The Makings of Martin County and “The Land That Would Become Newfield”

Before Martin County became a beloved place countless Floridians call “home,” it inspired visionaries who recognized the land’s potential while valuing its natural habitat.

Founded on May 30, 1925, Martin County – named for John W. Martin, Governor of Florida from 1925 to 1929 – is centrally located on Florida’s Treasure Coast, linking its southern neighbor of Palm Beach County with St. Lucie County to the north. Today, Martin County is home to over 50 cities and towns, miles of beautiful beaches and more than 77 parks, including Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge and the St. Lucie Inlet, which is one of the most bio-diverse lagoon ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere [source: Discover Martin].

Martin County has long been admired for its charming small towns, including Port Salerno, Stuart, Palm City, Jensen Beach, Indiantown, Jupiter Island, Hobe Sound, Sewall’s Point, Rio and Hutchinson Island. Today, locals and visitors alike enjoy the area for its variety of recreation and lifestyle offerings, from high-end shopping, restaurants and art galleries to rodeos, eco-friendly ocean and wildlife adventures, and museums such as House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar – the oldest structure in Martin County and the only remaining House of Refuge in Florida (listed on the National Register of Historic Places).

Among the many elements drawing new residents to Martin County, however, are its land and real estate opportunities. Located just 45 minutes from West Palm Beach and roughly an hour and a half from Fort Lauderdale, Martin County has become a beacon of hope for home buyers of all ages seeking a beautiful, neighborly, and nature-filled place to call home in South Florida – at a reasonable price.

That’s where Martin County towns like Newfield—Palm City’s highly anticipated, master-planned community—are changing the game.

Originally owned by the Kiplinger family for nearly 40 years, the land upon which Newfield is being built consists of 3,400 acres of native fauna and flora, with everything from lush wetlands and pine forests to cattle pastures and fertile farmland. Upon visiting his family’s land in 1986, economic journalist Knight Kiplinger knew the property was too special to convert into a suburban sprawl, so he conceived a different plan: a compact, walkable town center that would leave 70% in open green space – think woods, trails, parks, playing fields and village greens – for natural habitat and public recreation.

Kiplinger’s family had been patient investors in Martin County land since the early 1950s – just a few years before Florida would experience its first period of major growth. In 1958, General Development Corporation acquired 40,000 acres of land along the north fork of the St. Lucie River. Approximately 10% of it in was situated in Martin County, including a huge piece of property between the Turnpike and I-95. This would eventually become the Kiplinger family’s land.

Knight’s late grandfather, W. M. Kiplinger – also an economic journalist and publisher – would cruise around Stuart and rural Martin and St. Lucie counties while vacationing at his historic Bay Tree Lodge on Sewall’s Point, examining raw land that would be a good long-term investment. The land acquired by the Kiplinger family eventually became public beaches, the future site of Florida Power and Light’s St. Lucie nuclear power plant, Joe’s Point, Treasure Coast Square Mall, and the Stuart News campus (currently the county superintendent’s offices).

Additionally, hundreds of acres the Kiplinger family bought in the 1950s (between Kanner Highway and the St. Lucie River south of Stuart) became the sites of Riverland home park, the South River, Whitemarsh Reserve, Banyan Bay communities, and the Indigo apartments. By sale and donation to the county, the land gave way to the popular Kiplinger Nature Preserve situated next to the Veterans Memorial Bridge. Knight’s grandfather also donated land he owned on East Ocean Boulevard to be the sites of the Woman’s Club of Stuart and the first Martin County Library.

By 1979, the Kiplingers had acquired more than 700 acres of GDC land directly adjoining the west side of the Florida Turnpike, across from the land that would soon become Martin Downs. Eventually, the family came to own 3,875 acres of GDC’s longtime Martin County holdings, including the future site of Newfield.

Today, one of the most special parts of this open space – nearly 1,000 acres of wild country in the far northwest corner of Newfield – has been named the Kiplinger Conservancy, which is home to KC Trails, a vast network of trails for hiking and horseback riding. Kiplinger Conservancy is larger than Martin County’s largest public park, the 600-acre Halpatiokee (Seminole for “alligator waters”), which is located on the South Fork of the St. Lucie River along the Florida Turnpike.

Newfield’s town center, as well as surrounding neighborhoods, will be built on the small portion of the Kiplingers’ land that had already been “developed” for modern agriculture more than seven decades ago under previous owners. This flat farmland – a hundred acres of which will remain under cultivation as Newfield Farm – was the perfect place to site Newfield, enabling the surrounding woods and fields to remain in their natural state.

Much of Newfield’s 70% open space was only lightly touched over recent decades via cattle grazing and smart forest management. It was, and remains today, an Old Florida wilderness of wet and dry prairies, native slash pines, sabal (“cabbage”) palms, saw palmetto and small hammocks with a few live oak trees. Soon, Newfield’s Kiplinger Conservancy will become the official home of Martin County’s first-ever gopher tortoise preserve.

Today, the community is among the most buzzed-about developments in Martin County. Phase 1 of Newfield will include the community’s first village, which will serve as the town center and include approximately 1,250 residential units, along with retail, restaurants, small-scale offices, recreational amenities, and ten miles of trails. Newfield is designed to promote walkability and community connection, giving it an intimate village feel while encouraging physical activity.

Once complete, Newfield will bring 4,000 new homes to Martin County.