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History of Hutchinson Island in Martin County Florida

ILooking south in the direction of today’s St Lucie Inlet. Former home of Hiram and Hattie Olds, 1907, Hutchinson Island, in what became Martin County, Fl. Courtesy Agnes Tietig Parlin, achieves Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Deanna Wintercorn “Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History.”


Early aerial image of Hutchinson Island.

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House of Refuge pre-1940   Wreck of the Georges Valentine 1904 at Gilbert's Bar off Hutchinson Island in current Martin County

HOR 4.jpg

Hutchinson Island is a barrier island on the East coast of Florida, bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, the west by the Indian River, the south by the St. Lucie Inlet and the north by the Fort Pierce inlet.  The northern two-thirds of the island is in St. Lucie County and the southern third, or 2.5 miles, of the island is in Martin County.

"Georgia-born James Hutchinson was a Spanish Land grantee, who on Aug. 23, 1803, received from Spanish Governor of East Florida Enrique White, 2,000 acres of mainland property on the Indian River.

Hutchinson would eventually settle on the bestowed land.

However, having to endure problems with Indians, he requested that the grant be changed to the barrier island, which was granted April 13, 1807, to be proclaimed and known as Hutchinson's Island. In so doing, he gave up all rights to the acreage on the mainland.

The family did indeed move there, but then faced other problems with passing ships and pirates, so in September 1808, James visited Governor White in St. Augustine to discuss the situation. Returning by ship, he was tragically drowned in a violent storm.

The family returned to Georgia, retaining ownership of the barrier island, but attempted through the years to settle the uninhabited region with no real success.

The U.S. acquired Florida from Spain and the Hutchinson land grant was acknowledged by Congress in 1827, with a survey completed June 14, 1845. By about 1900, descendant Edward B. 'Ned' Hutchinson had made a permanent home in that remote wilderness of Hutchinson Island, where he had a bean farm.

During the first few decades of the 20th century, other settlers in the region living on the mainland would also grow beans on that island, a few even setting up beehives for honey production. Access was by boat.

On Jan. 17, 1924, construction began on a one and an eighth-mile long bridge in Jensen, located a half mile north of the business district. The wooden bridge, spanning the Indian River, was completed in May 1926, being just wide enough for two cars to pass alongside each other.

A hand-operated hung span draw, situated at the deepest point in the river, permitted boat travel up and down the waterway. The bridge would provide easy access to the island, fostering a growing attraction to ocean beaches, especially with visitors and tourists.

However, with only a minimal population, the island lacked such modern conveniences as phone and electrical service. The land from the Fort Pierce to St. Lucie inlets was one of the last undeveloped sections of ocean frontage along southeast Florida.  By mid-1953, Florida Power & Light Co. had laid marine power cable 1.2 miles across the Indian River to Hutchinson Island and then installed 18 power poles eight-tenths mile across that island to the beaches. FPL officially turned on 13,000 volts of electricity at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 1953 to that northern beach area of Martin County.

Stuart's bridges to the sea would not be built until 1957, with ground being broken for the first condo complex, Little Ocean Place, years later on June 12, 1968."

Today Hutchinson Island in Martin County is home to over 10,000 full and part-time residents, nine public beach access points, two resort hotels, the Elliott Museum, the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center and the House of Refuge, the oldest structure in Martin County and the last of ten such houses built in 1876 along Florida’s east coast by the U.S. Life-Saving Service as a haven for shipwrecked sailors.

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