Port St Lucie was a Swamp? Really? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Topographical map, courtesy of Todd Thurlow.
Topographical 1823 U.S. Army map, courtesy of Todd Thurlow.
Map overlay with I-95 and Turnpike. (Todd Thurlow)
Map in transition/overlay showing today’s  I-95 and Turnpike in yellow. (Todd Thurlow)

Link to short video journey showing the former swamp “Alpatiokee” juxtaposed to today’s agriculture and development– Post St Lucie and western Martin County,

The first map in the video is a 1823 U.S. Army Map showing “Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp,” as it was known. The second is a 1846 map by Bruff. We then fly in to view Green Ridge, and the ridge just east of Indiantown. Next, we then overlay the 1983 Topo maps to view Green Ridge again, fly up, and around, Ten-mile Creek, and then back down the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. —-Todd Thurlow

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2f-e0ul1mY&feature=youtu.be)

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Not only was the city of Port St Lucie a swamp, but western Martin County was too. Please view the above video and “see” for yourself! It must have been a fabulous place, now long gone, know as “Alpatiokee,” or “Halpatiokee Swamp.”

Meaning “alligator waters” by the Seminoles, these lands/waterways were traversed for centuries in hand-made canoes. The native people and the Seminoles traveled many miles through the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and during rainy season they could travel all the way up into the St Johns River. How? Because these lands, when flooded, were “connected.” Now they are not only no longer connected but water that flowed north into the St John’s flows south into the St Lucie River….

Back to Port St Lucie…..

Recently, I kept noticing that the 1856 “Everglades” Military Map I like so much showed an expansive swamp close to where Port St Lucie and western Martin County are located today.

“This is weird,” I thought.  “What happened to the old swamp?”

So, I contacted my brother, Todd, who loves maps and can combine them together with technology. (See link/video above.)

Below you’ll find an edited version of Todd’s notes to me.

I find all of this absolutely fascinating, and sometimes a bit unsettling….The natural ridges in the land we seem to ignore; how we blew canals through them; how the water USED to flow; how humans have developed and built agricultural empires, and changed everything….Maybe one day with visual tools like these, future land planners, and water district employees can change back some of our landscape to it’s former glory, and maybe even return a few gators to the landscape, since it’s named after them.

That would be nice, something more to look at while driving the Turnpike than “concrete.” 🙂

Alligator resting but always alert....(Public photo.)
Halpatiokee or Alpatiokee translates as  “alligator water” in the Seminole language. (Public photo.)

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TODD’S NOTES REGARDING VIDEO:

THE OLD MAPS: The old maps are not necessarily accurate, but they give an idea… They show basically what was known as the “Hal-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp.”  On some other maps it is labeled the “Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp.” On almost all old maps, it would cover the area that is labeled Allapattah Flats on the modern topographical maps — but Hal-pa-ti-o-kee was probably more to the east.

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Google Earth image 2015, Todd Thurlow.
Google Earth image 2015, Todd Thurlow.

TOPOGRAPHY AND RIDGES: There are two distinct ridges in western Martin County. Green Ridge is about 4.6 miles west of the turnpike, (12.5 miles west of the ocean), and can be seen on aerials. The western edge of Allapattah flats is a ridge where the elevation goes quickly from about 30 fee to 40 feet. This ridge (an obvious ancient ocean shoreline) can be seen running all the way to Cape Canaveral parallel to the coast. This ridge is about 12.5 miles west of the turnpike (20 miles from the ocean). Indiantown sits on the high side of the ridge. This Hal-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp on those old maps would be the we area east of the Indiantown ridge – so it is basically all of western Martin and St. Lucie County.

FORMER WATER FLOW: Probably everything east of the Green Ridge flowed east into the St. Lucie. Everything between the two ridges flowed north to the St. Johns watershed and everything West of the Indiantown ridge (not much) flowed west into Lake Okeechobee via the little creeks on the east bank of the

….Somewhere between the St. Johns and the St. Lucie so everything between the two ridges, but north of that point, went north to the St. Johns River. Everything south would have gotten picked up by Ten-mile creek in the extreme North Fork of the St. Lucie River, which actually flowed north-east before turning back south to the St. Lucie.

CONCLUSION: There are academics that would know this stuff for sure and all the proper names. These ridges are like little continental divides, separating water flows into separate directions like the Rocky Mountains. When they busted all these canals through the ridges they changed the direction of all the water flows from mostly north/south to east/west. But that was the goal — get it to sea level as quickly as possible and drain the swamps…

—Todd Thurlow, Thurlow and Thurlow, PA (http://thurlowpa.com)

5 thoughts on “Port St Lucie was a Swamp? Really? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. While it would be nice to turn back time, I believe the best we will do is adapt. We need to find ways to slow and store the water that used to go elsewhere, utilizing it for good, instead if wasting it to tide. Thank you for another fantastic blog, Jacqui.

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  2. Excellent and informative Jacqui. I love seeing the old maps and Todd’s overlays. While I was not in “alligator swamp” in the 1800’s I do recall much of Sandpiper Bay and parts of Port St. Lucie still being swamps when my family arrived there in 1966. Much has changed, some for the good and some, not so good. We do need to continue to find ways to store water, clean our waterways and preserve Florida’s natural beauty and resources for us today and for future generations.

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  3. Thank you for the education you bring us Jacqui. I am a fan of water farming for an intermediate solution to our water woes. Let’s face it. We need storage but putting storage is going to take time. I see water farming as a way to reduce the flow now. When I hear someone say “The farmers should flood their land for free” I have to wonder if homeowners who live if developed areas that used to be swamp would flood their homes for free?Business owners their business? We are all a big ball of humanity and we need each other to survive. It makes no since to me to talk in these circles. We should all be working together with each other in mind.

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