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Old St. Anastasia Catholic School | Photo © 2014 www.abandonedfl.com

Old St. Anastasia Catholic School

Location Class:
Built: 1914 | Abandoned: 1978
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (August 10, 2000)
Status: AbandonedUnder Renovation
Photojournalist: David Bulit

St. Anastasia Parish

Although it had been organized just three years earlier, in 1914 the small Roman Catholic parish of St. Anastasia decided to build an impressive parochial school to serve the children of the approximately thirty Catholic families in Fort Pierce and others residing between Titusville and Vero Beach. Although the 1900 census recorded no Catholics in Fort Pierce, by 1906 there were 26 families in the area. Father Michael J. Curley, the pastor of St. Peter’s in DeLand—150 miles northwest of Fort Pierce—made bi-monthly visits to the community to celebrate mass. Ceremonies were held in the town hall and the homes of the worshipers.

One of the persons in Fort Pierce attending services was a winter visitor named James “Sunny Jim” P. McNichol, a Philadelphia building contractor, state senator, and owner of the W .J. McNichol Brothers firm. In 1908, McNichol purchased a city block of land near the western limits of Fort Pierce and paid for the construction of a wooden church. Three years later, he paid $5,000 for the construction of a rectory, and in 1914 provided $6,000 to build a school and convent. The parish was named St. Anastasia in honor of McNichol’s deceased first wife.

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James P. McNichol. Geni.com

The first pastor of the church was Father Rupert Gabriel. Gabriel was born in Gall, Switzerland on April 3, 1868. He was schooled in the Order of St. Benedict at St. Meinrad Academy in Indiana. He was ordained in 1894 at St. Boniface in New Orleans and took his vows in 1897, at which time he was assigned to St. Augustine in Florida.

During his pastorate in Fort Pierce, St. Anastasia changed from a missionary outpost to a nuclear parish serving a 4,400 square mile area that reached from Titusville, approximately 60 miles to the north, to Lake Okeechobee, about 50 miles to the southwest. In 1910, Father Gabriel counted 93 Catholics in Fort Pierce, including 34 children. When the Old St. Anastasia Catholic School was completed in 1914, it had no teachers or students and stood empty for its first five years.

An old photo of the  church. The old schoolhouse can be seen behind it.
An old photo of the church. The old schoolhouse can be seen behind it.

Architecture of the Old St. Anastasia Catholic School

On August 10, 2000, the Old St. Anastasia Catholic School was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Its architecture is described as such; “The rectangular plan, gable-roofed structure rests on a poured concrete foundation and half-basement (crypt) constructed of rusticated concrete block. The exterior walls of the upper stories are surfaced in buff-colored patterned brick. The gable roof is supported by exposed wood brackets and is covered with asphalt shingles. Originally the roof was sheathed in clay tile—more appropriate to its style—but this was replaced with its present roofing material at an unknown date.

The main (south) facade features a raised entrance portico that stands atop a high-rusticated concrete block stoop or platform. The deck is accessed by a pair of concrete steps that flank the portico and the second-floor arcaded gallery. The flanking steps that parallel the facade wall are bounded at the front of the portico by rusticated block balustrade walls that are attached to paneled pedestals at grade. Rising from the pedestals is a molded concrete handrail that visually continues through the column bases and balustrade wall of the portico itself. Metal handrails are attached to the wall of the building at the rear of the steps.

The entablature of the one-bay portico is supported by paneled piers at the front and pilasters at the facade wall. The plain entablature, with its low pediment, is actually a parapet, which is surmounted by a decorative crenelated cresting. Standing atop a small pedestal above the peak of the faux-pediment is a small Latin cross. In the center of the base of the portico is a segmental-arched entranceway to the one-bay, recessed porch that provides access to the ground floor of the building—what historically would have been the crypt of Early Christian churches.

The fenestration of the second story of the main facade of the building consists of two pairs of 1/1-light double-hung wood sash windows that flank the portico. Each pair is united by continuous concrete hood molding. The fenestration of the third story also features paired wood sash windows with hood moldings but the windows are 6/6-light and feature 3-light transoms.

The main entranceway to the school features double doors set in a molded doorframe that features a large transom light above the door. The transom has been covered over. Above the doorframe, rising to the ceiling of the portico is a shallow rectangular niche, an original feature whose purpose is decorative rather than structural. The major vertical divisions of the building are defined by a concrete water table at grade and molded concrete belt courses between the three stories.

The fenestration of the second and third stories of the side elevations of the building—except for the rear stair-hall extension—repeat the window types found on the main facade. There are seven window bays on each story; however, one of the third-floor window bays on the east elevation incorporates an emergency exit door that leads to a metal frame fire escape that descends along the elevation wall toward the rear of the building.

