To archeologists Pelican Lake is regarded to have been the headwaters of what was once Pelican Bay and the Pelican River east of Lake Okeechobee. One of the first to write about this lake was Lawrence E. Will whose family was the first to grow sugarcane in the sawgrass areas rather than the custard apple region south of the lake. Will was an amazing documenter and the Museum of Glades in Belle Glade is named for him today. Although the Will’s have been remembered through the museum the remains of Pelican Lake, Pelican Bay, and the Pelican River are all but forgotten.
For purposes of time, we will first focus on Pelican Lake.
According to the Boyer Survey, other than Will, very few facts were written about Pelican Lake ~named so, obviously, for being the home once to many pelicans. Today, by working backwards, archeologist are finding out more facts, through the study of historic photographs, aerial vegetation and soil patterns, and the use of Google Earth. With these tools, similar to what my brother uses in his Time Capsule Flights (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/todd-thurlows-time-capsule-flights/) the ancient river beds are being revealed. Archeologists study such to find the villages of ancient people who lived along these lakes and these so-called “dead rivers,” that were anything but dead. The data revealed about the dead lakes and rivers, “refutes the South Florida Water Management District’s findings suggesting these rivers were “very short.” (Solar et. al 2001:2-19). They were not short; some were miles long! In the case of the Pelican River, it has revealed itself to be 16.3 miles long, its waters beginning in Pelican Lake. (Boyer Survey p. 246)
So poor Pelican Lake. If you view the images from the Boyer Survey below you can see how in the early 1900s the lake was drained for development as reclaimed land.
In 1918 famed Botanist John Kunkle Small wrote that Pelican Lake was “the most beautiful lake during the day or night” and was disheartened upon returning to the area seeing that the beautiful lake had been drained and reduced to either “weeds or agricultural fields.” SEE HIS INCREDIBLE PHOTOS HERE:
The Boyer Survey notes that Pelican Lake is just one example of how much and how fast the area around Lake Okeechobee changed as drainage effort progressed. The last major changes occurred when the Herbert Hoover Dike was completed in the 1930s and vast expanses of lakebed were “permanently” made into sugarcane fields.
This is why the lake is smaller by about 30% today and cannot hold as much water. A lot of that water is discharged today destroying the St Lucie and Calloosahatchee Rivers. It is important for us to know our history so we can fix the mess we are in today. There were no dead rivers or lakes. The only dead ones are the ones we killed. The southern edge of Lake Okeechobee was flowing with rivers and life. Life, that we have conveniently forgotten.
The Boyer Survey: http://www.flarchcouncil.org/reports/BoyerSurveyLakeO.pdf
Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades: https://www.museumoftheglades.org
Botanist John Kunzel Small:http://sciweb.nybg.org/science2/libr/finding_guide/small.asp