History’s Stairway-From the “Greatest Fishing Waters in America” to the Home of Toxic Algae 2016, SLR/IRL

Stairs leading to the former home of Hubert W. Bessey, the Perkins family and later William H. and Lucy Anne Shepard ca. 1890-1947 via historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Stairs leading to the former home of Hubert W. Bessey, the Perkins family, and later William H. and Lucy Anne Shepherd ca. 1890-1947- via historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Courtesy of "Stuart on the St Lucie," by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Courtesy of “Stuart on the St Lucie,” by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Shepherd's Park, Stuart 5-30-16. JTL
Shepherd’s Park shoreline, St Lucie River, Stuart 5-30-16. The ACOE in collaboration with the SFWMD and other state agencies has been discharging waters that cannot go south to the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee as they are blocked by the EAA. The ACOE has been releasing this year since January 29, 2016. The estuary is now fresh and breeding the algae blooms of Lake Okeechobee. JTL

My earliest memories of Stuart include stairs…stairs leading to the river…

Walking in Shepherd’s Park as a child, I would ask, “Where did those stairs go Mom?” Her answer may have gone something like this…

“Jacqui, those stairs led to a great house, one of Stuart’s first, built by pioneer, Hubert Bessey. It later became the residence of William and Lucy Ann Shepherd who first came to Stuart in the early 1900s. They came, like so many did at that time, for the fishing. Stuart, you know, was “the fishing grounds of presidents” and known as “the greatest waters in America” for this sport. Mr Shepherd was president and owner of T.H. Brooks and Company, a steel corporation in Cleveland. He and his wife were generous citizens of our community.  In 1947 the house was almost demolished by a hurricane, but repaired. Then in 1949, disaster struck. Right in the middle of the winter season, the house mysteriously burned to the ground, but the stairs still stand today…” (Adapted from “History of Martin County”)

Yesterday, with these 50-year-old lessons ringing in my ears, I approached the remains of the old Shepherd residence that became today’s Shepherd’s Park. I was here on Memorial Day to meet reporter Jana Eschbach, from CBS affiliate Channel 12 News in West Palm Beach. It was Jana who had alerted me to a large fluorescent green algae bloom-more than likely toxic.

I arrived early and walked around. Lots of memories. Seeing the old stairs, I thought about how they used to lead to “the fishing grounds of presidents and the greatest fishing grounds in America.” And today, less than 100 years later, they are leading to toxic algae blooms. Never in my wildest dreams would I have foreseen this as a child.

Walking around the breakwater, I thought to myself:

“I will not give up on this place–this former paradise. It could recover if given the chance. History can repeat itself in some form here for the positive.  Yes, and I will remember the words of Ernest Lyons who my mother taught me about too—the writer and editor of Stuart’s early paper–a leader and inspiration in fighting against the digging of the excessive agricultural canals that have destroyed our St Lucie River.

I mused for a second and remembered his inspirational quote:

“What men do, they can undo. And the hope for our river is in the hundreds of men and women in our communities who are resolved to save the St Lucie.” 


The recovery of this river is in the people, for no government can exist in today’s age knowingly bringing this upon its people…It continues to be our time to change history.


CBS 12 report: http://cbs12.com/news/local/toxic-green-slime-invades-waterways-for-miles-in-martin-county#


OTHER PHOTOS FROM STUART, 5-30-16, Dusty Pearsall.



8 thoughts on “History’s Stairway-From the “Greatest Fishing Waters in America” to the Home of Toxic Algae 2016, SLR/IRL

  1. Hi Jacquie, Thoroughly enjoy reading your article today. So sad. If we can only get the right leadership in the governor’s mansion next time. I regularly share your articles with the group I’m working with to form the Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition. They will be facing similar tragedy as the weather heats up I’m afraid. Tx,Wayne

    Sent from my iPad


  2. These solitary steps remind me of the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. We must preserve today’s treasures for the generations to come. Fowler West

  3. Perhaps a vehicular flag with a message of “Stop Lake O toxic discharges!” could be created and distributed all over FL. I continue to be amazed by the lack of awareness among Floridians regarding this criminal reality!

