St. Lucie Historical Society, Inc.

“Memory believes knowing remembers.  Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.”                               

Light in August  - William Faulkner

MEMORY BELIEVES….  The Indian River

Fort Pierce, Florida, in the 1930’s and 40’s               

Charles R. Croghan, Jr.

    What we called the Indian River while we were growing up, we discovered in the late 1990’s, is not a river at all, but a lagoon.  A lagoon is “a body of water that separates the mainland from a barrier island and an ocean,” which is precisely what out river does.

    In the 30’s and 40’s, the River provided a livelihood for the professional fisherman and boaters.  The fisherman, with their nets and lines, seldom returned empty handed.  Sheepshead, snapper, pompano and river bass were in abundance.  Boaters sailed the River with local passengers and tourists.

    The banks of the River were lush with mangroves, sea grapes, salt busher, sea wort, and a multitude of tropical plants and shrubs.  The observant traveler could see an occasional alligator sunning itself and a variety of river birds—ibus, heron, egrets, and pelicans.  The River also served the private fisherman and boater as a source of recreation and pleasure.

    In the peaceful days of the early forties, prior to the United States entry into the Second World War, the River provided the young people of the town with many sources of amusement, including sailing, fishing, and boating.  Our boating on the River was done in a small yacht, Step Away, owned by the parents of one of our classmates.  In their boat, we took daylight and moonlight cruises, not only on the River, but on the ocean, as well.

    The moonlight cruses are the most memorable…the sky sparkled with stars, the phosphorescent waves gleamed in the moonlight, and the quiet waters foamed as the boats prow made its way through them.  During the day, porpoise, leaping and playing in the waters beside and before us, led the yacht into deeps unknown.  In season, we were treated to manatees feeding in the grasses of the River as they lumbered in the path of the boat.  Food song, and a little necking kept us busy.  We thought the world at large was like our little world.  We were wrong.  Already the goose-stepping soldiers of Hitler had invaded Poland and other parts of Europe, with still more mayhem to come. Our carefree days were over.  The winds of war were upon us, and their fury could not be stayed.

      Sports fisherman, commercial fisherman, and folks who needed fish for their next meal dropped their lines into the River from two wooden bridges.  Here, black and white stood side by side, full of hope for a good catch.  In the winter months, the bridges were crowded with tourists, as anxious as or more anxious than the locals to taste of the River largesse.  Their discovery of the River gave it the reputation for the best fishing on the East Coast.

      The Indian River Inlet led from the Ocean to the Port of Fort Pierce, which began serious shipping in the early thirties.  Located and dug just south of the natural inlet, its two jetties extended 400 feet into the ocean.  When it opened in 1921, supporters of the Port proclaimed, “the inlet will be a decided commercial value to Fort Pierce, as in a short time this will become not only a government harbor, but an important commercial port.” Although, in subsequent years, the Port shipped citrus and vegetables, the promises and predictions made by the supporters of the seaport did not come true.

    Mark Twain and William Faulkner have offered vivid, elegant, and engrossing accounts of the Mississippi River, but no one has characterized it so well as Oscar Hammerstein, II, who wrote, “Ole man River, he jus’ keeps rollin’ along.”  Our River, Indian River, also “keeps rollin’ along.”  The faces of the travelers change; and even the purity of the water and the sediment on the bottom change.  But boats still ply its waters; fishermen still fish its deeps; and, boaters still sail its traverse.  The River is diminished by man’s manipulation of it and is enhanced by nature’s beneficence.  We are lucky to have “the most diverse estuarine system in North America.” Over four thousand plants and animals inhabit its waters.

     The River as presented here may sound like too nice a place. I do, however, remember its treachery—the sudden squall, the changing currents, the cracked oyster shells on its bottom which bloodied my feet.  But all this pales in the presence of the River’s majesty when memory believes.

MEMORY BELIEVES…. Cracker House

Fort Pierce, Florida, in the 1930’s and 40’s                

Charles R. Croghan, Jr

    My Grandmother Croghan’s clapboard house, built in 1907, and lived in by her and her family until her death in 1939, faced South Fourth Street just south of the railroad crossing running east and west, and backed up to the north and south tracks behind the property.  The large Florida sand-covered yard, which Grandma broom-swept every day, harbored native trees and plants, as well as exotics (hibiscus, alamanda, and crepe myrtle).  Several mango trees produced the best fruit in town, which my sister and I sold in front of Grandma’s house for 104 a dozen. I’m not sure what distinguishing characteristics make a house a Cracker house. 

