Situated midway between Orlando and Miami, Martin County (named after a former Florida governor) sits at the crossroads of the Atlantic Ocean, Indian River, and St. Lucie River. The county has taken a strong stance for the environment. As a result, it remains a haven for those wanting to escape the "fast pace" of urban life.
Stuart is the county seat of this 560-square-mile county. The county also contains the communities of Stuart, Jensen Beach, Rio, Ocean Breeze Park, Port Salerno, Hobe Sound, Palm City, Indiantown, Port Mayaca, Sewall's Point, Hutchinson Island, and Jupiter Island. However, in keeping with it's environmental emphasis, 70 percent of the county is used for agricultural purposes.
Highest Per Capita Income
With a population of nearly 140,000, Martin County's per capita income is the highest in the state of Florida, while it ranks second behind Collier County in average annual adjusted gross incomes at $45,248; Collier County's is $47,628. In comparison, Indian River County ranks 5th in average adjusted gross income at $40,171 while the state's lowest average is $21,617. The average age of a Martin County residents is 47.
Environmentally Friendly Businesses Welcome
Martin county is pro growth; welcoming environmentally friendly businesses, especially light industrial or growth companies. It holds a "Blue Chip community designation" from the Florida Department of Commerce. In other words, the county has a growth management plan meeting state standards to attract business and industry to the area. Most of the local workforce is service-oriented, with the largest fields of employment secured from the hospital, school district, and county government. The marine industry, the fourth largest employer in the county, adds $112 million to the local economy every year and employs about 1200 workers in Martin County alone.
Agriculture remains a large part of Martin County, with about 55,000 acres planted in citrus.The county is part of the Indian River Citrus District, which is responsible for 75% of the grapefruit produced in Florida.
Although Martin County itself doesn't have one, a deep-sea port is located at Ft. Pierce in St. Lucie County. Witham Field, a general aviation Airport, accepts charter and private aircraft and is located next to Grumman Aircraft Corporation in Stuart. There's also the privately owned Indiantown Airport, and the Naked Lady Ranch--an aeroplex subdivision located in Palm City. Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach is a 40-50 minute commute to the south.
By water, you can chart your course to the Bahamas or Caribbean through the St. Lucie or Jupiter Inlets, New Jersey to Miami on the Intracoastal Waterway, or the Gulf of Mexico via the Okeechobee Waterway. Amtrak passenger train service is available in West Palm Beach. The Florida East Coast Railroad hauls freight, making more than 20 round-trips daily through the state. Trolley service is available in the Stuart area.
Stuart, known as the Sailfish Capital of the World, is the central location for most business activity and is the county seat. Stuart has a permanent population base of over 16,000 residents, which nearly doubles during winter. The county courthouse and county administrative center are situated within the heart of the city, as is Martin Memorial Medical Center, the school district offices, and the main branch of the public library. "Confusion Corner," which has been highlighted on national television several times, distinguishes newcomers from natives, as they try to navigate its seven intersecting streets.
The community has a strong preservation plan reflected in Stuart's Main Street program. Stuart's historic downtown has seen a rebirth in growth in the past decade, and employment has nearly tripled. The Lyric Theatre, undergoing continued renovation, offers a variety of events from film showings to stage presentations to weekly jazz evenings, and local storefronts continue to open.
Jensen Beach, a Shopper's Paradise
Jensen Beach also has an active Main Street program, which has restored its traditional downtown area. The community, with a population of about 17,000, is one of the county's largest retail centers in the area. Besides the Treasure Coast Square Mall, outlying parcels surrounding the mall and spinoff businesses have made it a "shopper's paradise."
Ocean Breeze Park and Rio
Nearby is Ocean Breeze Park, which incorporated in 1960--Florida's first mobile home park to do so. Also adjacent to Jensen Beach is an area known as Rio. Rio contains a blend of residences and small businesses, and is believed to have drawn its name from a mid-1500's Spanish settlement called Rio de Santa Lucia, which existed briefly along the Indian River.
