BY WM. F. CRARY
Grover Cleveland was the 22nd president (1885-1889) and the 24th President (1893- 1897)
making him the only U.S. president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. This photo was taken in
1903, one of many years he wintered in Stuart.
A fondness for fishing and the townsfolk drew former President Grover Cleveland repeatedly to Stuart in the early 20th century
In those days the waters ran clear. We can only imagine the beauty and color of the St. Lucie River reflecting in Grover Cleveland’s eyes. The first time he saw it was in 1900, some 15 years before soldiers started digging the canal to Lake Okeechobee, which would muddy the cast of the river forever. A cornucopia of aquatic life teeming in the broad expanse between the river’s distant banks is something we must find in our mind’s eye.
It drew the ex-president of the United States to return to our shores time and time again. When the 63-year-old Cleveland discovered Stuart, it was the latter period of the town’s pioneer days and the final years of his life. Much about the area had changed already, since the first inhabitants settled some 18 years before. Hubert Bessey and his brother first sailed up to the point where the forks turn north and south in 1882. The Bessey brothers veered south and picked a spread of land to clear. Ernest and Otto Stypmann followed on their heels, as did other mostly German and English immigrants. Soon vast swaths of thickets and woods disappeared under budding pineapple fields.
After the railroad came in 1894, a hamlet took shape around a ramshackle line of buildings near the tracks. That’s where Stuart’s residents congregated for social reassurance. A few of them were present when Grover Cleveland emerged from his private railway car. The ex-president was surprised to see their village, and the locals must have been flabbergasted to see him, too…