Climate Change-How Would We Plan Our Historic Subdivisions Differently Today? Indian River Lagoon

Port Sewall development map 1911. (courtesy of Sandra henderson Thurlow.)
Port Sewall development map, 1911. (Courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

I have wanted to share this Port Sewall land development map for a while as it is so interesting to observe.

Port Sewall, established in 1911, was one of our area’s first “planned developments.” It consisted of lands from the Hanson Grant that Captain Henry Sewall acquired through his family line. The infamous Hugh Willoughby later joined him and they formed the Sewall’s Point Land Company, which according to Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book The History of Sewall’s Point: ” built the Sunrise Inn, dredged for a yacht turning basin, and planned to develop a deepwater port.”

Due to the Great Depression of the 1920s theses dreams evaporated but left this map that became the basis for part of South Sewall’s Point, Stuart,  St Lucie and Old St Lucie Boulevard,  Port Sewall, and Golden Gate.

The body of water in the Port Sewall map is today’s Willoughby Creek. The original name Oyster Creek, was changed. This is fitting as today when I look over the edge of the little bridge on Indian Street, I do not see many oysters, only manatees swimming around in dirty looking water.

Today, I pose what may be an odd question but it is one I think about in light of my Florida League of Cities meetings  and friends that force me to think about climate change and where things are going in the future of South Florida.

This is not “bad,” it is just change. Just 12,000 years ago there were mammoths, mastodons, saber toothed cats, 17 foot tall sloths and broad horned bison walking around looking for watering holes and hoping not to get “bow and arrowed” by a paleo-Indian. Things change. Times change. Slowly. We must adapt.

As a side note, a few years ago my husband Ed and I visited his birth city of Buenos Aries, Argentina. We noticed, just like Ed’s father told us, Argentina’s development was further back from the river. Most of the lands along the water bodies were left for “everyone” along with  wildlife and to promote the area’s fishing. This was prompted by periodic flooding and storms. Just like we have here….

“We,” on the other hand, have completely built out to the edge of the water, right up in fact or over every little creek and rivulet.

It may be a rhetorical question, but if we had it so do all over again, how would we develop our lands to ensure the integrity of the surrounding waters, giant hammocks, upland forests, forks, creeks, wetlands, and shorelines?

As a Sewall’s Point commissioner of seven years, one the “craziest” things I have ever heard was that FEMA would help our town buy out some of the shoreline houses that have experienced repetitive flood losses. Hmmmmm….But we would lose the tax base I thought…..but then if the water is coming up, and the storms seem to be getting stronger, and it is my responsibility to plan for the future of the town….is this really such a crazy thought?

Ft Lauderdale is doing this…..Miami is doing this…..

Most certainly many elements have added to the degradation of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Intense coastal development is right up there.

As we move forward in light of climate change, there may be opportunities to offset that destruction. These changes are not something anyone is ready for or wanting to discuss.

Nonetheless, Mother Nature just may force the conversation. We should start thinking now, what exactly we are going to say to her, because she is coming…


Broward County Planning map: (

Miami/South Florida collaborative Planning: (

4 thoughts on “Climate Change-How Would We Plan Our Historic Subdivisions Differently Today? Indian River Lagoon

  1. Good thinking. Or maybe better to think about land planning. Seems the Argentinians(?) are doing better with this than we are.

    A side note – There is flood prone land being bought in Atlanta as well..

  2. Since mankind began we have altered the natural environment to suit our needs. However one chooses to view these actions, the outcome remains same.

    Nature is what She is and like a woman, She will forgive, but never forget. We should heed the famous phrase from William Congreve’s play The Mourning Bride and respect that
    “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

  3. I know what you are talking about, Jacquie. When I head out to Tampa Bay on my boat to go fishing, I pass about 10 stormwater runoff pipes built into the seawalls, pouring the runoff from roads and lawns into the canals. We have reclaimed water here for lawn watering, and that keeps the runoff constantly flowing. Our home is situated on a cove about a mile west of the bay, near Weedon Island, and though we can catch fish off our dock, we can’t eat them. They taste terrible.

    But I thank God that we don’t have the additional agriculture runoff from Lake Okeechobee that you have to deal with. We have friends who used to live on the Caloosahatchee who moved away because of that runoff; their river turned green and really stinky. Over here the bay cities didn’t start treating their raw sewage that they were dumping into the bay until the late 1970’s. The bay has somewhat recovered, but the stormwater runoff combined with the pollution from the power plants and treated wastewater is ongoing. Our population requires power and sewer facilities, and the old models of how we provide power and sewer are not working anymore.

    Most of the homes (including ours – 3 feet above sea level!) were built on what was once vast swaths of mangroves. I think often these days about the seas rising and the mangroves returning to eventually reclaim their property.

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