Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL -

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.

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