With wonderful beaches, terrific weather, restaurants a plenty, and a vibrant downtown, Fort Pierce is an outstanding destination for any traveler. All that, coupled with lots of family and friends in the area, this two-week stay flew by with vigor. Seems like I had just arrived, and already I’ve departed and am now on the west coast in Fort Myers. Alas, it was a great visit, albeit perhaps too short.
Visits With Family & Friends
Any visit pretty much anywhere on the east coast would not be complete without family and friends visits. The time spent in Fort Pierce would be no different. My first weekend here, brothers Dave and Gerry, and sister-in-law Debbie came down to spend a long weekend at my brother Don’s house. We had some great meals, visited the Fort Pierce farmers market, and even went to a stand-up comedy show. Had lots of fun! The following weekend, my aunt Theresa and cousins Louise and Denise came up to check out the RV and for dinner. Brother Don came later for dinner also. It was great seeing them all again – especially my 93-year young aunt. She is amazing for her age, still getting around well (though a bit slower these days), but with a sharp mind seemingly better than my own. Truly special spending time with her, my God Mother. Lastly, on the day before I was scheduled to depart Fort Pierce, my brother Dick and sister-in-law Kathi flew down from NH to catch some warmth. So, before I left, we all got together including Kathi’s mom Rahrie for dinner at Archies. It was a nice final night in the area, and I enjoyed catching up with yet another brother here in Florida.
I also had the pleasure of catching up with a few friends – one that I’ve been seeing on a regular basis recently, while the other I’ve not seen in upwards of 30 years. My former boss Mary was wintering in nearby Stuart, so we got together for lunch and some afternoon sightseeing. She and I were together in her hometown of VA this past fall when I was traveling through on my way south. We had a nice afternoon, then called some former work mates to rag on them a bit about being retired and enjoying the nice warm weather. It was fun (sorry Nilou)! Later in the week, I caught up with a dear old friend who I’ve not seen in decades. Back in the day, her parents and my parents lived a couple doors from each other in Hollybrook, FL. When I was a kid and would come down to FL for a visit, Susan (the daughter of those neighboring folks) and I would often get together and hang out. One of the things we enjoyed doing was going to watch and bet on on a popular local sport called Jai-Alai in nearby Fort Lauderdale. I won’t bore you with what this sport is all about, you can Google that if you are interested. This is a local/legal gambling venue, and our deal would always be that whoever won the most money (or lost the least) would buy ice cream for the others at a nearby ice cream parlor. Well, for old time sakes, we traveled back to our youth by recreating the times from the past. We went to the afternoon matinee for Jai-Alai, watched and bet on a half dozen matches, then went to Jaxson’s Ice Cream for lunch and dessert. The day brought back lots of wonderful memories, and it was particularly enjoyable sharing those memories with Susan. Thanks for a terrific afternoon!
Sightseeing The Area
My brother Don and I spent the better part of a day visiting a few local museums. One in particular was the Elliott Museum on A1A in Stuart. The museum was founded and originally funded by Harmon Elliott, son of prolific inventor Sterling Elliott. Sterling held over 120 patents, and was known for inventing things to make other things or people work better. His day-to-day business was building bicycles and trotting sulkies. In his spare time, he invented the first knot tying machine, the low-wheeled sulky, the addressing machine and the ball bearing. Of greatest importance, he worked out the issues of unequal turning of the front wheels of a vehicle with his invention the steering knuckle – which later became a critical element of the success of the automobile. In addition to his actual works (bicycles, addressing machine, etc.), the museum also features an impressive collection of vintage automobiles and motorcycles, baseball memorabilia, and various pieces of Americana. It also showcases exhibits featuring some local Treasure Coast philanthropists including Frances Langford and Ralph Evinrude. The vintage car exhibit is particularly noteworthy as it has a custom built, multi-level car system not found in any other museum in the country. Over 50 vehicles are housed in this unique robotic racking system which retrieves vehicles on demand for display on a rotating turntable. I picked to have the iconic ’55 T-Bird retrieved and displayed on the turntable. Pretty cool! Also of note, and perhaps most relatable to my brothers, was the display of an old fashioned drug store, complete with shelves filled with old elixirs and other quackery medicinal products. It made me think about my youth and a strange product that we used to be given anytime we had any ailments. This stuff was called “Father Johns”, and upon closer inspection of the display, damned if there wasn’t a bottle of this stuff in the exhibit. Too funny! Lastly on display for our amusement was an original 2000 hole-punch voting machine, complete with a 2000 ballot made famous by the “hanging chad” controversy. Ah, the good old days!
We also took a tour of the Navy Seal Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) museum here in Fort Pierce located on N. Hutchinson Island. This was a very impressive place, with lots of indoor and outdoor exhibits, movies, and other educational kiosks to bring to light the many contributions made by the Navy Seals. This site was the former grounds of the Joint Army-Navy Experimental Training (JANET) facility – chartered with experimental training equipment and techniques for the breaching and removal of underwater obstacles (aka mines and bombs) for amphibious landings. It was a very cool museum, rich in history with many exhibits providing details of Seal involvement in many historical missions including killing OBL in Pakistan, crippling Noriega’s escape options in Panama, to the men with Green Faces in Vietnam. Many hours can be spent here learning about these specially trained men taking on some of the most daring and challenging missions.
Lastly, there were a few other places that I visited while here. One was the House of Refuge located on the southern part of Hutchinson Island in Stuart. This is the only remaining of 10 houses built in the late 1800’s as part of the US Life Saving Services (what is now known as the US Coast Guard). The mission was simple – provide food, water, clothing, rest and transportation to the survivors who were shipwrecked or caught in storms at sea, and landed stranded on the beach coast. Five houses were built in 1876, followed by 5 more in 1885, covering the east coast of Florida from St. Augustine to Miami Beach. This particular house was later transferred to the Coast Guard and became a watch station during WWI. Later, in 1942, its role was to watch for German U-Boats that would torpedo freighters along the Treasure Coast. Now, it remains with the Martin County Historical Society that has restored and kept the house in good order for all to see. One of the interesting elements in the house was art created with human hair (pictured right – top right). With all the down time, the keepers had to do something to keep busy. We also stopped by the FP&L Nuclear Power Plant located on S. Hutchinson Island. Sadly, their visitor center has been closed for remodeling, so we were not able to take a tour. Lastly, I’ve seen lots of lizard creatures wandering all around the area. They are harmless, and actually are good for bug control. One that I’d not seen before was this multi-colored guy seen here (pictured right – bottom left). It was very colorful, and much larger than the green and brown Anoles you usually see in the area. This colorful African Rainbow lizard is native to Africa, but a few small populations have become established in Florida, namely in Homestead, Hollywood, Palm City, Punta Gorda in South Florida, and Sanford in central Florida. All of these populations have become established at sites near reptile dealerships, and they are thought to represent escapees or animals that have been intentionally released. Nice to add a bit of color to the Florida lizard population!
I arrived in Fort Myers yesterday (March 6th), and will be here for the next four weeks. I’ve got a few aunts/uncles to visit here, otherwise I’ll be playing tourist. I’ve not spent any appreciable time on the west coast, and I’m looking forward to seeing and learning about this side of the state. This is home to the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford winter estates, as well as the winter home and training ground for the Boston Red Sox. Sadly, tickets are all but impossible to get, and even if you can, their price far exceeds what I would consider reasonable for a winter training game. I’ll also be checking out Sanibel Island, the Botanical Gardens in Naples, Cypress Preserve, and the River District. I’m having more fun and adventure then anyone should be allowed to have. Till next time – safe travels!