Another community in Martin County is Port Salerno. Known for the Manatee Pocket and its proximity to the St. Lucie Inlet, Port Salerno is also known as a fishing village. Despite a 1995 law banning net fishing in certain waters, some commercial fisherman still make a living harvesting from the waters.
South of Port Salerno, Hobe Sound is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean, the 10,000 acre Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Interstate 95, and Osprey Street. To most long time residents, the community is reminiscent of coastal communities twenty years ago. Homes range from low-income single family residences to multi-million-dollar mansions. However, development, both residential and commercial, is continuing to unfold. As the area prospers, residents desire to have the best of both worlds--a small town atmosphere while remaining close to the cultural activities big cities offer.
A Secluded Refuge --Jupiter Island
Adjacent to Hobe Sound is Jupiter Island, one of four incorporated cities in Martin County. The ten-mile-long island is considered a secluded refuge for some of the most noted business leaders in industry and finance. It's northern border is the Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge and St. Lucie Inlet State Park, while its southern border is the Blowing Rocks Preserve. Jupiter Island is solely an enclave with high-end luxury homes, some of which extend from the intracoastal to the ocean. More than 600 residents live on the highly patrolled barrier island.
West of Hobe Sound lies Palm City. Though unincorporated, about 26,000 people call Palm City home. It covers not only older neighborhoods tucked along the South Fork of the St. Lucie River, but rural areas west of Florida's Turnpike, including newer developments along the town's main road, Martin Downs Boulevard. Palm City's unique location has spawned a burst of growth over the last decade, including an industrial park, schools, golf courses, churches, and other retail businesses.
Southwest of Palm City is Indiantown, abutting the Okeechobee Waterway and located at the junctions of State Road 76 and 710. The town, named for the Seminole Indian settlement which occupied the area in the early 1800's, is the heart of western Martin County.
Indiantown is a nature lover's delight. The Barley Barber Swamp is a 400 acre preserve, where eagles can be seen, and endangered, rare plants and animals thrive. It is located on the north side of Indiantown and is owned by Florida Power and Light Company, which charges no fee for entry. A hiking trail that connects to the Florida Trail is accessible west of town, about midway between Indiantown and Port Mayaca, on the south side of State Road 76. The historic two-story Seminole Inn on State Road 710 (Warfield Blvd) attracts overnight guests and diners looking for a tasty meal.
Sleeping Economic Giant
Although Indiantown may appear to some to be a "one road" town, it's really a sleeping economic giant. This agricultural and industrial community accounts for about 25 percent of all tax revenue in Martin County. And rail and interstate transportation, power generating capabilities, high volume gas transmission line, and turnpike promise tremendous economic possibilities for its future.
About ten miles west of Indiantown is Port Mayaca, where the Okeechobee Waterway connects to the lake via the Port Mayaca lock. The lock is just one of several between Stuart and the Gulf of Mexico, each helping adjust the water level for boaters jaunting between the lake and the St. Lucie canel. The town is home to the Cypress Lodge, a colonial style structure built in 1936. The community is located at the junction of State Road 76 and U.S. 441.
Several miles east, in the Port Mayaca Cemetary, you'll find a historic marker commemorating the 1928 mass burial site of Lake Okeechobee area hurricane victims. That year (prior to today's sophisticated weather forecasting), the area was devastated when a major storm hit the area without warning. Northeast of the junction you'll find a scenic park, allowing visitors a chance to view the canal and picnic.
Exclusive Sewall's Point
The incorporated city of Sewall's Point lies on a peninsula extending south from Jensen Beach, with the Indian River on the east and St. Lucie River on the west. The exclusive community, incorporated in 1957, has been entirely set aside as a bird sanctuary and is free from crosstown traffic. Most homes provide a water view--with many being waterfront--due to its location and demographics. The approximate 2100 residents can easily access Stuart or Hutchinson Island across causeways.
