The people behind the places
Communities on the Treasure Coast have been named after, from left, Col. Benjamin Pierce, the brother of a U.S. president; John Martin, a Florida governor; Homer Hine Stuart, an early settler; and St. Lucie, a third-century martyr.
Because of our intense interest in history, you’ve probably learned about the origins of the region’s geographic names from many of the stories that have appeared in this magazine over the last decade.
To start with, the name Treasure Coast is a relatively new invention that came into use only in the last half-century when promoters wisely realized that they could increase the region’s profile by referring to the riches that spilled onto our shores 300 years ago when a fleet of Spanish ships sank in a hurricane. Before Treasure Coast, the region was known as the Indian Riverland, named for the lagoon that runs through our three counties. The lagoon itself was originally named Rio de Ais, after the Ais Indians who lived in the region. Thus, the name evolved to Indian River.
The name Vero Beach is attributed to 19th-century settler Sarah Gifford, who suggested that her new home be named after the Latin meaning for “to speak the truth.’’ Coincidentally, the neighboring community of Gifford was named for her husband, Henry T. Gifford.
Fort Pierce was named for Col. Benjamin K. Pierce, who directed the construction of a fort on the Indian River in 1838 that was named in his honor. Pierce was also the brother of Franklin Pierce, our 14th president.
John Martin, Florida’s governor from 1925 to 1929, was the inspiration for the name Martin County. Its county seat, Stuart, was named for Homer Hine Stuart Jr., who donated land for an early railway stop. The neighboring community of Jensen Beach was named for John Laurence Jensen, an emigrant from Denmark who arrived in 1881 and set up a pineapple plantation.
Perhaps most perplexing of all is the origin of the name St. Lucie. A county, river, town, village and multiple streets on the Treasure Coast all carry the name. So how is it that all these places are named for a third-century saint?
As Rick Crary writes in “Our St. Lucie Connection” beginning on Page 24, it all goes back exactly 450 years ago when an expedition party for Gov. Pedro Mendez de Aviles set up an outpost in this region on the Dec. 13 feast day of St. Lucie, the patron saint of the blind.
The story prompted us to commission artist Anthony Bratina to paint the portrait of Lucie that appears on this issue’s cover and on Page 25. We asked Anthony to paint her as the Spanish explorers might have imagined her. For our portrait, Anthony drew from many of the classical portrayals of Lucie, who by some accounts had her eyes gouged out before she was executed. In our portrait and many others, her eyes are closed and, as the protector of sight, she is holding a torch. Also in our portrait, she is also holding a palm frond, both as symbol of of victory over evil and her connection by name to our region.
We hope you enjoy the painting and story as well as the many other features in this special issue that annually marks the start of “the season’’ on the Treasure Coast. Look for our next issue in January, when we’ll bring you the results of our annual Best of the Treasure Coast contest.