Category Archives: 100 Year Anniversary St. Lucie Canal

Original Little Locktender’s House – St. Lucie Canal

Locktender’s house at St. Lucie Canal lock #2 in the Everglades Drainage District. 1913 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

I love this old photograph. I would think it must have been taken sometime between 1916 and 1925 when the Everglades Drainage District was constructing or repairing, (1924), the St. Lucie Canal. Yes, the lonely little house in the wildlands of a slash pine forest saw the the construction of the canal, the lock and spillway, the first locktenders, some wicked storms like the hurricane of 1928 causing the Army Corps of Engineers by 1930 to take over management of both Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie Canal. In 1937 the canal was rededicated as the “Cross State Canal, or Okeechobee Waterway.” It was deepened and widened for higher discharges and for more yacht traffic. By 1941 the St. Lucie Lock and Spillway was replaced as part of this expansion and the southern banks were drastically cut in the direction of the little locktender’s house. I can imagine the stories this little house would tell! Today we don’t have the little house, but we have the next best thing, my little brother!

Watch Todd tell the remarkable history of replacing the lock and spillway and the location of the original locktender’s house throughout the canal’s changes. Todd brilliantly uses historic aerials and images juxtaposed to Google Maps some shared by my mother Sandra Thurlow.

LINK TO VIDEO: ST. LUCIE LOCKS IN THE 1940s: EXPANSION PLANS AND THE LOCATION OF THE ORIGINAL LOCKTENDER’S HOUSE

References:

~The site plan: “U.S. Engineer Office – Jacksonville, Florida.  Sept. 1938… To Accompany Specifications June 27, 1939.

~The aerial photo with the locks under construction is dated 2/23/1940

~On Florida Memory the picture of the little house is titled cited “Locktenders house at St. Lucie Canal lock #2 in the Everglades Drainage District. 1913 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

~1940 Aerials, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

~Dr. Gary Goforth, 2014 History of the St. Lucie Canal

Early Locks, Thurlow Archives, Courtesy Sandra Henderson Thurlow.

2024 will be the 100 year anniversary of the St. Lucie Canal…

Courtesy Dr. Gary Goforth, History of the St. Lucie Canal 2014.

Two 1924 “Extreme Tropical Cyclone Rainfall Events” Affecting Completion of the St. Lucie Canal

I want to thank Tony Cristaldi of the National Weather Service, Melbourne, Florida, for writing and sharing historic weather information that gives strong insight into why in 1924 the St. Lucie Canal was so damaged that its completion date has been “clouded in history,” and thus the subject of my most recent blog posts.

The October 1924 Cuba hurricane is the earliest officially classified Category 5 Atlantic hurricane on the SSHS. According to Tony Cristaldi, NWS Melbourne: “Heavy rain fell along, and well ahead (north) of its center, with between 1 and 2 FEET falling across SOFL from Oct 18-23, and this is only part of the story….” Image: courtesy of Wiki.

The Great Rain of 1924, Postponing the St. Lucie Canal 

Storm Damage that Almost Destroyed the St. Lucie Canal

Mr. Cristaldi’s message is below. It is a fascinating read! Tropical Storm #9’s rainfall levels; the Great Cuba Hurricane’s immense rainfall-interestingly, a hurricane who later would be declared a Category 5 Storm; and the combined 1924 rain levels in our region of today’s Treasure Coast of up to three feet !

Thank you Tony for this wonderful documentation -as together we learn all we can for the 100 Year Anniversary of the St. Lucie Canal -coming up in 2024 even though the storm damage pushed its “opening” to 1925 or 1926 and maybe later….

Below: Letter National Weather Service’s Tony Cristaldi:

“Hi Jacqui,

I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for a few years now. I did a some research into this rainfall event, and learned a few things. This was one of two separate extreme tropical cyclone rainfall event which impacted SEFL in October of 1924.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1924_Atlantic_hurricane_season

The first, a moderate strength (60 mph) Tropical Storm (#9), was centered over the Gulf of Mexico, well to the west of Florida, but was part of a prolonged wet period which produced between 5-15″ of rainfall up and down the entirety of the Florida east coast from October 4-10.

The second, which occurred only days later, was the infamous “Great Cuba Hurricane of 1924”. Heavy rain fell along, and well ahead (north) of its center, with between 1 and 2 FEET falling across SOFL from Oct 18-23.

While I could not find daily/monthly rainfall totals for the PSL/Stuart area, there are records avaialble for Vero Beach for that month. 25.01″ of rain fell there that month, including almost 12″ from the first system and nearly 9″ from the second (during the 2-day period where 15″ fell at Stuart).

