bell, telephone shelf or mail slot. Nightly rates at the inn in December start at $119; guest house rates start at $229.
The Clifton sits next door to a literary landmark known as the Lyons House. An 1890 Florida vernacular cottage, it once housed author and conservationist Ernest Lyons. The former Stuart News editor penned “My Florida” and “The Last Cracker Barrel” while living here. The house’s roots run deep into Stuart’s pioneer past. It served as the town’s first school and church, and witnessed its first wedding and first birth.
Around the corner, the Old Colorado Inn has ties to a character as colorful as its bright yellow facade. It was built as a hotel by John Coventry, whose son Frank fueled the local gossip mill. A Prohibition-era rum runner, Frank purportedly drove the getaway car for Florida’s notorious Ashley gang.
“He was later shot in a pool hall over a love interest,” Vitale says. “They held his funeral at the hotel.”
Even Stuart’s most recognizable landmark, the 1904 Owl House, is available for stays, with a three-night minimum requirement. Its sea captain builder designed the four-pointed gable roof to be hurricane resistant. The resulting roofline, forever frozen in a quizzical frown, stares out at the river as it has for more than a century. Inside, the beamed, angular ceilings and expansive windows feel more like Frank Lloyd Wright than the Victorian and farmhouse styles that dominated the Sunshine State in the early 1900s.
Vitale’s efforts to save local history have not gone unnoticed. He received Martin County’s Historic Preservationist of the Year Award for 2019.
Although Vitale’s venture started at an inauspicious time, he had the golden rule of real estate in his favor. All of his properties are located on scenic side streets near the St. Lucie River in downtown Stuart, a success story in its own right.
In the late 1980s, local citizens, with help from Andres Duany, the influential architect of Seaside renown, reinvigorated the town. Duany’s New Urbanist plan connected Stuart’s historic downtown with its scenic waterfront. The citizenry followed through on his ideas and today, the compact main street hums with activity. Laughter and conversation emanate from sidewalk cafes. Independently owned boutiques entice shoppers. The restored 1926 Lyric Theatre fills with audiences eager to see celebrated performers. People stroll along the Riverwalk past a pier, marina and parks, within view of the elegant Roosevelt Bridge.
At the same time, Stuart evokes an era of languid afternoons on the lanai: mai tai in hand, ceiling fan circling slowly overhead. Even in our overstimulated age, it’s easy to maintain that carefree state. Just stroll around the neighborhood. You quickly realize that this town carefully cultivates its peoplefriendly pace and scale.
Along Flagler Avenue, brightly colored canvas awnings shade shoppers from the sun. Benches invite weary husbands. A fountain, strategically placed in a traffic-calming roundabout, provides background music for diners in outdoor cafes. A crosswalk painted swimming pool blue alerts drivers and guides pedestrians. Balconies brim with fuchsia bougainvillea. Murals accent buildings, even those that face alleys. Further down Flagler, a former mercantile building, reimagined as the Stuart Heritage Museum, invites a deeper exploration into local history. Year-round on Sundays, you can peruse artisanal food at the Stuart Green Market, then picnic at a free Rockin’ Riverwalk concert.
Stuart is the seat of Martin County, a mecca for water recreation, with about 22 miles of coastline. Beaches are dotted with sea turtle nests and unusual rock formations. Those at Blowing Rocks Preserve and Bathtub Beach are especially notable.
The subtropical climate makes fall and winter ideal for the beach, as well as downtown events like Christmas on Main Street, Nov. 29; the Stuart Stroll, a communitywide street party, Dec. 5; and the Christmas Parade, Dec. 6.
Tourist season peaks around Easter, but spring breakers lean more toward families than Gen Z. If you can take the heat but not the crowds, book a summertime retreat at the Clifton Guest and Fishing Lodge, Lyons House or
Blue House; all share a pool.
Any time of year, you can always catch a breeze by the beach or river. In doing so, you follow the footsteps of accomplished Floridians. Whether led by love, literature or landmarks in need of rescue, all found a haven in this sunny city by the river.
Nancy Moreland is a freelance writer.
The Stuart Heritage Museum is in a 1901 building that operated as Stuart Feed Store until the late 1980s, when the city bought it. The museum is open seven days a week with free admission.
When the turn-of-the-century Clifton Guest and Fishing Lodge was slated for demolition, a local preservationist bought the property and barged it down the St. Lucie River to its current spot on Seminole Street.
Guests can kick back and relax on the porch of the Blue House, one of the accommodations at the Old Colorado Inn.