When I was 5 years old, my
family moved from a house
on 13th Street in Fort Pierce
to one along the Indian River, just
a few blocks south of downtown. It
wasn’t long before my siblings and
I began exploring the neighborhood
and came upon a site just about
a block south that we called the
It was a large stretch of land populated
with oaks and sabal palms
with a high mound of shell and a
freshwater stream that ran through
a culvert under Indian River Drive
and emptied into the Indian River.
There was also a derelict house on
the property that had once been the
home of fisherman Bill Summerlin.
That first visit began a lifelong fascination
about the history of the site.
The site of the original Fort Pierce is just a few blocks south of downtown.
St. Lucie County purchased the property, then 229 feet of
riverfront and 378 feet deep, in 1966 for $20,000.
And a lot of what I learned involved
clearing up misconceptions about it. As kids, for example, we
thought it was the site of a Seminole burial mound.
But archaeological research into the property, beginning with
St. Lucie County’s purchase of it for $20,000 from James L. Paxson
in 1966, confirmed that it was the site of the original Fort Pierce, a
U.S. Army installation built in 1838 during the Second Seminole
War. The fort was named after Col. Benjamin Pierce, brother of
President Franklin Pierce and a commander of troops in Florida
during that period.
The height of the mound and the panoramic view it gave of the
river — along with the freshwater spring — undoubtedly are the
reasons the Army made it the site of a military outpost. The fort’s
barracks and fences were built from palmetto logs, with the fence
running along the bluff of the river, making it difficult to attack
by water. But the fort was never involved in battles and was deactivated
in 1842. It was destroyed by fire in 1843.
INDIAN RIVER MAGAZINE
Because settlements along the Indian River came and went
after 1843, the historical connection as to the exact site of the old
fort was never confirmed until 1966 when a team from the history
department at Indian River Junior College and what was then
known as the State Board of Antiquities began excavating it. Soon after their findings, we more
often called the site the fort or the old fort instead of the Indian mound. My fascination with it
prompted me to build a replica for a high school history fair.
And it was perhaps not until I began this magazine 15 years ago that I learned that the Indians
associated with the mound were not the Seminoles — who arrived in Florida in the 1700s as bands
of the Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama — but instead were the native Ais, who began
inhabiting the region about 1000 B.C. until they became extinct from disease and slave raids about
1760. The Ais were attracted to the spot because of the freshwater stream, building the mound, or
midden, up for centuries through the shellfish they consumed at the site.
Thanks to my colleague at this magazine, Rick Crary, we now learn more about the history of
the fort and the time that William Tecumseh Sherman spent there on his first assignment out of the
U.S. Military Academy at West Point and nearly a quarter of a century before he would become a
famous Civil War general. Crary’s story begins on Page 20.
And in the interest of historical accuracy, I want to mention a word about the liberties we took
on our cover. It is a photo illustration that combines the
famous image of Sherman in the Civil War with a modern
photo of the old fort site facing the river. We would have
preferred to use an image of Sherman from the 1840s but it
would not work for what we were trying to achieve. I think
you get the picture.
Publisher & Editor
Assistant to the Publisher
Pattie Durham, Gaettane A. Paul
Susan Burgess, Donna Crary,
Rick Crary, Rachel Cuccurullo,
Wendy Dwyer, Kerry Firth,
Ellen Gillette, Janie Gould,
Mary Ann Koenig, Danielle Rose,
Anthony Westbury, Bernie Woodall
Photo illustration by
Rick Crary and
Robert Adams, Rob Downey
Rusty Durham, Anthony Inswasty,
MaryAnn Ketcham, Liz McKinley,
To Reach Our Office
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— Ed Drondoski, Founding Photographer
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Indian River Magazine is published by
the Indian River Media Group, a locally
owned company based at 308 Ave. A
in Fort Pierce, FL 34950. Indian River
magazine publishes five times a year:
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January, early March and early May. All
material contained herein is copyrighted
by the Indian River Media Group.
Digging the history of the
old Army site in Fort Pierce
A young Gregory Enns displays a
replica of Fort Pierce he constructed
for a high school history fair in
Signatures:Signatures 2/25/13 4:25 PM Page 1
Reach Publisher Gregory Enns at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 772.940.9005