Havana or Bust! Swamp to Sugar Bowl; the Changing Politics of the Everglades, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

My father's photo of his Senior Trip for Stuart High, 1954. (Photo Tom Thurlow)
School bus reads HAVANA OR BUST! My father’s Stuart High senior trip for Stuart High, went to Cuba in 1954. (Photo Tom Thurlow)
My father's 1954 senior class, Stuart High School, Martin County, Florida. (Photo Tom Thurlow)
My father’s 1954 senior class, Stuart High School, Martin County, Florida. My father is in back row, far right second from end.(Photo Tom Thurlow)
The book Swamp to Sugar Bowl was written in 1968 by Lawrence E. Will. (Borrowed from the library of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, historian.)
The book “Swamp to Sugar Bowl” was written in 1968 by Lawrence E. Will. (Borrowed from the library of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, historian.)

It is good to learn about the history and issues of the Everglades, South Florida, and our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon so that one day, in spite of the difficulties we face today, we will be able to fix our problem in the future…

Perhaps the greatest reason the our former Everglades are now overflowing with sugarcane fields is due to politics between Cuba and the United States. My father graduated from Stuart High School in 1954, and believe it or not, his senior trip was to Havana! Soon after, Castro’s revolutionaries took over Cuba in 1959. And as they say the “rest is history…” as the growing sugar fields blocked the flow of water south to the Everglades, the fate of our precious St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon seemed forever doomed. But it is not, as nothing lasts forever.

This weekend my mother handed me a book entitled “Swamp to Sugar Bowl” by historian, author, businessman, and politician, Lawrence E. Will.  I read the little book with great enjoyment.  Although many things have changed since the book was written in 1968, it provides great insights.

This week I will be sharing some aspects of the books. Today I  will quote a few excerpts from chapter 22, “Florida’s Sugar Bowl.”

“Brother if you’re addicted to using sugar you should come here to these Everglades. Sugar and molasses bring in 110 million to these glades each year, so let’s take a quick look at this sugar bowl. Back in 1922, at Moore Haven, the first feeble attempt was made at producing sugar, but the following year in Canal Point the first successful mill began to operate.

There used to be 33,000 acres of pond apple trees lining the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee. They were cut down to access the rich much soil below them. (Laurence E. Will)
Map showing Canal Point. (Laurence E. Will)

This company was taken over by Southern Sugar Company, now the U.S. Sugar Corporation which ground its first cain in Clewiston in 1929. Although this company owned some 100,000 acres of the best land around the lake, under the US government’s regulation, the state of Florida was permitted to produce only nine-tenths of one percent of this nation’s needs.

However when Fidel Castro took over Cuba, the Everglades reaped the benefit.  For a short time our government permitted the unrestricted planing of sugar cane. Oh brother, you should have seen how cow pastures and vegetable fields were plowed up and planted! Now we have 189,500 acres of sugar cane in the Glades.” –Lawrence E Will, 1968

US Sugar and Florida Crystals map ca 2008.
US Sugar and Florida Crystals map ca. showing ownership of lands, and option to buy lands for state of Florida, 2008.
Stats of Sugar in Florida, 1991, Source Hazen and Sawyer, 1993)
Stats of Sugar average in Florida, 1991, Source Hazen and Sawyer, 1993)

I am not certain how much land U.S. Sugar Corporation owns today, but the Everglades option map from 2008 and IFAS statistics from 1993 show over 450,000 acres combining US Sugar and Florida Crystals.

Sugar has been grown in the glades since the 1920s but it exploded in the glades in the 1960s and became heavily supported by the US government due mostly to political reasons.

Reasons that may be ending soon.

Stuart News front page, 4-11-15.
Stuart News front page, 4-11-15.

______________________________

US Sugar Corporation: (http://www.ussugar.com)

History of Cuba: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Cuba)

A great book on this topic, Raising Cane, by Gail M. Hollender: (http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Cane-Glades-Transformation-Florida/dp/0226349500)

UF IFAS: (http://ifas.ufl.edu)

3 thoughts on “Havana or Bust! Swamp to Sugar Bowl; the Changing Politics of the Everglades, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

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