    Grandma’s house, built by Crackers at the turn of the 20th century (my grandparents came to Fort Pierce from DeLand in 1898) and lived in by Crackers until 1939, make such a designation not inappropriate. The house, raised on blocks, faced west and was entered from the Dade County pine-floored porch, from whose bead board ceiling hung a wooden slotted-back swing.  Opening the front door, you entered the parlor, which was perfectly square, with bead board walls and ceiling and hardwood uncarpeted floors embellished by occasional wool Axminster throw rugs, probably ordered from the Sears catalog.  South of the parlor and entered from it stretched a large long and narrow bedroom for the three boys in the family; to the west, in front of the boys’ room and entered from it, was the three girls’ room, not quite as large, but bright and airy.  East of the parlor, you entered a spacious, long and narrow dining room.  Off the dining room were the master bedroom and the kitchen.  The kitchen with its grand wood-burning stove, fireplace, sink with running water, as well as hand pump, and large ice box, welcomed householder and visitor, alike.  To reach the bathroom, you went outside to the back porch, where enclosed were a commode, a lavatory, and a porcelain bathtub with iron claw feet.  A shower (cold water only) held forth on the open porch.

      My sister and I were fascinated by the house and loved to go there, which we did every Sunday after Sunday School.  My grandmother always had two small sacks of goodies to give us.  Each sack contained cookies, a number of chocolate kisses, and 10¢.  We missed her and the house, when, in 1939, she died. Grandma was buried in the Fort Pierce Cemetery beside her husband William, who died in 1923.  A marble monument marks the two graves.  The house was sold, moved to Parkway Drive near the present day (2003) Garden Club and renovated.  The house is still there, but has lost its charm, the clapboard siding having been stuccoed and its Cracker-house shape violated.

MEMORY BELIEVES…. The Depot

Fort Pierce, Florida, in the 1930’s and 40’s               

Charles R. Croghan, Jr

    The railroad tracks ran north and south through Fort Pierce, bisecting the town at 2nd and 3rd Streets. The small yellow clapboard building at the foot of Boston Avenue between South Second Street and South Depot Drive housed the Ticket Agent’s counter, the passengers’ Waiting Rooms, (White and Colored) and a freight office, the Railway Express, which received and dispensed freight.   In the 30s and 40s, both passenger and freight trains were beholden to Henry Flagler’s Florida East coast Railway tracks as they moved between St. Augustine and Key West. Freight and passenger cars, though they were smaller, differed little from those in use today.

    The passenger car locomotive pulled both Coach and Pullman cars. Named for their inventor, George Mortimer Pullman, Pullman cars were sleeping cars, which first      appeared during the Civil War in 1864. They provided seating space for passengers during the day, which at night converted into beds. Upper berths, closed during the day, at night were pulled out from above the seating space, made up and ready to sleep in.

    A Pullman porter (always a Negro) dressed in a white jacket, black cap, black trousers, and black shoes, arranged the sleeping accommodations. I was six-years-old when I took my first trip in a Pullman car as I traveled to West Virginia for my maternal grandmother's funeral.  My sister and I had the upper berth.  So excited were we that we slept hardly at all.

    Many years later, when I was a senior in high school, I took my   second train trip—this time with Coach accommodation and for a much shorter distance—Fort Pierce to Miami, about 125 miles.

    The year was 1943; the month, June; the occasion, a high school graduation trip. The traditional journey by car was not possible during the war years when gasoline was rationed, so the rite of passage had to be carried out by train. Eight high school seniors—four young men and four young women—knew their days together were numbered. Graduation and Grad Night on June 4th would be their last time together. Shortly thereafter, the young men would leave to take on their roles as soldiers, sailors, or marines in the Second World War.

MEMORY BELIEVES…. The Yellow Brick School

Fort Pierce, Florida, in the 1930’s and 40’s         

Charles R. Croghan, Jr.

    In the Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum wrote about the Yellow Brick Road; anyone who grew up in Fort Pierce in the 1930’s and 40’s could write about the Yellow Brick School..  My stay there began in Mrs. Thomas’ first grade class in the eastern most of the yellow brick buildings located on Delaware Avenue.  We entered the classroom from the inner courtyard, although there were entrances to each room from the street side.  Large, airy, paned windows opened onto the street, and transformed windows opened onto the courtyard.  No ceiling fans or air conditioners cooled the room, and one radiator warmed it on cold winter days. Joined desks were attached to the hardwood floors and lined up in five rows of six, with ample spaces between the rows.  Blackboards filled the three walls without windows.  The teacher’s desk sat in the front of the classroom.  In the foyer outside the room were coat boards with black hooks screwed into them and rest rooms whose doors were marked “BOYS” and “GIRLS.” An outside colonnade connected all the classrooms.

