "destroy them" after objections from the public. Around the same time, peacocks were known to visit the nearby town houses in Rivergreen Villas and peck on the sliding glass doors. They apparently saw their reflections as rivals.
Others were kept at ranches in the western part of the city, such as Becker's Ranch. I'm personally acquainted with these two PSL sites, but there may be others.
Singer Frances Langford, famous for her WWII tours with Bob Hope among other things, was known to have some on her estate on Indian River Drive in Jensen Beach. These, however, may not be the source of PSL's peacocks.
-- PSL Historical Society volunteer
Q. I noticed a neighborhood of small 1950s, 60s era homes, some in pristine (unmodified outside) condition, on SE Pruitt Road and SE Morningside. Can you give me some info on this neighborhood?
A. You're referring to the original part of the community known as Sandpiper Bay. It was built at the time the city was incorporated in 1961 by General Development Corp., which also built the nearby Country Club amd golf courses now owned by Club Med. While they were for sale, GDC also used the "villas" to house prospects to buy land and houses in the planned 80-square-mile city, almost all of which was wilderness, with some streets. They were also promoted as vacation homes that could be rented. Prospects were entertained at the hotel. There had been previous development on the north side of the city built by developers who morphed into GDC. Much of the original development in the north is now River Park, a community that chose not to incorporate into the city.
-- PSL Historical Society volunteer
Q. How did Port St. Lucie get its name?
A. According to the St. Lucie County web site, historians believe 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 in 1567 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.
So why is it called "Port" when there is no real port here? The first major community developed by General Development Corp, developers of Port St. Lucie, was Port Charlotte on the Gulf Coast in the 1950s. It became GDC's marketing plan to include "Port" in the names of all the large developments they had planned for Florida. Other developments of the company that filed for bankruptcy in 1991 included Port Malabar (now part of Palm Bay), Port St. John, Port LaBelle and North Port.
For a full explanation of this and a great deal more Port St. Lucie information, take a look at the history book the Port St. Lucie Historical Society published for the city's 50th anniversary, Port St. Lucie at 50: A City for All People.
-- stlucieco.gov & PSL Historical Society volunteer
Q. What is the history of the 20 acres of land that now house the city's Botanical Gardens? (Pt 2)
A. We're still studying the history of the riverside area west of Westmoreland Boulevard that includes the Botanical Gardens, the Anchorage and Ravello. Once a hunting ground for the Ais and other original inhabitants, its natural environment has been threatened by a number of factors, mostly man-made. Both government projects and private developers have encroached on the area.
A 10-acre site adjacent to this property is now being considered for public use, possibly including a history museum and other cultural and nature uses.
Before serious modern development began, a fishing camp occupied much of of the riverfront. A detailed and footnoted study of the Botanical Gardens property has recently been made available in the form of a series of researched reports by John Bolduc, Port St. Lucie's Police Chief, as part of a Public Planning and Growth Management Course he completed at Barry University.
-- PSL Historical Society volunteer
Q. Was there a particular hotel where the New York Mets typically used to stay during spring training during the early 1980s? For instance, do you know where owner Nelson Doubleday used to stay?
A. The hotel that many of the Mets players stayed at in the early 1980s was the Radisson on U.S. 1in Port St. Lucie (10120 S Federal Hwy). It is now a Holiday Inn. It had a beautiful pool with a high waterfall. I also recall other players stayed in short-term rentals in condos or townhouse communities.
Neither this information nor where Nelson Doubleday stayed is in our files. Doubleday would not likely have checked into the Radisson. He, had a large home on exclusive Jupiter Island, just south of here in southern Martin County, so that is probably where he was when on the Treasure Coast if the ownership goes back that far. If he stayed within the city, it logically would have been at the Sandpiper Bay Resort, but there is no evidence of this.
-- Recollection, PSL Historical Society volunteer
Q. My maiden name is Doat. Could tell me how Doat Street got its name? (Also street names in general)
A. When General Development Corp. was laying out the initial 80-square miles or so of the city, planners were faced with naming hundreds (thousands?) of streets, most only a few blocks long. A few were named after GDC employees or members of their families; however the majority came from a thick book of suggested street names published for just such purposes.
Q. Is there a time capsule buried at City Hall?
A. Yes, a time capsule is buried near the Police Department building on the City Hall campus. It was dedicated on Sept. 17, 1987, in commemoration of the Bicentennial of the United States. It is to be opened Sept. 17, 2037, after 50 years. Contents include a Bicentennial flag, histories of St. Lucie County and the Treasure Coast, a reproduction of the U.S. Constitution, a special edition of the Port St. Lucie Mirror weekly newspaper, three daily newspapers, a letter from the St. Lucie County Commission, pictures of the county commission and the City Council, a Mets cap, Coke bottle, reports from the Recreation Department (which arranged the time capsule) and play list from radio station WPSL.
The time capsule was moved to its current location in December 1990 when construction began on the new $5.8 million Police Department. The original location under a "Liberty Tree," collided with plans for the large retention pond that was part of the plans for the new building.
Another time capsule was buried on the grounds of the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens in April 2011, during the city's 50th anniversary celebrations.