Imagine setting eyes on the surrounding lands of the beautiful St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, in virgin form, the year 1883. You are a surveyor, and your job is to create a map, a map showing the topography of the area. It’s a jungle, the insects are singing, animal life is everywhere, there are even remnants of the Seminole Indians that appear and disappear cutting back the palmettos so they can see you. There is venison, bear and many kinds of delicious fish. But there are also seven foot rattle snakes and mosquitoes in the saw grass ponds that will cover your face and make you jump in the river! Nonetheless, this Eden is a place of beauty.
How did I come upon this survey? Surveyor, Mr. Chappy Young, GCY Inc. of Palm City, has known my family for many years and recently sent me a copy of this original hand written part of the 1883 topographical survey completed by Chief B.H. Colonna and his men. What an incredible thing to read, a first hand account of this area from over 120 years ago! It is a treasure.
I will choose some highlights to quote and some I will summarize. My excerpts come off a bit choppy but the accounts are still incredible.
The twelve page report is hand written in cursive and documents the “East Coast of Florida from Eden Post Office, or Richards, southward, to Peck’s Lake, including the St Lucie River.”
“On the west shore of the Indian River the ground rises from five to eighty feet above the level of ordinary height of the water in Indian River, the higher ridges give quite a pretty landfall when seen from four or five miles off shore, quite outcropping the land, and found between Indian River and the ocean.”
Colonna talks of standing on the highest point of the west side of the Indian River, “Blue Hill,” and “looking westward to see a number of parallel ridges of sand, with intervening saw grass ponds;” he describes the yellowish-white Conchina sands and the roads as marine conglomerates.
“The vegetation is thick,” he writes, and “the many hammocks rise above the flatlands recognized by their palmettos (sable palms), mastics, rubber trees, live oaks, iron wood and crab-wood along with a great variety of other trees.”
The St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon are filled with life. He describes a great number of coots and ducks on the rivers; as well as quail, partridge, and wild turkeys in the surrounding woods, and many small birds, just about everywhere, daring about. The waters are filled with luxuriant eel grass the favorite food of the manatee which also is abundant.
He talks of giant sawgrass with blades in the ponds and fresh waters three to ten feet long and very sharp. And further west soft, sweet, moist grasses attracting deer.
You can image, Chief Colonna was camping for many months, maybe years with his team; so he was able to document watching river waters rise 2-3 feet during rainy season, and the lands being inches deep/sometimes feet deep, in water…
In 1883, the year this survey was taken, the inlet, Gilbert’s Bar, next to today’s Sailfish Point, was closed. He explains, mentioning fish on the reef that I have never heard of…
“The old Gilbert’s Bar entrance, now closed, is shown on the sheet. Whenever the salt and fresh waters meet, the mangrove flourishes and such has been the case at Gilbert’s Bar. Once fine oysters grew there and all kinds of fish belonging in these waters were abundant, but sine the inlet closed the oysters have died and the fish are gone except a few bass and catfish. Just outside and along the old Gilbert’s Bar, (Conchina Reef). There are lots of fish, Barracuda, Pompins, Blue fish, Cavallis, Green Turtles, Mullet, Sea Bass, and a beautiful fish, much resembling our spanish mackerel, but it has more beautiful colors and is very tame. Trolling there I have seen them take the hook and bound 5-10 feet clear of the water. I had thought the blue-fish game, and the taking of the fins for sport, but one of these beauties far exceeds anything I ever saw for pluck, rapidity of motion and beauty of form and color…”
According to Colonna, the “House of Refuge was the best dwelling on the sheet,” and “Dr Baker’s house (in today’s Indialucie) was the only place that looked like a home.” This is interesting to me because I grew up there. His account of my former playground:
“In this area the rattle snakes are the largest I have ever seen being from 6-7 feet” but there are not many; alligators are no longer numerous and have become shy; but raccoons and opossums are so thick it is impossible to raise fowl; “wild cats are 4′ 6″ from tip to tip,” and Black Bears come in June across the lands to comb the beaches for turtle eggs…”
I think I would have had fun living in the area in 1883, but I would have worn boots for sure!
And now the grand finale. On the final page of the handwritten piece, Chief Surveyor, Colonna proclaims:
“The prettiest land on the sheet is the peninsula laying between the St Lucie River and Indian River, from Mount Pleasant south, to the the point. It is high hammock land with Cochina foundation and covered by a heavy growth of Hard Wood and underbrush with now and then a pine. This country had quite a population in it once, just before the Seminole outbreak and for a times after it, the settles had oranges, lemons, and limes, some of the old trees are sill to be found in the vicinity of Eden P.O. and the limes are very fine but the oranges are bitter and the lemons not bearing..”
(Mount Pleasant is Francis Langford’s former high river property.)
So congratulations to Sewall’s Point, the “prettiest” piece of land surveyed in 1883 and still known for her beauty today. All of our area around the Indian River Lagoon and stretching westward is beautiful, a changed but modern Eden. Let’s protect it for the next 120 years.
GCY Inc. (http://gcyinc.com/news_icon.htm)
Florida Classic Library has topographical maps: (http://www.floridaclassicslibrary.com)