Learning the Beauty of Pre-Drainage Lands – St Lucie Canal

-Florida’s Everglades Drainage District  survey for St Lucie Canal, 1915. Chief Engineer, F.C. Elliott. The St Lucie Canal was built  from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River from 1916-1924. Trees and water bodies to be cut through are written at the top of the two page survey and are a rare record of pre-drainage lands. Click on images to enlarge.

Page 1, EDD 1915 St Lucie Canal Survey Lake Okeechobee to Okeechobee Atlantic Divide, Florida Archives.
Page 2, EDD 1915 St Lucie Canal Survey Okeechobee Atlantic Divide to South Fork of St Lucie River, Florida Archives.

The pre-drainage lands between Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River have been drastically changed. Drainage, agriculture production, and land development have altered the natural system. What did it look like when the Everglades Drainage District engineers first saw these lands? Fortunately, Florida Archives contains surveys directed by chief engineer, Fred C. Elliot from 1915. These rare blueprints provide a broad idea of the native vegetation, trees, creeks, lakes, sloughs, and ponds of that era. Something many of us have no idea of today…

When you click on the two above images you will see that at  the top of the survey are written vegetation descriptions:

East to West they read:

Okeechobee Marsh, Flat Woods and Ponds,  Allapattah Flats, Pine Woods, Cane Slough, Pine Woods, and Creek Hammock.

Yes, along the east side of Lake Okeechobee where Lock 1 was constructed at Port Mayaca, lies the “Okeechobee Marsh” the “Edge of Glades.” This area was indeed part of the greater Everglades system as Lake Okeechobee would expand during rainy times, overall about thirty percent larger than today.

As the land rise east from the Okeechobee Marsh the survey notes “Flat Woods and Ponds.” These flat woods were mesic or wet. More than likely, it was slash pine and some other species. Ponds, sometimes dry, were everywhere, especially near Lake Okeechobee. East of the “Flat Woods and Ponds” was “Allapattah Flats,” a huge wetland, also called Halpatiokee or Alipatiokee Swamp. This “swamp” is well marked on historic maps and even mentioned by Buckingham Smith in the first U.S. Everglades survey of 1848.

We can see that “Allapattah Flats” cradled the higher lands and “Settlement of Annie” today’s Orlando Ridge and Indiantown. The wet marsh flowed south to the waters of the Loxahatchee Slough. The survey marks multiple ponds and the “Okeechobee Atlantic Divide” to the east of “Allapattah Flats.” Once the St Lucie Canal was built, these waters that mostly flowed south were directed to the St Lucie River.

Roads are noted on the survey, and the “Old Trail Jupiter Road” is cut through by the St Lucie Canal in the area of today’s Timer Power’s Park in Indiantown. Note “Plat’s Ranch” along the trail. Other roads that led from the “Settlement of Annie” were the trail south to Big Mound City, the trail north to Fort Bassinger, and the road east to Stuart that still exist today as Highway 76.

The survey notes more ponds and “Pine Woods” as the canal continues east. Pine Woods are more forest like with trees closer together than Flat Woods. Tall, stately, virgin slash pine (yellow pine) possibly hundreds of years old would have dominated this region providing excellent habitat for bears, panthers, deer, woodpeckers, and a plethora of other animals. For native Americans and European pioneers the lands between Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River was a treasured hunting ground.

Going east, right before the upturn in the canal, we run into an “Arm of Cane Slough,” on the east side and below the “Green Pine Ridge.” The Green Pine Ridge was surrounded  by “Pine Woods.”  A slough, as in Cane Slough, is a marsh-like shallow river. “Cane Slough Creek” merged with “North Creek” to feed the St Lucie River’s South Fork. Note the cypress dome and large lake in the area between the road to Stuart and the proposed canal just under the “Green Pine Ridge.” Look how large and wide Cane Slough became as it neared the St Lucie! Today this developed area is all but “history.”

As the Pine Woods fade, we come to  “Lock and Dam 2,” today’s St Lucie Locks and Dam & the 7 Gates of Hell. Interesting to see that the connection occurs at the head of “North Creek” where there a significant drop in elevation begins to the St Lucie River. At “North Creek,” the vegetation changes from “Pine Woods” to “Creek Hammock” containing a variety of close knit trees and shrubs leading to the South Fork of the St Lucie River.

During this time, 1915, the North Creek was located above Cane Slough Creek, the two merged and fed the South Fork of the St Lucie River. It is ironic that the canal survey that killed the St Lucie River provides one of the only records of the area’s pre-drainage glory.

Insert survey 2, 1915
Historic postcard- natural Florida creek, maybe North Creek that the St Lucie Canal was connected to looked something like this? Collection, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
1940 Aerials U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, UF -vegetation notes JTL

4 thoughts on “Learning the Beauty of Pre-Drainage Lands – St Lucie Canal

  1. Amazing to explore what this might have looked like pre drainage. Thanks for putting this together Jacqui!

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