    The school bell, located in the tower of the easternmost building, rang every day at 8 P.M. and 3 P.M., signaling the beginning and the end of the school day.  At five minutes past eight, tardy bells rang, roll was called, and instruction began.  The curriculum consisted of the 3 r’s—reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic.  We read from graded readers, learned the Palmer method of penmanship, and studied appropriate arithmetic concepts in numbers.

    We memorized the multiplication tables through twelve, learned long division and multiplication, and, of course, how to add and subtract.  We memorized poems, read aloud a lot, and learned the meanings of words and how to spell them by memorizing lists.  We were given very few rules for spelling, through we did learn the “i-e” rule:

i before e except after c,

or when sounded as a

as in neighbor and weigh.

    Art and music, history and geography completed the curriculum.  Something called Health, (personal hygiene, nutrition, and physical exercise) was also taught. During Recess, we played games appropriate to our age group and did calisthenics.  At noontime, we ate together at long tables with benches in the Lunchroom.  “Bought” lunches (five for a dollar) consisted of hot soup, a meat sandwich (fish, bologna, spiced ham) on white or whole wheat bread, milk (sometimes chocolate), and fruit in season.  “Brought” lunches included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a piece of fruit, and several cookies or a piece of cake, and a bought beverage.  Those who lived close enough to the school went home for lunch.  By three o’clock, school was out, and crowds of children ran joyously home to complete their homework and house chores and then go out to play.

    Of course no Negroes attended the Delaware Avenue School; their school was Lincoln Park Academy in Colored Town.  When we were kids, we knew the colored in one way only.  They were servants: maids, nannies, cooks, and washerwomen; butlers, chauffeurs, yardmen, and field hands.  We sometimes played with the children of Negroes whom they brought with them to work or who lived in the servants’ quarters with them.  My memory is that only Negroes who worked on large farms lived on the white folks’ premises, though there were some live-in maids.  Town Negroes lived in Colored Town in the Fort Pierce city limits.  Here they stayed, except when they came to work or shop in white town.  In 7th grade, students began to shift rooms and teachers for various subjects.  We followed one of two tracks: the track which completed secondary education or the college prep track.  In 9th grade, I began the college prep track, which followed the traditional Latin School curriculum: four years of English, Math (algebra through trig), history and social studies, art and music, and physical education; two years of a lab science and a foreign language (usually Latin). 

    The Class of ’43 was a wartime class.  From December 1941, until our graduation in June 1943, all monies allotted us by the school and which we earned from class-sponsored dances and bake sales were spent to purchase war bonds or in some way contribute to the war effort.  We volunteered to serve as airplane spotters and pooled our gas resources.  We saved our sugar coupons and returned them to the government, which we hoped, used the sugar saved for the men and women in the Armed Forces.  College for most male graduates was delayed in favor of enlistment in the Armed Services or employment in defense plants making goods for the war effort. 

           What we learned outside the classroom, we learned about from the walls in the school’s rest rooms: the four-letter words and their derivatives; the four steps to successful intercourse; the dangers of venereal diseases; and the use of condoms as deterrents to pregnancy and disease; and the names and addresses of girls who would and guys that did.  In spite of the warnings on the rest room walls, there were a number of intimate couples and one-night stands.  We all knew about the eighth-grader who would.  She soon became pregnant.  We were not surprised.  Everybody knew the father (or the guy who boasted that he was).  He came from a good family.  His encounter was, undoubtedly consensual, since “nice” boys don’t rape; and he was a nice boy—handsome, smart, and popular.  His life continued much as it had before the pregnancy.  As the time for the delivery drew near, the girl dropped out of school.  We never saw her again and soon forgot her.

    All efforts on the part of the authorities to “clean up” the rest rooms proved futile.  Perhaps it was a good thing.  For some of us, the information gotten there was our only source of enlightenment about sex.  So, in retrospect, we may say that the Yellow Brick School provided us with partial solutions to the two great mysteries of life: knowledge of human arts and sciences and knowledge of our sexuality.

 Fort Pierce High School Alumni

  St. Lucie Historical Society, Inc. Homepage

Saint Lucie County FLGenWeb Project Homepage