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?

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.
(Question asked by Andrew Marocco) 

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. 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.
The Spanish arrived and began their exploration on December 13, which was the holy day the Roman Catholic Church honored Santa Lucia. (see more about this below under "How did Port St. Lucie get its name?")
Lucia was a young Christian of Syracuse, Sicily, martyred around 304 for her faith by the Roman Proconsul Pascasius under the Emperor Diocletian. In art, the saint is often represented as a gentle damsel carrying a book, a shell and a small tray holding her own eyes. It is told that when the torturers gouged out of her eyes, these were immediately and miraculously restored by God. The Basilica of Saint Lucia at the Sepulcher in Syracuse, Sicily, contains a relic of the saint.
St. Lucy (sic) is the Patroness of St. Lucie Catholic Church in Port St. Lucie. For more about her, stlucie.cc/our-patroness-st-lucy
-- Dr. Gary Weiner and PSL Historical Society volunteer

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 inChicago 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 on the outside) condition. The neighborhood is located on SE Pruitt Road and SE Morningside Boulevard. Can you please give me some info on this neighborhood?

A. You're refering 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? (Part 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 recentlly 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 volunt

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 prob
ably 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