ST. LUCIE COUNTY REGIONAL HISTORY CENTER
About 50 feet of land separates the river, left, from the ocean shortly before the dredge broke through the final barrier at about 8 p.m., May 8, 1921.
inlet was notoriously unreliable; it shoaled badly after storms
and often was plugged up with sand and silt. Boats often had
to be dragged over land, sometimes requiring tree trunks to
be used as rollers. Finally, by the early years of the 20th century,
it closed up for good.
EARLY ATTEMPTS FAILED
As long ago as the 1890s there had been attempts at improving
the inlet. Sporadic dredging had taken place, but
storms inevitably quickly closed the gap.
Local commercial fishermen began to look for an alternative.
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at digging a new
inlet on North Hutchinson Island, attention turned to south
of the city.
In 1913, fish house owner Richard Whyte organized an
expedition to Mud Creek, at a point immediately north of
where the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant sits.
Whyte shipped mules and scrapers on barges down the river.
At first, his efforts looked promising. The mules were able
to cut a channel through to the ocean, but a storm quickly
washed all the excavated material back into the new cut.
Worse yet, a group of bears then living on the almost uninhabited
island got into the mule’s corral and stampeded the
terrified beasts all over the island.
All work ceased and never occurred at that site again, despite
at least one attempt to try again a few years later.
ASSOCIATION LOBBIED ENDLESSLY
Meanwhile, efforts to cut a new inlet in roughly the same
position as the current day channel began to crystallize. The
Indian River Inlet Association formed around a group of local
businessmen, including hardware store owner and mosquito
control pioneer, Will Fee.
From about 1916 onward, the group generated voluminous
correspondence and studies of the feasibility of cutting a new
inlet immediately east of Fort Pierce.
In February 1916, they agreed to survey land in the area of
Tucker’s Cove, just west of the present Inlet State Park.
Cost estimates ranged from $13,950 for a 100-foot-wide and
5-foot-deep channel to $5,550 for a 30-foot-wide version. The
U.S. War Department expressed interest in the project but insisted
on the posting of a $20,000 bond to pay for any damage
to navigation on the Indian River. This additional burden put
the project on hold for another two years.
By 1918, the clamor for a viable inlet was mounting. During
the 1919 Florida Legislative session, state Rep. Richard Whyte
enacted a bill allowing the inlet district to levy taxes to excavate
and maintain a new inlet.
Revised cost estimates for a channel and jetties projecting
into the ocean had soared to $76,500.
In March 1919, Tucker sold the inlet district commission a
400-foot strip of land through which the new channel would
A public vote authorized an $80,000 bond issue to cover
construction costs. Shortly afterward, the Seaboard Dredging
Co. began work.
DIGGING REPORTS PUBLISHED
The inlet digging was keenly followed by the public
through the pages of the Fort Pierce News Tribune. By May
1920, the paper excitedly reported the dredge was within 50
feet of breaking through to the ocean. Work would stop while >>
FORT PIERCE INLET AT 100