The Once Tangled Forest of Sewall’s Point

“1905, the Andrews walk through Sewall’s Point’s hard wood hammock, note the giant mastic tree.” Courtesy, Thurlow Archives.

 

“This 1905 photo is of Margaret Andrews and Rudolph Tietig walking through the property that, at the time, belonged the Twichells – located between today’s Hillcrest and Heritage subdivisions.” Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow

Today’s historic photographs, shared by my mother, allow us to imagine what the high west side of Sewall’s Point in Martin County looked like before it was cleared for agriculture and development. Yes, although today a few prize trees remain, once, the peninsula’s entire high west side was covered in a hardwood hammock: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW20600.pdf; https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw206

We still see many Live Oaks, Sabal Palms, and a few Gumbo Limbo, but other names such as Paradise Tree; Mastic;  Srangler Fig; Hickory; Satin Leaf;  Marlberry,  Myrsine, Ironwood, and Pigeon plum are much more rare.

As was the custom of the day, and remains so, these trees were cleared. Perhaps some were used for lumber. But for the most part, there was little thought of saving them, nor of the birds and wildlife that depended on the tangled forest for shelter and food.

I think this is worth thinking about. We walk about today somewhat unaware of what the land previously looked like, forgetting forest’s relationship to water, and how many  creatures have been impacted by these human changes.

Could we recreate the forests? This is doubtful, but we could bring some of it back. In order to do this, we need more than photographs, we need a native hardwood hammock -“to see.”

The St. Lucie River bank in today’s Hillcrest ca. 1907, album found by historian Alice Luckhardt on eBay.
Much of the hammock was still in tact in this Sewall Point ca. 1950 aerial by Aurthur Rhunke. Courtesy, The History of Sewall’s Point, by Sandra H. Thurlow.
2019 Google showing a almost completely developed Sewall’s Point with little of original hard wood hammock remaining. The town today https://sewallspoint.org is a TREE CITY 🙂

We are very lucky to live in Martin County, a county that has a history of  conservation.  When researching the Sewall’s Point hammock, I realized I had never visited Maggy’s Hammock Park in Port Salerno. (https://www.martin.fl.us/MaggysHammock). Named after environmentalist and long time county Martin County commissioner, Maggy Hurchalla, this park is a treasure, a walk back into time. This native site, just a few miles south and across the St Lucie River from Sewall’s Point, preserves ancient live oaks, paradise trees, strangler figs, and many, many others as well as the important understory.

It is a true hardwood hammock!

.

Considering the location, these trees must  be similar to native Sewall’s Point’s. This was my first visit and I will be back as I try to rediscover the beauty and the benefits of the “Once Tangled Forest.”

.Martin County 20 year commissioner & environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla
Walking path
Marlberry
Paradise trees

. Inside the Hammock

Gumbo limbo
Snowberry
Wild coffee up close
. Wild coffee
. Not sure what this is…
.Large Oak and Paradise trees inside the hammock
. Tall strangler fig, sabal palm, spanish moss
Strangler fig with wild coffee and resurrection fern
Strangler fig and ferns
Strangler fig trunk swallowing an oak tree
. Strangler fig and oak with other trees and underbrush
Beauty berry
leaf cover on ground
. Not sure
Hickory
Spanish moss
. Young marlberry, vines and budding sabal palms
. Cathedral in the hammock
Wild lime
Hickory
Saw palmetto
. Wild lime and marlberry with others
Air plant
Vines
. Various inside the hammock
Resurrection fern
. Oak or bay tree
. Oak or bay tree
. Wild coffee and other budding plants
.Air plants
.looks like boston fern
.Light is what all are fighting to capture as branches and leaves are raised
.There are many lichens and such on the large trees
Cocoplum
.Strangler fig
.Walkway to yesteryear that is still here!

9 thoughts on “The Once Tangled Forest of Sewall’s Point

  1. thanks, great pics.

    On Mon, Nov 18, 2019 at 12:31 PM Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch wrote:

    > Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch posted: ” “This 1905 photo is of Margaret Andrews > and Rudolph Tietig walking through the property that, at the time, belonged > the Twichells – located between today’s Hillcrest and Heritage > subdivisions.” Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow Today’s historic” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this. My aunt sold that land to the county and we were so glad Maggie’s hammock exists but it’s under threat. There is talk of adding baseball fields and lights to this rare and treasured space. Do you know /aware of any movement to destruct the hammock?

    Stephanie Modola

    >

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    1. Dear Stephanie, thank you so much for writing and sharing. It is so wonderful your family sold this incredible land to the county for the park. I have not heard anything about a baseball field or adding lights but I am not in that loop. I too think it is a terrible idea as that is a natural place with much wildlife. Lights would be a horrible idea in such a delicate area. I will ask around and speak up if needed. No sense hitting a scrub jay in the head with a baseball. The park as is with swing set is really nice and obviously they cleared all out for that. Children were playing happily the day I visited. Again. Thank you to you and you family. Can you tell me about them? Pioneers?

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  3. Loved your pictures! Especially the ones in which you were able to identify the flora. I will put this on my list of places in the area to visit.
    martha kennedy

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  4. You reminded me that we have the wonderful 1883 description by the surveyor B. A. Colonna given to us by Chappy Young:

    “The prettiest land on this sheet is the peninsula laying between the St. Lucie River and the Indian River from Mt. Pleasant South to the point. It is high hammock land, with coquina, foundation and covered by a heavy growth of hard wood and underbrush with now and then a pine. This country had quite a population in it once, just before the Seminole outbreak, and for a time after it, the settlers had oranges, lemons and limes, some of the old trees are still to be found in the vicinity of Eden P. O. and the limes are very fine but the oranges are bitter and the lemons not bearing. “

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  5. Thank you for this botanical history of Sewell’s Point, and the lovely photos of Maggy’s Hammock for a notion of what once was. Last weekend I toured native plant gardens in Palm Beach County and visited one property with a restored hammock on the site. A dedicated property owner can certainly plant natives to start to bring back a piece of what has been lost. As they say, the best time to plant a tree is yesterday and the second best time is today.

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  6. so cool!!! Would have loved to have seen that!!!! xoxo

    On Mon, Nov 18, 2019 at 12:33 PM Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch wrote:

    > Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch posted: ” “This 1905 photo is of Margaret Andrews > and Rudolph Tietig walking through the property that, at the time, belonged > the Twichells – located between today’s Hillcrest and Heritage > subdivisions.” Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow Today’s historic” >

    Like

  7. In the 1920 census, Florida was the 32d largest state and had less than a million people; in the 2020 census, Florida will be the 3d largest state and have a population of over 20 million. We have loved the state to death. Hopefully, the Florida Park Service and other state agencies can and will preserve enough of Old Florida to remind us of our history and of the past natural glories of the state. I love the pictures.

    Like

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