  4. And the journey against ignorance and greed continues….we need to keep the good fight going no matter what. Again there is always hope and sometimes during the darkest hour the light shines through. Phil Schwartz Caloosahatchee River Watch

  5. From Mac Stuckey to Stuart Commissioners.

    On May 31, 2016, at 11:16 AM, Jmstuckey333@aol.com wrote:

    Dear Commissioners,

    The slime is at Shepard’s Park and spreading; the evidence is overwhelming that Stuart is becoming a Toxic Waste Dump; the Toxic Scott Lagoon. Don’t believe the encouraging lip service you see by politicians; they are doing NOTHING but talking. Stuart is ground zero and needs to be the spearhead to stop this permanently. It is only going to get worse; we should not be encouraging people to come here; we should be warning them to stay away and stay out of our waterways.

    I want to make a freedom of information act request for every letter and email someone on the City Staff or an elected official has sent to the Governor’s office, the South Florida Water Management District, the Corps of Engineers, the Florida DEP, the US EPA, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and any other federal or state agency demanding that the Okeechobee Discharges stop; just in the last three (3) years for now, and also a copy of the responses. That should be quite a stack of paper, and I will be happy to pay for the copying. Then I will know what has already been done by the City of Stuart, and I can design a plan of attack from there. We need a system of ordinances designed to stop this pollution, and we need to investigate the people who are responsible for creating it and maintaining it. This is as criminal as Flint Michigan lead poisoning, and we can demand that people start to be prosecuted or sued for injunction and damages if we find out why this problem has not been addressed and who is making money by reason of this abdication of responsibility for the public health. We can get the same press here to put the pressure on those who are criminally negligent by their actions and inactions.

    I have a qualified lawyer and an a Professional Wetlands Scientist ready to go to work for a very reasonable salary and a budget; I and they can also apply for significant grants to assist in the cost. You need to stop asking what this process is going to cost; you are already seeing the Cost of NOT doing anything; it is going to get higher and higher until it is too late to stop a really bad health crisis and resulting financial crash. I don’t want to be saying, “I told you so.” I want to help you turn the tide and make this your top priority. A small investment will reap huge rewards. People are already leaving here, and they will leave in droves when the health problems get more prevalent. If we become the “Love Canal” of south Florida, our finances will never recover. I don’t know what else can convince you to take this seriously, but I will think of something if you don’t. Let’s get together and talk.


    Mac Stuckey
    James M. Stuckey
    Attorney at Law
    428 SW 7th Street
    Stuart, Florida 34994
    (772) 223-8100
    Fax: (772) 223-1430
    Cell: (772) 370-4796

  6. You all forget that the history of the St. Lucie canal being dredged all the way to Lake Okeechobee was what saved the region from flooding and made the area inhabitable, made agriculture possible and is what brought people here. The project called “scientific agriculture” and they were so proud that they found a way to provide water in the dry years and get rid of water in the wet years. You all act like there is some conspiracy going on. The Phipps company (an owner of this paper) was one of the companies that invested in the C-23 canal. Most of us probably wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for these projects. Without the ability to release water from the Lake, the levy surrounding the lake will breach which will make South Florida look more New Orleans after Katrina. It’s too late. We’re here and I don’t any of us are willing to leave anytime soon. We need regroup and rethink how we think and talk about this issue because we created it. Not the government, the Army corp, not US Agriculture, we did. And to undoe it is going to create some sacrifice. First of all about a million of us are going to have to move because our homes will be water. Finally, there is great evidence to support the fact that the Indian River Lagoon became what it is BECAUSE of this dredging. Once the lake could no longer run freely it changed dramatically the amount of salt which was usually in the riverways so the Lagoon probably came AFTER the dredging.
    That means that if it weren’t for the dredging we wouldn’t even have a Lagoon. So the answers aren’t easy, but we need only look to ourselves for them. Picking and choosing through history so as to assign blame helps no one. Those who founded this area, those same people that we like to heroize into people of a greater times are the ones who fought to have these projects done. It’s important to remember that as we move forward.

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