Today I thought I’d share a transcribed old Stuart News Column, by award-winning river activist and newspaper man, Ernest Lyons, for whom the bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island is named. It was given to me by my mother. The year of the piece’s writing is unknown but Lyons lived in Stuart since 1915 and was the paper’s editor for 44 years. He wrote prolifically about the changes and his love of the St Lucie River and Indian river Lagoon. I would imagine this piece was written around the 1950s. It is a time capsule and gives perspective on today. Enjoy.
By Ernie Lyons: Retiree’s New Money Crop at River of Light
“One of the earliest names of the St Lucie River was “Rio de Luz,” or “River of Light.” The imaginative Spaniard who gave it that name must have seen the dawn come sweeping in the inlet on a green flood tide, bringing light to the broad estuaries upstream.
Light from the distant sun outlined the rude thatched hut of the Jeagas, the primitive Indians that lived on Hutchinson Island. Those Indians disappeared around 1670 and there were no white settlements until the Armed Occupation Act of 1840.
The white settlers fled fearing Indian attack, and the first serious settlement began in 1875 when Captain Thomas Richards introduced pineapples to the Indian River at Eden just north of Jensen Beach. Pineapples meant money.
No matter how beautiful a river may be, it takes money to provide the fuel for a civilization on its banks. With the coming of the railroad and the building of ice plants, the settlers began harvesting the incredible crops of fish in the Indian and St Lucie Rivers and adjacent ocean.
Some planted small orange groves of hit and run patches of truck crops out in the back country. Drainage was so poor that regular year round farms were impossible. Meat was secured by rounding up a few bony wild cattle or wild hogs. Regular ranging was discouraged by the fact that all of country was open range with no fences.
The flow of money often scant, determined the prosperity of the St Lucie River country. After the pineapples and fish came tourist willing to pay a fee to rent a place for the winter of even to hire a hunting or fishing guide.
Summers were long, hot and plagued by hordes of salt marsh mosquitoes that flew over from the mangrove swamps along the ocean to torment the few brave souls that managed to stick it out.
Money, is still the driving force for the area, although now it is from people. The retirees are now the basis our economy.
Some of them sold their homes or other properties for fancy prices up north and reinvested in the area. They opened savings accounts and bought certificates of deposit in our banks and savings and loans, fueling the building boom.
We are getting the benefits of a new sort of American, where folks older than 65 receive Social Security checks, often pension checks and, if they have invested wisely , dividend checks.
Sure we have thousands of citrus and productive farms lands, as well as fisheries but the real money that makes the St Lucie River region hum with prosperity comes from people.
And most of it comes from outside of our area. It is in the form of government checks, pension checks, saving interest and dividend checks.
Next time you see a retiree salute him of her and say you’re glad they chose this part of Florida. They are our biggest industry, an industry without a smokestack, the industry that keeps our food stores and shopping centers going, the industry that keeps our many services going.
Retirees are the reason for our modern hospital and the host of specialized medical services the town now has.
The old River of Light has seen some amazing changes but none so remarkable as the constant flow of new money from outside brought by the retirees….”
You can purchase Lyons two books: My Florida and The Cracker Barrel at The Historical Society of Martin County: (http://www.martincountyhistoricalsociety.com)
Thank you to John Whiticar of Whiticar Boatworks for his beautiful photograph!