There are eight window bays—including those in the rear extension—along the rusticated basement walls of the side elevations of the former school. These are set in low segmental arches whose heavy voussoirs are reminiscent of the shape of the hood moldings of the windows of the upper stories.

There are no windows on the second story of the side elevations of the rear or stair-hall extension of the building. On the third story, however, is a single tripartite arched window on each side elevation. Three more windows of similar design are found on the rear wall of the third story (Photos 8-9), and a single example is found in the center of the rear wall on the second story. Like the portico, the stair-hall extension has a flat roof with a decorative crenelated parapet. At ground level at the rear of the building, is a rectangular doorway giving access to the basement and a transverse hallway containing a single stairway leading to the upper floors.

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The St. Anastasia Catholic School, Church, and Rectory. c. 1914

Merging of Schools

In 1919, the public school on Delaware Street burned, and the parish lent the county the use of its school building rent-free for the next six years. The original wooden church was torn down in 1923, and the school was used for religious services. A new church was built on the Catholic lot in 1925. In the fall of 1926, three Dominican nuns arrived from the motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan.

The order had been invited to the St. Augustine Diocese by Bishop Patrick Barry in 1923 when a parochial school was initiated at St. Ann’s in West Palm Beach. Fifty-two children were registered in September 1926 for the first classes, grades one through eight, and in November, the enrollment increased by 25%. The school became the central part of church life.

At the start of 1927, the church had a debt of $48,000. In 1929, Father Gabriel retired because of poor health and was replaced by his assistant, Pastor Michael Beerhalter, who guided the church and school through the difficult period of the Great Depression. In 1930, there were 53 pupils attending St. Anastasia Catholic School. In 1932, a ninth grade was added to the school, and in 1936, the first high school class was graduated. Tuition was three dollars a month during the 1930s, but the church absorbed the cost of children whose parents could not pay.


With financial help from Mother Gerad Barry, sister of Bishop Barry and Superior of the Adrian Dominicans, a black school, Blessed St. Martin’s was established in the African-American section of Fort Pierce. She made a $5,000 donation. Two nuns were assigned as teachers at St. Martin’s. The Catholic Church was the only white church in town permitting “colored people” to attend.

At first, there was a separate bench in the back of the sanctuary reserved for blacks. It was marked by a sign on the wall that read, “For Colored.” Assistant Pastor Michael Beerhalter, a foe of racial segregation, had the sign removed, but the only Negro Catholic family in town at the time continued to sit there out of force of habit. St. Martin’s remained open from the 1930s to 1962 when it was integrated with St. Anastasia, a courageous move at the time.

Decline of St. Anastasia Parish

In the 1950s, there were about 400 families in the parish. School enrollment in 1951 was 201. The growing population of the parish required planning for a new facility. George Guetller, a wealthy parishioner, offered 20 acres located at Orange Avenue and 33rd Street for the construction of a new school. The Diocese of Miami was created on October 7, 1958, and included Fort Pierce. In that year, the parish had 700 families. The elementary school had an enrollment of 700 students and the high school had 120. A new church school auditorium was opened on April 29, 1960, at the new 33rd Street location, and elementary school students were moved there.

The high school remained at the 1914 facility until the fall of 1965 when the remainder of the students were moved to the new St. Anastasia High School (later renamed the John H. Carroll High School). The 1914 building was leased to the local CETA program for several years, and in 1978, the Miami Diocese sold the property for $120,000. The church that had also stood on the city block occupied by the school was demolished in 1984. The old rectory and convent buildings have also been razed. New facilities were constructed on property near the high school.

The Old. St. Anastasia Catholic School building. date unknown


After sustaining heavy damages from Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, the building was in a state of disrepair. In 2008, REG Architects and Summit Construction of Vero Beach LLC were hired for the structural rehabilitation of the building. They found that the building was originally constructed with no vertical reinforcing and that the roof, which had portions of it blown off during the hurricanes, was simply sitting atop the masonry walls.

The old roofing was replaced with a new barrel tile and recreated the look of the 1914 soffit and fascia system with aluminum profiles. The existing steel trusses were reinforced with the addition of new steel trusses, and the roof was tied down to the three-floor elevations and ground below with a series of concrete helical piers. On August 10, 2000, the school was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. In August 2014, new windows were installed to celebrate 100 years since the Old St. Anastasia Catholic School was established.

The Lindsay School of the Arts in October 2019 signed a $10-a-year, 20-year lease with the city to renovate the former St. Anastasia Catholic School to then offer their performing and fine arts programs. With the help of the architect Don Bergman, and General Contractor Charlie McEntee, lights were added to the property. In July 2020, the Lindsey School of Arts received the official design plans. You can find more about the restoration of the Old St. Anastasia Catholic School on their website.

Photo Gallery


National Register of Historic Places. August 10, 2000. Old St. Anastasia Catholic School


David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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