Recently I wrote a post entitled: “Learning the Beauty of Pre-Drainage Lands – St Lucie Canal.” One of the most prevalent natural features asked about is “Allapattah Flats.” I recall hearing the mysterious words “Allapattah Flats” while growing up in Martin County. Now, almost 60 years later, I recognize I really do not know what they were…
What I mostly heard about as a kid was not “Allapahttah Flats” but “Allapattah Ranch.” Although Allapattah Ranch was a boon in the 1950s, it was part of the total drainage and destruction of this enormous and magnificent swamp documented on many old maps like “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” compiled by order of Bvt. Brigr. General Z. Taylor in 1839. Through the centuries many words were used for Allapattah Flats -all alluding to alligators like Al-Pa-ti-o-kee Swamp below, or just Halpatiokee. Obviously, there was a lot of fresh water on the land.
In a 1952 Stuart News article shared from Sandra Thurlow’s archives, reporter Ernest Lyons entitles his 1952 news article “Griscom Bettle’s Allapattah Ranch Has 4,000 Acres Under Water Control, Lush Grass on Marin Highway.” Lyons article is a great learning tool. He goes on to explain that 23,000 acres of land was purchased from the Southern States Land and Timer Company around 1947. The land being drained and developed is “six miles deep” along Martin Highway and extends “four miles west from Marin Hammock.” It contains pine ridge land serrated by maiden cane sloughs that “bite” into muck, sand, and clay soils -shells and marl deposits- once an ancient seabed. The lands are so flat -when it rains – the water just spreads out.
Lyons has an easy way to remember Allapattah Flats’ location. It is described as a “long marsh extending down back of Ft. Pierce to the St Lucie Canal.”
There were 2 – 4 feet muck deposits atop marl under 1 – 3 foot of water. The muck is what the landowner is after. He wants to drain and then churn this ancient sea up so soft green grasses can grow on the rich exposed land for cattle.
These thousands of year old “Flats” were separated from the east coast on one side and from Lake Okeechobee on the other. Likely the Green Pine Ridge on the east and the Orlando Ridge on the west. Lyons states the ridges themselves were 8 -12 miles wide!
At this point the article goes into the controversial C-23 canal…
This canal was so controversial. A bad thing for the St. Lucie River. The locals had already had tremendous problems in Bessey Creek and around Palm City with shoaling and fish leaving the area. Now on top of the St. Lucie Canal there would be the C-23 canal. Lyons talks about how the C-23 is being built as an “emergency canal” as part of the Central and South Florida Plan of 1948 post great flood of 1947.
Lyons explains how C-23 starts at the first curve above Bessey Creek Bridge and then cuts through slough depressions again and again between pine ridges. The ACOE is ameliorating the worries of the public by promising “controls” that are to be established every few miles to regulate the water through the Flats.
C-23 was started in 1951 and completed in 1961, nine years after this Stuart News article was written in 1952. What a shame that so much was destroyed and so little saved of the wondrous Allapattah Flats. They really were a part of the Everglades itself. Thankfully some restoration began in 2014 and continues.
Click on image to enlarge:
*1924 is the 100 year anniversary of the St Lucie Canal AKA C-44. C-23 was built later ’51’-61′ as people continued to drain the area; C-24 ’58-’62; C-25 ’49-62. These dates are from the SFMWD and may include land acquisition.
4 thoughts on “The Draining of Allapattah Flats-C-23”
Wonderful summaries of local history….but sad at the same time for the lack of foresight by residents 75-100 years ago.
I am reminded of an action an uncle of mine, took about 75 years ago after purchasing an original Stagecoach Inn, located between Providence, Rhode Island, and Boston. My uncle bought the property for $25K, gutted the interior losing a barrel vaulted ballroom on the 3rd floor, a wonderful original bar with brass railings on the first floor, well concealed servants stairways throughout the building……and then he transformed the entire property into one or two bedroom efficiency apartments. What a terrible loss of a precious landmark.
OMG!!! What a story! What a metaphor! Thank you Paul.
Wow. Interesting and sad. Moving forward we gotta learn from the past and protect our natural treasures better. Thanks for the teaching and writing you do. It is appreciated and needed.
Solidarity Mike. Yes the learning from the past is the whole ball of wax.