Hutchinson Island History | Hutchinson, Stuart Florida
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Hutchinson Island History

From presidents to pirates, Stuart, FL has been home to both famous and infamous residents. Historically known as the "Treasure Coast," Spanish galleons once sailed along its calm shores, now frequented by resident golfers taking in the breathtaking views of the Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course.

A Rich History for Beautiful Florida Coast Island

The story of Hutchinson Island and the Stuart area is a colorful one—peaceful Native American tribes, rumrunners, farmers, pirates—all drawn to the area for its unparalleled beauty, abundant fishing, and exotic coastal living.

The waters along the coast of southeast Florida once served as a popular route for Spanish galleons returning from Mexico laden with treasure. While the shallower coastal waters were less dangerous than the open sea, peril lurked in the reefs along the Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties, also known as the Treasure Coast. The area earned its nickname after a Spanish treasure fleet sank here in 1715. That shipwreck and others that followed introduced explorers to the earliest known inhabitants of Hutchinson Island, the Native American Ais tribe.

Early Inhabitants

By the mid 1700s, disease, warfare and slavery had decimated the Ais tribe; so in 1811, the Spanish governor of Florida issued a land grant for the area to James Hutchinson, who moved to the small barrier island to escape raiding Seminoles. Unfortunately for Hutchinson, after whom the island is named, marauding pirates pillaged his island retreat, destroying both his crops and his lush plantation.

Elsewhere in the area, fishing and plantations flourished, and the Indian River soon became a highway for pineapples, lemons, fish, and other foodstuffs being shipped north.

Houses of Refuge

Even with plantations dotting the landscape, the Hutchinson Island area remained so sparsely inhabited that the federal government built a series of houses to provide shelter for shipwrecked sailors and weary travelers. In March 1876, Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge was completed on Hutchinson Island and staffed by members of what eventually came to be the U.S. Coast Guard. The home later served as a WWII lookout station for enemy attacks. Today Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge serves as a maritime museum.

Presidents and Rogues

Grover and Frances Cleveland first arrived in Stuart by private railroad car in 1900, following Cleveland’s second term as U.S. president. President Cleveland enjoyed fishing the waters of the St. Lucie River and earned the area its reputation as the “Fishing Ground of Presidents.” The Clevelands loved the area so much that they purchased waterfront property in Stuart where the City Hall now stands. Cleveland continued to fish Hutchinson Island waters until his death in 1908.

By 1915, the area of Hutchinson Island known as the Blue Lagoon of the Coral Strand (now Sailfish Point) was owned by brothers Bill and Ben McCoy. Bill secured a place in history when, after his trade of transporting tourists on the Indian River slumped in 1920, he became a rumrunner. Evading authorities during the Prohibition years, McCoy earned a reputation among his peers—even a grudging admiration among “revenuers”—as a man of his word. His seal on a barrel of rum meant it was genuine and of good quality. Some folks believe this to be the origin of the term “the Real McCoy.”

Modern Times

Hutchison Island golf course

In 1935, the McCoy family sold the Blue Lagoon of the Silver Strand to James Rand, Jr. of the Remington-Rand Corporation, an office products and typewriter company that later merged to become the Sperry-Rand Corporation. James Rand, Jr. began the development of the property, including the building of the retaining walls that form the current Sailfish Point Marina.

Upon his death in 1968, James Rand, Jr. left the property to his alma mater Harvard University, from which he had graduated in 1908. Harvard decided not to develop the property themselves, so they sold the property to Mobil Land Development. While Mobil was formulating their plans, they leased the property to a movie company and Sailfish Point was the site for the filming of Empire of the Ants, a science fiction movie starring Joan Collins that was released in 1977.

In the 1980s, Mobil Land Development opened the private community of Sailfish Point and set a high standard of quality that distinguished it from other area developments. Developers chose Jack Nicklaus to design one of his first courses here in 1981, and the resulting layout of 18 holes, stretching along the Indian River, the Atlantic Ocean, and inland lakes set new standards in golf course development and continues to delight golfers of all abilities. In 2008, the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf course was completely renovated by the Nicklaus team, retaining its original beauty while adding new challenges for members of Sailfish Point’s exclusive private golf community.

Today Sailfish Point is a vibrant community with 520 breathtaking homes and home sites, a stunning oceanfront property that enhances the natural beauty that has instinctively drawn discerning residents to this untamed coastline for hundreds of years.