Even today, one of downtown Stuart’s biggest draws is the vista of the St. Lucie River. Inset, this 1950s postcard shows how the river and railroad determined
downtown Stuart’s layout.
Stuart grew up around the St. Lucie River but
it was shaped by the railway. A preliminary
plan to bring a government center to downtown
could be the latest chapter in its development
BY SANDRA THURLOW
hy does downtown Stuart look
the way it does? The short answer: so a
railroad could save money.
Of course there’s a long answer as well. To
explain that one, let’s go back to 1894 and take a
look at Stuart’s formative days, when the city, like
a newborn baby, was beginning to develop its character.
Stuart grew up alongside waterfront docks and Henry
Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. When the railroad
built a bridge across the St. Lucie River, it picked a spot
where two peninsulas made the job easier. Easier, naturally,
was also cheaper.
If the peninsulas had run due north and south, the bridge
would have aligned with the neat east-west, north-south
grid laid down by federal government surveyors, but money,
not neatness, drives railroads. And this one continued at the
angle it crossed the river, ignoring the government lines.
With the advent of automobile travel, the Dixie Highway
was constructed. It could have been built due north and
south, but a precedent had been set, so the highway was