The city of Vero Beach, like most Florida cities, spreads over the countryside so widely that, outside of its business center, it seems like a rural or semi-suburban community, with orange groves surrounding many of the residences. It stretches across the Indian River to the outlying key with a well-developed ocean beach and attractive ocean-front homes and hotels. The tourist industry is an important one here, as everywhere. Vero Beach boasts that it is the smallest city in the United States having regular air passenger transport and air mail service. It has a population of 3,200.
Among the winter colonists who have built beautiful and luxurious homes here on the beach front are many of America’s widely-known business and industrial leaders, constituting with their families and guests a fashionable nucleus comparable with Palm Beach. Worth the tourist’s while is a visit to the ocean front of Vero Beach if for no other reason than to see the unique beach club which Waldo Sexton has built of driftwood and planks hewn from old cypress logs. Mr. Sexton is also responsible for McKee Jungle Gardens, a few miles south of Vero Beach, where a natural jungle of eighty acres has been developed, by the addition of hundreds of varieties of tropical trees and plants and the importation of rare curios, to make one of the most interesting show places in Florida.
Passing through the attractive little resort town of Indrio, one comes to the city and seaport of Fort Pierce. We are here still in the Indian River citrus belt, but we are closer than we have been to the great citrus groves of the interior and to the broad agricultural truck garden tracts lying around Lake Okeechobee, with splendid highways leading from the interior to the sea at Fort Pierce.
Long an important railway shipping point for the products of groves and farms over a radius of 100 miles or so, and one of the most important centers of commercial fishery on the East Coast, Fort Pierce determined to become a full-sized seaport back in the 1920’s. With the aid of private capital subscribed and raised by local citizens, the inlet from the Atlantic to the Indian River, which had served as a channel for fishing boats, was enlarged and deepened. In February, 1930, the Port of Fort Pierce was opened to deep-water traffic, with the inauguration of regular steamship service to northern ports.
Proof that their enterprise had met a widespread demand came to the people of Fort Pierce when the pressure upon the port’s warehouse and dock facilities necessitated enlargement within two years. In 1933 the Federal government appropriated $250,000 to widen and deepen the channel from the sea and $50,000 a year for the maintenance of the channel and harbor at a depth of twenty-five feet. The port’s facilities include a huge refrigerating warehouse with a capacity for precooling the equivalent of 600 carloads of citrus fruit per week, and cold-storage for 200 carloads. Refrigerator ships make five regular departures a week from Fort Pierce to northern ports. Shipments by water of oranges and grapefruit alone, in the 1936-37 season, amounted to more than 100,000 tons, saving to the growers approximately $250,000 which otherwise they would have had to pay in railroad freights.
Lumber, from mills cutting pine forests in the nearby territory, green vegetables and food fish, largely Spanish mackerel and mullet, make up the major part of Fort Pierce’s outbound shipments, while inbound cargoes bring general merchandise from American ports, cement from Belgium, sugar-beet pulp from Denmark and oil and gasoline from Gulf of Mexico ports for storage in huge distribution tanks.
Fort Pierce, while not depending upon tourists and winter visitors for its major income, welcomes them gladly and provides for them facilities for recreation such as all Florida provides and which hardly need to be re-enumerated, with rather special emphasis upon deep-sea fishing. For yachtsmen passing through the intra-coastal waterway the city provides a municipally-owned yacht basin. One gets the impression that Fort Pierce is a trifle more interested in the prospective permanent settler, especially one who contemplates going into fruit growing or any other phase of agriculture.
We are getting down now into the semi-tropical part of Florida, where agriculture takes on some aspects unknown farther north in the state. This is the region in which pine apples were once a large and highly profitable crop. The first pineapples grown in Florida were on the shallow soil of the southern keys, which soon became exhausted. They were introduced there in 1860. In the 1870’s, after unsuccessful attempts to grow pineapples farther north, planters found that they would thrive between Vero and Stuart, and thousands of acres were planted, with Fort Pierce as the shipping point, when the Florida East Coast Railroad penetrated this region. For years the shipment of pineapples from May 15 to July 10 required a daily solid train of fifty to seventy freight cars, leaving Fort Pierce at eleven o’clock every night and carrying, in the short shipping season, as high as a million crates a year, representing a profit to the growers of from one dollar to three dollars a crate.