August 7, 2020
Fort Pierce is located between Vero Beach and Stuart on Florida's east coast. It straddles the Indian River Lagoon with neighborhoods on the mainland, on the lagoon, and on the Atlantic Ocean barrier island.
Although I most recently visited Fort Pierce in early December 2019, I always have flashbacks to earlier times before the town changed so much. In many ways it has changed for the better.
It is now referred to as the "Sunrise City", sister city to the "Sunset City", San Francisco. It's a creative stretch but shows that this small city of 42,0000 has its heart in the right place.
My first visit was in 1961 as a sailor on the Navy destroyer USS Myles C. Fox.
As I recall, the wife of our captain - Wyatt E. Harper - was the daughter of the mayor of Fort Pierce and arranged to bring the ship into the port of Fort Pierce as part of a celebration toward the end of the year.
We tied up right across from Simonsen's Restaurant, a popular place that no longer exists.
It was a typical little Florida town back then with a lot of citrus packing plants and port warehouse facilities.
The town had been an amphibious training center for the Navy back in World War Two and the beach side neighborhoods still had numerous rows of old barracks that had been turned into motels and vacation rental cottages.
The downtown area was dominated by an old wooden building, Cobb's General Store, that still stands today.
I visited again in 1969 as a young engineer working on the foundation design for the new nuclear power plant on Hutchinson Island.
There was almost no development back then on the 18 mile long barrier island between Fort Pierce Inlet and St. Lucie Inlet at Stuart. The mosquitoes were so bad that nobody wanted to live on the ocean.
I stayed for several weeks in one of the motels converted from World War Two barracks. I think it was named the Shamrock.
A great restaurant in those days was across the street from the Coast Guard station on the inlet. I think its name was Tropical Acres, and Tony the bartender was a master at magic tricks.
Another favorite restaurant was Simonsen's on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway at the foot of the bridge.
The electric power plant for the area was downtown and its heated water from its cooling tower discharged into the Indian River and was a favorite spot for manatee watching during the winter months.
The electric plant is now gone, but the downtown area has been revitalized through the creation of a historic district and enjoys many neat shops and restaurants.
The centerpiece of downtown is a newly renovated city marina with state of the art docks and breakwaters created from artificial islands.
This was recently completed as part of a waterfront restoration project that has converted downtown into a delightful waterfront recreation and leisure attraction.
The open park area around the marina is called Marina Square and is home to a Farmer's Market that is held every Saturday from 8am until noon, rain or shine.
Fort Pierce is a town that has provided a lot of public spaces for its citizens and it has a very comfortable feel to it.
Two of many historic buildings that still grace the city are the Boston House and the P.P. Cobb General Store and Delicatessen. The former was built in 1909 and the latter in 1896.
Both are still serving the community.
The Boston House, also known as Cresthaven, is now a law office. It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Cobb's is a retail operation and deli that features a huge selection of beers from around the world. It is a popular place also for a full breakfast and lunch.
The beach neighborhoods are newer than downtown. The old Navy barracks are long gone and many new condominiums and houses enjoy the ocean and lagoon views.
The entire county enjoys Fort Pierce Inlet and its cool waterfront restaurants and the beautiful Fort Pierce Inlet State Park on the north side of the inlet.