The Once Beach-Jungle of Hutchinson Island

Looking south in the direction of today’s St Lucie Inlet. Former home of Hiram and Hattie Olds, 1907, Hutchinson Island, in what became Martin County, Fl. Courtesy Agnes Tietig Parlin, achieves Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Deanna Wintercorn “Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History.” 

Olds Homestead Hutchinson Island, 1862

The more I learn about water, the more I want to know about the land. Inexorably connected – as the lands change, so do the surrounding waters. 

Don’t you love this above photograph?

The lone high-house rising through thick vegetation reminds us of what the beach-scape of today’s Hutchinson Island, Martin County, Florida, used to look like. Cradled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon, the home belonged to Hiram E. and Hattie Olds who made application for homestead with the United States Government in the early Florida year of 1862. The photo above spotlights the natural beauty and native vegetation; it was taken in 1907 – forty-five years after the original homestead. With almost a half century passed, like a protective cape over the sandy dunes, the Indian River Lagoon/Hutchinson Island vegetation remained in tact. What an incredible and rare photograph! It almost feels like Africa or some far-off exotic place. 

There must have been so many hiding places for birds and other wildlife. Rain percolating through sandy soils to ocean and estuary. Only a shadow of this vegetation remains today, although Hutchinson Island remains a beautiful place. 

This second photograph reveals the same house in the distance, the Olds’ homestead, granted in 1862-but structure built ca. 1894 -that later became the Yacht Club. From this perspective we are now looking south from the House of Refuge -built in 1876.  It is clear from this Thurlow Archives photograph that  the Georges Valentine shipwreck had recently occurred thus this photograph must have been taken around October 16, 1904 – the fateful night of the ship’s destruction. Again, look at the thick high curve of vegetation along the western edge of the Indian River Lagoon. Fabulous! 

With these 1904 and 1907 photographs we can, for a moment, go back and imagine what Hutchinson Island looked like. It was not just an Anastasia rocked shoreline, but a Beach-Jungle! A jungle that protected wildlife and waters of our precious Indian River Lagoon. 

In our next blog post, we shall learn how the Olds homestead and the House of Refuge were “connected,” not just via fantastic vegetation, rocks, and dune lines, but also through claims of property rights  to the United States Government. 


If you are interested in restoring native beach vegetation please see this link. It is a great way to help our wildlife and our waters. 



4 thoughts on “The Once Beach-Jungle of Hutchinson Island

  1. I’m not a local, born and living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m interested in Hutchinsin Island because it is part of the barrier island continuum from ~North Beach to ~South Beach, Florida which has recently (2017) been singled out as its own small ‘ecoregion’ (Southeast US Mixed Woodlands and Savannas) separate from the vastly larger adjacent Southeast US Conifer Savanna ecoregion otherwise covering all of northern Florida and northward. This ecoregion distinction came about as part of a major reclassification of much of the Southeast US to the Temperate Grasslands, Savannas & Shrublands biome (there are only 14 such global categories) from the Temperate Coniferous Forests biome. To get back to your blog(!), this was based on a complete reevaluation of the historical pre-development natural vegetation for the markedly developed SE US,using historical sources just like the picture you are providing. If your interested in seeing the map (and how tiny the ‘Hutchinson island’ ecosystem is to the rest in North America) its at Unfortunately only a map is supplied, and I’ve been as yet unable to find a description of the ecoregion (much on internet about specific ecoregions predates this 2017 reclassification). I think its very interesting that such a small woodland area (mangroves, which are adjacent, are exceptional in this regard) was singled out for its own ecoregion.

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