In 1958 General Development Corporation (GDC) purchased the River Park property located just outside the northern border of the soon to be city of Port St. Lucie (and the adjoining 40,000 acres which on April 27,1961, became the city). General Development Corp. was a subsidiary of the Mackle Company. The three Mackle brothers, Frank, Elliott and Robert, created and developed eight other planned communities in Florida. Their budget of $50 million to develop a new community on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River created quite a reaction...the great land rush for Port St. Lucie was on!
Full page magazine ads enticed northern retirees. They could purchase an 80 by 125 foot lot for $10 down and $10 a month. Homes would sell from just under $9,000 up to $15, 000. Local ranchers began selling pasture land to speculators
The first big tract was sold by Lawrence Becker. He sold 6,000 acres of land for $1.3 million. That was $225 per acre, for land he had purchased at $6 an acre. Then the Mackles bought another 10,875 acres from the Helmly family west of U.S. 1. Over the next 25 years GDC purchased land from several other pioneer families, including the Carlton, Mattson, Sharett and Peacock's.
Marketing wasn't simply full page colored ads. Next to the GCD sales office at Prima Vista and U.S. 1 (in River Park) stood a building the company designed to look like a Mississippi River showboat. Prospective buyers had to pass through the showboat before they could see any of the GDC homes. Salesmen dressed in turn of the century gamblers costumes greeted customers. As many as 300 contracts were signed in a day! At Grand Central Station in New York a model home landscaped with Florida sand and pretty girls dressed in swimsuits lured many purchasers from that location.
Until 1959, when GDC opened a bridge over the Saint Lucie River, folks, who lived on the dirt road Prima Vista, would sit at the end of that road and wonder if they would ever be able to cross without a row boat. Once the bridge was built, plans for 200 more homes east of Floresta Blvd. and south of Prima Vista Blvd. began. The next year a recreational park was opened on North Port Island, including a Yacht Club and Marina.
By February of 1961, 250 homes were built in the area of the developing city. When GDC asked the state legislature to incorporate the 70 miles of uninhabited land into Port St. Lucie they purposely omitted the developed lands. To include them would have required approval by the residents that already lived there, which wasn't likely.
With the passage of House Bill No. 953, introduced by State Representative Rupert Smith and signed by Florida Governor Bryant Farris, on April 27, 1961, Port St. Lucie became a city; a city without residents. The hundreds of River Park residents in the 1,000 acre development rejected incorporation, and remain to this day as part of unincorporated St. Lucie County.
The Mackles left GDC in 1962 to form the Deltona Corporation, another Florida development giant. The following decades reflect the impact of their vision. The population of the City of Port St. Lucie in 1970 was 330. In 1980 the city's population was more than 17,000, by 1996 it had climbed to 73,000-plus and by 2007 it had reached 160,000.
We can only hope that in the next decades, as we continue to grow our city, that we try and preserve much of the beauty of the river, the quiet of the western backwoods, the fish, birds and plants that appealed to Gardner Cowles.