The Long Forgotten Wetlands of East Ocean Boulevard, SLR/IRL



4th Street/East Ocean Blvd 1957, Stuart, Florida, Arthur Ruhnke. Courtesy archives of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.  
“See that white strip just below the wetland? That is the extension of Flamingo Drive that skirts the pond behind the old car wash. They just dug a retention pond and conducted the water to it. All of that pineland is covered with condominiums today.” (Cedar Point, Vista Pines, and Kingswood)~ Sandra H. Thurlow


Today we drive over the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River surrounded by “civilization,” and forget that once it was once a wetland and pine forest full of wildlife. In the course of a lifetime, these things are long forgotten.

The above 1957 photograph hangs in my brother’s law office. When I visit him, I find myself staring at it for long periods of time. It is one of those rare photos that really puts things into  perspective. The road construction through the wetlands, (note it going through the pond, and pine forest) was all taking place around the same time that the “Bridges to the Sea,” from Stuart to Sewall’s Point, and Sewall’s Point to Hutchinson Island, were completed. It’s amazing to see what the landscape once looked like. The road in the photograph, Fourth Street, was renamed “East Ocean Boulevard” in 1960, and is a major thoroughfare to the  beaches today.

Jenny, Todd and I 1973, alligator in background.
I remember early East Ocean Blvd, although it was already quite changed by the time I was born in 1964. My family lived at 109 Edgewood Drive in Stuart, a short distance away from these wetland ponds under development. I recall Scrub Jays in our back yard and feeding them peanuts. By 1974 the family moved across the river to Sewall’s Point “growing and improving” with the changing landscape.

By 1979, when I was fifteen  years old, riding my bike over the bridge to Stuart to work at the Pelican Car Wash, the beautiful wetland pond had been relegated to a retention pond for run off.  Over the next two decades, you didn’t see wetlands and ponds anymore, or wildlife, just condominiums, office buildings, and shopping plazas. The state four-laned East Ocean Boulevard and built higher bridges to the ocean too.

Believe it or not, the pond in the aerial is still located behind a gas station that used to be the car wash. It is not even a shadow of its former self. Two days ago, I drove by and noticed that there was an extensive algae bloom in the pond backed up to the  parking lot and gas pumps; the water reflecting a sickly shade of green.

I sat there thinking about the long forgotten pond in the middle of East Ocean Boulevard in the photo I love in my brother’s office, wishing the developers had figured out a way to go around the pond. As the shortest distance between two points, over time, is not always a straight line.

East Ocean Blvd 1957, courtesy historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow

Flamingo and retention pond at Flamingo and East Ocean 2017, once a wetland.
Google map of East Ocean Blvd. through what was once wetland and forest, 2017.
1940s Dept of Agriculture photographs of Martin County showing wetlands. Courtney Todd Thurlow and UF archives.
Overlay 1940 aerials over Google map today, Todd Thurlow.
USDA History of Wetland Development in Florida:

Bridges to the Sea, Luckhardt Vignette TCPalm Series:–martin-county-bridges-and-bridge-tenders-ep-306449407-342336761.html

19 thoughts on “The Long Forgotten Wetlands of East Ocean Boulevard, SLR/IRL

  1. This is one of the things that seems to be ignored by the hate the farmers crowd. The farmers are farming on the same land as in 1960 and farming is “green” land. They are not adding ;and in fact with the STAs have reduced) any more “pollution” today as 50 years ago. The excess water in Lake O was sent out the C 43 and C 44 then just as today. What has changed! Well your article shows what has changed!!!!! And too many people who live in homes and work in businesses and have marinas and docks with boats are blaming the farmers for the algae blooms and IRL pollution. New pollution is urban not rural. Newton

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Jacqui, great pix, we moved out to st. lucie estates in 1946 on cardnal way, i used to know everyone that lived there then, i cant believe all the houses now. in your 57 pix, the white area on south side of new road used to be mosleys pasture, they had cows out the left on st. lucie blvd there were old tracks from when there were pinapple fields there.

  3. Of course I have that in Google Earth. I’ll try to post a video over the weekend. It shows the old “George Wilson’s Texaco” in the bottom-right of the photo, which is still there sans Texaco (Broadway Service Center); and when Dolphin Drive (also in the bottom-right) went all that way past 10th street, across what is now the airport and exited by the river on St. Luce Blvd. That back exit for the airshows on St. Lucie Blvd? — that’s the other end of Dolphin Drive.

    1. Hey Todd! Finally wrote about this awesome old photo! Thanks for noting George’s Texaco, (I used to have a crush on George Jr. who pumped mom’s gas…) Dolphin was such an important street back then–still a cool ride. I’ll have to look closer for the back exit for the airshow. Awaiting your time-flight video!

  4. Note the calcium shell roads in the picture. In the 50’s and 60’s these roads were everywhere in in Melbourne. Don’t tell anybody but sometimes I have a bucket of this sand next to me and I throw some out the window as I go down the road. It’s not much but I know it will work its way into the lagoon and some clam or fish will be eating the algie that grows on it

  5. All nature falls before the onslought of man. Follow the money, that’s considered Progress. Pave it over and let the critters find somewhere else to live

  6. My world has allways been a marine world, weather it be offshore fishing–inshore fishing , underwater exsploring or many other adventures. I am not very comfortable with the political world or the cyberworld. Right now our lagoon has thousands of crab traps. Fishermen have told me crab fishermen are comming as far away as Jacksonville. Shrimpers under 192 causeway are filling 5 gallon buckets of shrimp(last night).Anywhere along our shore you can now pick up a hand full of coquina clams.Our Bass Pro Shop is humming—you can hardly find a parking spot. Every time i go into your Bass Pro Shop it is DEAD. That is because your lagoon is DEAD. I love bass pro. They have wonderfull displays so people can see there is another world out there waiting to be exsplored.You can have your theory that fresh water runoff is killing everything and your lagoon will stay DEAD. Me and all the creatures will stick to mine and LIFE will continue to thrive.

  7. I also believe the hard facts show our estuaries were destroyed on purpose. Our estuaries are where all the baby creatures grow up. What kind of state paid scientest would say every thing is good if there is no calcium in estuary for baby creatures to grow their bones and shells. I believe any honest scientest was fired and the state solved that problem.

  8. I believe the LIFE of your lagoon depends on what I am saying being the TRUTH not a theory.

  9. What I see in historic picture of roads vs. todays picture of roads is how your lagoon went from fresh water runoff loaded with calcium and a high PH to fresh water runoff loaded with pesticides preserved in carbonic acid with a low PH and most inportantly—NO calcium

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