Mosquitoes, Movies and the Progressives that changed Vero

I recently read an interesting story written by the Vero Communique that got me thinking.  How did Vero Beach get it’s start?   What were the people like at that time?  Why is it called Indian River County?  So I thought I’d do a little research and share with you what I have found.


Vero was settled by early pioneers in the 1880’s, was chartered as a town in 1919 and became Vero Beach in 1925. Henry T. Gifford was one of Vero’s most notable early settlers. In 1887, he built a house which is now located near present-day City Hall. He operated a citrus grove business and established Vero’s first mercantile store, which also operated as a post office, express office and railroad ticket office. The name Vero is often attributed to his wife Sarah who suggested the settlement be named for its Latin meaning, “to speak the truth”.

Home of Henry Gifford

This is the home, store and post office of Henry T. Gifford. Recorded as built in 1887 this is the oldest building in Vero Beach and is still standing. Of course it’s seen some better days but it’s looks pretty good for a 131 year old. Sold in 2016 by Carl Sciara, REALTOR from Dale Sorensen Real Estate.

oldest-home-in-vero         Vero-beach-first-post-office

Historical Gifford Home photos courtesy of Carl Sciara, Dale Sorensen Real Estate – This is the oldest home in Vero Beach.  Recorded to have been built in 1887.  If the walls could talk, I’d love to hear all the stories they’d have to say.

vero map

Photo from collection at the Archive Center, Indian River County Main Library

There are a dozens of variations of stories about where the name “Vero” came from.  You can read some of these great ideas which have been published by the Indian River County Library in an articled called “Where did Vero Beach get its name?”.

Here’s when it all happened: 

Post Office Application • 29 September 1891
Vero Platted by Herman Zeuch • 1913-14
Vero Incorporated • 10 June 1919
Vero Changed to Vero Beach and incorporated • 19 May 1925
Indian River County formed • 30 June 1925
Official Flower approved: Hibiscus • 17 October 1967



It all had to do with mosquitos, “blue” laws and Governor John Martin.  Prior to 1925 what are now Indian River and Martin counties were part of St. Lucie County.  Fort Pierce was the main seat for the county.

At that time there was a lot of tension between the two counties on the control of the mosquito population.  During the land boom developers in the northern part of the then St. Lucie county thought that the mosquitoes would discourage potential purchasers from moving there.  They believed that a mosquito abatement district would stimulate economic growth.


Meanwhile, St. Lucie county’s “blue” laws caused a crisis and was one of the main catalysts for the break-up of St. Lucie county.  “Progressive” Veroites created an uproar in 1924 wanting to remove the town from the grasp of St. Lucie county politicians as the result of William Atkin’s new movie theatre in downtown Vero.  Mr. Atkin opened the “picture show” on a Sunday.

At that time St. Lucie County blue laws forbid the sale of any merchandise on a Sunday, as well as showing movies.  Although Mr. Atkins premiered the Sunday movie anyway despite warnings to stop.   Vocelle, Atkin and other community leaders worked vociferously to create a new county shortly after an aggressive raid by law enforcement at the Theatre where several employees were arrested, adding to the ever mounting tension.


Vero Beach Historical Theatre Plaza on 14th Avenue Downtown Vero BeachPhoto Credit: By Ebyabe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Mr. Patterson writes that: In Vero, Vocelle and Alex MacWilliam, a Scottish emigre and prominent businessman proposed that a bill calling for the creation of the state’s first mosquito control district should be introduced at the same time as the legislation authorizing the creation of a new county.  In May, 1925 Vocelle and MacWilliam led a trainload of one hundred supporters of the new county and the mosquito abatement district to Tallahassee.  After some resistance and a bit of negotiation the Governor agreed to the separations of the county.  The northern end would become Indian River County, the middle remained Saint Lucie County and the southern end became the new Martin County, named after Governor Martin which was something the businessmen knew would help the Governor with his decision to go forward.  The order was signed on June 30, 1925 forever changing the future of our area.

Governor Martin came to Vero Beach to celebrate the creation of the three counties at Mr. Atkin’s new movie theatre.

Florida Governor John Martin

Florida Governor John MartinPhoto Credit: Edwards / State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, via Wikimedia Commons

You can read more of the story written by Vero Communique’s blog here

I have learned after several years living in Vero Beach that this community is a great place to raise a family, full of kindhearted people, plenty of warm days and sunshine.  Vero Beach is slow to grow but this is by design.  Were surrounded by loads of ancient tall trees, very few tall buildings, plethora of cultural activities, it’s still free to park at the beach and of course a great history of people that have made a great impact on our town to make it what it is today.

Call me anytime to learn more about finding your own piece of paradise and becoming part of the charm that lives in Vero Beach.

Jennifer Bailey, REALTOR® e-PRO®
Dale Sorensen Real Estate • 772.559.5524
Vero Beach, Florida

Indian River County Library
Vero Communique
City of Vero Beach

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