Fort Pierce: The 'Sunrise City' of Florida and Zora Neale Hurston

Fort Pierce: The 'Sunrise City' of Florida and Zora Neale Hurston

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Feb. 24 2022, Published 5:56 p.m. ET

Nearly two hours south of Orlando and north of Miami is the colorful, culture-rich city of Fort Pierce, Florida – home of great fishing, cool waters, and prized pillars of Black history by way of legendary figures: Zora Neale Hurston and the Florida Highwaymen. Through the lens of St. Lucie County the “Sunrise City” is a port city charm on Hutchinson Island and an intimate lifestyle the natives refer to as the “Fort life”.

Dining, local goods, and port culture unfold in the historic downtown district. Fresh-brewed aromas from Old Florida Coffee Co. shop are the best part of waking up. And Saturdays make magic at the farmer’s market on the Fort Pierce City Marina – the last great fishing resort. Jam-packed with spices and herbs, fresh fruits and vegetables, pickled goods, paella and hot foods, and fresh baked goods [to die for] like homemade apple cider doughnuts.

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Where to Eat

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Eating local is a way of life down to the restaurant scene. Pickled is a direct reflection with its rotating menu including smoked salmon crostini, charcuterie, and signature white cheddar grits among high-top wooden tables set the scene below stringed bulb lights.

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Chuck’s Seafood Restaurant sits on the water for seaside dining with their famous fried shrimp. Kinfolk Southern Eats & Treats serves comfort food classics starring smothered pork chops, fried chicken, and lemon pound cake. The inner-city D Avenue intersection bursts with island cuisines; Haitian foods, Jamaican curries, jerks, and roti.

What to Do

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Art fills the air from the streets and back roads to the parks and public attractions. The halls are decked with details down to the bus stops, where traditional seating is subbed for hand-designed mosaic benches by artists like Anita Prentice.

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Yet its best story is that of Zora Neale Hurston and the Florida Highwaymen.

Zora Neale Hurston was an author, activist, teacher, and filmmaker. A prolific writer and figure of the Harlem Renaissance, she spent the last decade of her life in Fort Pierce.

While many narratives point to the acclaimed author’s dismay, Zora Neale Hurston is a local treasure of Fort Pierce, where her true story is much different and shared with sweet sentiments along the Dust Tracks Trail.

“When you are loved, you are rich.” – Marjorie Harrell

Zora’s wealth in legacy is spread throughout Fort Pierce with her namesake.

Her gravesite is gifted year-round with admirers, aspiring writers, and her beloved sisters of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. who respectfully clean her tombstone twice a month. A bed of flowers, fine spirits, even symbolic red beans and rice can be found at Zora’s final bedside.

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Her grandest heirloom is the Zora Neale Hurston Florida Education Foundation house. The building, once a Black-only nursing home, has a replica room exhibit and important documents.

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Her home is a historic reserve in close proximity of Lincoln Park Academy, the school she once taught English to students like Marjorie Harrell, a “Zora-head” that fights to preserve and expand her former teacher’s name. The Zora Neale Hurston Branch Library is donned with portraits, paintings, and literary works of Hurston.

The Highwaymen Heritage Trail drives through the journey of the Florida Highwaymen – a group of 26 Black artists that resulted in selling their paintings roadside out the trunks of cars. With eight original members the Highwaymen today are listed in the Florida Hall of Fame and their art on display at the Florida Governor’s Mansion and the White House.

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The most notable display of their work comes alive at the A.E. Backus Museum. Named after Albert Ernest Backus – a 20th-century painter, liberal, and mentor to a lot of the original Highwaymen, many natives refer to him as “Beanie”.

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Where to Stay

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Hutchinson Island Plaza Hotel and Suites offers waterfront accommodations in a relaxing tropical-inspired setting. Just walking distance of the downtown district and the mega boat-yacht port, the hotel is a cozy, convenient, comfort lodge ideal for guests.

Their Royal Palm suites are equipped with balconies and have the best view in the city. The landscape includes a pool, hot tub, sunset deck, all-day fishing pier, and private inlet beach to allow your feet to touch the sands.

Free Wi-Fi and cable, daily breakfast, and boat slip rental make the best stay Fort Pierce has to offer.

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“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.” – And Fort Pierce is a must-hear, must-see, must-feel story.

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