FLORIDA – Main Street Fort Pierce in St. Lucie County has been named the September 2023 Florida Main Street Program of the Month by Secretary of State Cord Byrd
Fort Pierce is one of the earliest established American communities on Florida’s southeast coast.
“It is my honor to acknowledge Main Street Fort Pierce as the Florida Main Street Program of the Month,” said Byrd.
“Having been a part of the Florida Main Street program for 35 years, Main Street Fort Pierce continues to set a wonderful standard not only for communities in the southeast region but for communities across the state.”
According to the Florida Department of State, Native Americans who belonged to the Ais civilization were the first people to live in the region around Fort Pierce. There is proof of these Native Americans at Old Fort Park, which is north of the city center.
The city’s name is derived from the Army post established in 1838 on the location of the Ais settlement north of the city. Benjamin Kendrick Pierce, a career United States Army officer and the brother of President Franklin Pierce, had the military installation bear his name.
Following the completion of Henry Flagler’s railway in 1894, the city became the center of trade for the Treasure Coast. The principal industries were fishing, livestock, pineapples, vegetables, and citrus.
In 1901, Fort Pierce received formal city status.
The southern part of the state saw growth from tourism and development as well as a thriving arts and cultural scene as a result of Flagler’s railroad. Famous artists who were born and reared in this area include Alfred Hair, A.E. “Beanie” Backus, and the Florida Highwaymen, a small group of Black American painters.
Fort Pierce is also the final resting place of renowned writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston.
Fort Pierce, a multicultural community with a population of around 48,000, is situated next to the Atlantic Ocean on the Indian River. By 1980, with the advent of mall shopping, the historic theatre and shops in downtown Fort Pierce had closed.
By using the National Main Street Four-Point Approach to revitalize its historic downtown, Fort Pierce was designated as a Florida Main Street city in 1988.
Thousands of people have attended events held on Main Street Fort Pierce since it was designated, and it has grown into a thriving downtown business incubator.
The 1923 Old City Hall structure and the 1895 Platts/Backus House, which currently houses the offices of Main Street Fort Pierce, both underwent successful restoration efforts.
The historic Sunrise Theatre’s refurbishment was perhaps the most important project. The Sunrise Theatre, which opened in 1923 and was the biggest theater in the region, was formerly a vaudeville theater that was later converted into a movie theater.
The theatre was saved from bankruptcy during the Great Depression by Fort Pierce citizen and co-founder of Crayola Crayons Edwin Binney, but it soon fell into ruin. The theatre was renovated after the building was bought by Main Street Fort Pierce in 1997, and the whole site was finally acquired in 1999.
To enable the theater’s reopening in January 2006, the project attracted approximately $13 million in grants and private contributions, including funds from the Florida Division of Historical Resources.
The theater was given to the City of Fort Pierce by Main Street Fort Pierce, and it is now run by them.
“I have spent the last 32 years with Main Street Fort Pierce and have loved every minute of being involved with our city’s redevelopment,” said Main Street Fort Pierce Executive Director Doris Tillman.
“Downtown Fort Pierce is a natural environment where you can hop off a boat, go into a top art gallery, see a performance, and have a delicious meal. Our downtown works well together, and it shows.”
For more information on the Main Street Fort Pierce Organization, visit MainStreetFortPierce.org.
To learn more about the Florida Main Street program, visit FloridaMainStreet.com.