Hutchinson Island, a 28 mile barrier island extends from the Indian River/St. Lucie County line at the north end to the Stuart area on the south. It's separated by the Indian River Lagoon which runs parallel to the island. In both counties, you'll find plenty of free public beach access. Both counties purchased many of the long, expanses of beautiful beach in the 1980's with state funds and county bond money to preserve, protect and enjoy its amenities.
Sea Turtle Nesting Site
Hutchinson Island is one of the greatest nesting areas in the continental United States for endangered and threatened sea turtles. Sanctioned night walks guide visitors to nesting turtles. Nesting season is May to October. During that time, hundreds of thousands of turtle eggs will be buried in the sand by loggerhead, leatherback and green turtles.
In Martin County, the island can be reached by the Jensen Beach or Stuart Causeways. The island offers mostly high rise condominium developments, some single family dwellings and the exclusive community of Sailfish Point. Sailfish Point, an elite, secured community of high end homes offers a marina and golf course as a few of its amenities.
However, don't expect to see any high rises on Hutchinson Island, or anywhere else in Martin County. The county's building code only allows up to four story structures. (The exception is Martin Memorial Hospital, which was given a waiver when the structure was erected.)
Historic Refuge for Shipwrecked Sailors
The Elliott Museum, a showcase of Americana dating back to 1865, along with an extensive collection of antique automobiles, is located in Martin County at the island's south end. A stone's throw away is Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge; an historic shelter used by sailors shipwrecked off the coast. Also nearby is the 200-acre Marriott Hotel and Resort known fondly by longtime residents as Indian River Plantation which is host to many corporate conferences. The resort has its own golf course, tennis courts, marina, charter cruise boat, and more.
Smack in the middle of the island is Florida Power and Light's nuclear power plant with two reactors. Unit One began operating in 1976 and Unit Two in 1983. Each unit produces 839 megawatts of power. The plant employs about 700 people. Of course in the event of a hurricane, the island's residents are the first to be evacuated. To enable the approximate 5,000 residents to return, county officials have provided business owners and residents with special orange placards to be displayed in the car's rear view mirror. The placards, which are free, can be obtained at either the Martin or St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office.
Visit at Your Own Risk...
Visit once, and you may want to make Martin County your permanent or seasonal home. That's what happens to many Martin County visitors. Cultural and civic organizations flourish, with varied enough activities to suit most everyone's taste. The county's Council for the Arts coordinates the area's diverse events.
As sensitive as Martin County is to preserving its lifestyle, the same can be said for education. Consistently rated among the top five of 67 counties in Florida for academic excellence, Money Magazine declared Martin County one of its 100 best districts in the country, and all three of Martin County's public high schools rank in the top 1000 as rated by Newsweek Magazine. There are twelve elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools and two special schools. There are also many private schools who serve children from preschool through 12th grade. Indian River State College (IRSC) offers numerous degree programs and courses for professional advancement at its branch, the Chastain Center, in Stuart. Headquartered in Fort Pierce in St. Lucie County, IRSC is the state designated Vocational-Technical Center.
Roads and Bridges
Martin County is easily accessible from Interstate 95 with interchanges in Hobe Sound, Palm City (2), and Stuart as well as the Florida Turnpike. Through the county, main thoroughfares include U.S. Highway 1, State Road A1A, State Road 76, State Road 710, State Road 711, U.S. Highway 441, State Road 713 (Martin Downs Blvd), and State Road 714. A newer, wider six lane Roosevelt Bridge carries commuters over the St. Lucie River, and a newer, wider bridge carries traffic from downtown Jensen Beach to Hutchinson Island. Meanwhile, a second bridge linking Palm City to Stuart remains a work in progress. The span would connect 36th Street in Palm City (south of the Post Office) with Indian Street. If and when it is started, the project's completion remains at least five years away.