100 historical years and counting

Janie Gould
Janie Gould

Indian River Magazine is proud to present this special issue marking Vero Beach’s centennial celebration, which begins this month and continues through October 2019.

In these pages, we take readers back to the beginning of Vero Beach, when the town was known as Vero, a sparsely populated and swampy outpost on the northern end of St. Lucie County. We recount how the Indian River Farms Co. acquired 50,000 acres and launched a massive reclamation project early in the 20th century that made the land suitable for vegetable farming and later, for citrus. Farmers were enticed to buy a few acres of newly drained land and take advantage of a balmy climate that held out the promise of three crops a year.

Agriculture became the backbone of its economy, but small businesses, fishing, tourism and home construction soon allowed Vero Beach to diversify and its population to grow.

We trace the impact World War II had on the city. Thousands of Navy and Marine Corps pilots trained at the U.S. Naval Air Station at the Vero Beach airport, and many settled in the area after the war.

The postwar baby boom brought more growth and created the need for more schools, which sprouted up in the 1950s.

Those baby boomers, like myself, are mostly retired and many still live in Vero Beach or have moved back after careers elsewhere.

Returning residents find a community that has changed in some ways, but in other ways is still the hometown they remember.

The banyan trees that lined 20th Street between 20th and 27th avenues are gone, but the adjacent McAnsh Park neighborhood with its spider web of streets that converge at Troy Moody Park is unchanged. The booming downtown and the beach business district retain their small-town charm, and some shop owners have welcomed customers in the same location for decades. The beachfront is mostly unaffected by the high-rise mania of other coastal counties. Vero Beach officials and others have worked hard to control population density and prevent urban sprawl.

As a child growing up in Vero in the 1950s and ’60s, I remember riding bikes everywhere and summers were spent in the water. I still remember the first time I floated face-down in the ocean.

The Red Cross set up stations on the beach where kids of varying abilities were taught to swim. I never thought I’d learn to float, but one summer day, when the water was at its calmest and clearest, I held my breath, put my head down and conquered my fear of the water.

The pool at the Windswept Hotel on the beach offered more advanced aquatic adventures with its high diving board that seemed to soar above the ground. I jumped but never tried to dive. The pool was emptied and filled every week with saltwater pumped from the ocean. Occasionally, a crab or small shark ended up in the pool, sending swimmers scattering to safety.

Water held other fascinations, too. There was a drainage ditch between our home and our neighbors, and when it filled up after a storm, my friends and I would have a contest to see who could collect the most tadpoles. I’m not sure how we counted them, though.

Whenever I hear a crunch as I walk over pine needles at a park or preserve, I am reminded of the vacant lots in neighborhoods being developed in mid-century. Kids built tree houses and forts in the woods and climbed trees, and nobody chased us away. It really was a simpler time.

Newcomers have discovered Vero Beach, too, which has produced an interesting mix of people, many of whom have quickly become involved in civic affairs. The city’s Vero 100 Centennial Committee brings together longtime and new residents, all enthusiastic about Vero Beach and its storied history.

When Allen Osteen and Gregory Enns founded Indian River Magazine 12 years ago, they decided that local history would be a key feature of their publication. Nearly every issue includes a story on Treasure Coast history. And throughout the centennial celebration, Indian River Magazine will continue to feature stories on Vero Beach history in each issue through October 2019. If you aren’t already a subscriber, just visit www.indianriverstore.com or fill out and mail in a subscription card found inside this issue.

We hope you’ll participate in many of the centennial celebrations listed in our calendar beginning on Page 112. Enjoy this special issue celebrating the history of Vero Beach.

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