Given the heaviest rainfall totals occurred south of Vero Beach during both events, one can probably assume that between 2.5 and 3 FEET of rain fell near the Inlet entrance that month, a truly historical month in terms of weather.”

Tony Cristaldi
National Weather Service
Melbourne FL

Thank you Tony! And for readers, you can conveniently follow NWSMelbourne  for today’s hurricanes and rainfall events. I know I do! Obsessively!

1924 Storm Damage that Almost Destroyed the St. Luice Canal

Florida Memory, Everglades Drainage District, St. Lucie Canal, undated.

Over the past year, I have been trying to learn everything I can about the history of the St. Lucie Canal. Details are hard to find, especially because the canal has served two masters: Florida’s Everglades Drainage District (1916-1930) and the USA’s Army Corps of Engineers (1930 to present).

I would be remiss if I did not thank the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers for making many outstanding and rare historical documents available to me.

In light of next year’s 2024 “100 Year Anniversary” of the St. Luice Canal, it is my hope that with sufficient access to historical documentation, the present and following generations will continue work to undo the massive ecological damage of the St. Luice Canal; this can only be accomplished with full understanding of its history.

Today, I focus on an ACOE 1954 document entitled:

Basic Considerations, Partial Definite Project Report, Central and Southern Florida Project For Flood Control and Other Purposes, Part IV, Lake Okeechobee and Outlets, Supplement 4–Design Memorandum, Effects of Fresh-Water Discharges Through St. Lucie Canal

The succinct history in this slender document really helps give insight into my previous post, The Great Rain of 1924 and the Postponement of the St. Luice Canal. The Storm of 1924, that occurred in October of the year the canal was “completed” caused serious damage to the St. Lucie Canal and was then followed by famously destructive hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 and then another serious storm in 1930. After such a run of Mother Nature’s wrath, the canal that had been built as the primary control outlet for Lake Okeechobee became too much for the state and thus the federal government took over.

In an alternate universe of my dreams, the St. Lucie Canal was overcome by Mother Nature. She shoaled in the manmade cut through her upland pine and pond cypress forests with the raging waters of Allapattah Flats. Lake Okeechobee was never diked and flows free as God intended. Wildlife abounds. Ofcouse that is not what happened, Humankind, the great controller, had another plan, and thus our world today…

Begin transcription of ACOE document:

c. History–Surveys for a canal route which would allow excess water from Lake Okeechobee to be released in St. Lucie River were made as early as 1905; however, construction was not begun until 1916. The location chosen was selected because it presented the shortest and least expensive route to tidewater. Original construction of the canal to a capacity of 5,000 cubic feet a second with Lake Okeechobee at elevation 15.6 feet was practically complete in 1924 by the Everglades Drainage District. It was controlled by two dams, one near the lake and the other near the lower end. Local runoff from the storm of October 18-21, 1924, overtopped the spoil banks in several places, cut deep channels into the canal, and carried a million yards of eroded material into the channel. The channel capacity was reduced to about 70 percent of the 5,000 cubic feet a second design flow. The spillway at the lower end of the canal was not opened prior to the storm and a channel about 65 feet wide was washed out around the dam down to a bottom elevation of -4 feet. Serious shoaling from local inflow also resulted from the storms of 1926 and 1928. The design capacity of the canal became available after excavation by the drainage district of about 2,000,000 cubic yards of deposited material in 1927 and additional 1,000,000 cubic yards in 1928. However, sand bars formed during the storm of 1930 and channel capacity was again reduced. In 1930 the United States accepted control of Lake Okeechobee as an authorized project and since that date the canal has been maintained and operated by the Corps of Engineers. Construction of fixed spillways at 16 inflow points along the banks of St. Luice Canal was initiated in 1933 in order to prevent sediment from entering the canal. The locations of those spillways are shown on plate 1. Crest elevations were below natural ground but high enough to provide stilling basins in the wash channels upstream. A constricted section about 6,000 feet long, in which the bottom width was only 65 feet instead of 155 feet as designed, was left in the canal near the lower dam. In 1937 that construction was removed and the waterway improved to provide a navigation channel 6 feet deep. The River and Harbor Act of August 26, 1937, provided for replacement of obsolete structures at locks Nos. 1 and 2 in the canal by a new lock and spillway at the site of the lower dam. The main spillway was completed in 1944 except for the Trainter gates. Temporary wooden flashboards were used until the seven steel Trainter gates were installed in 1950. The canal was enlarged in 1949 to provide a navigable depth of 8 feet and a discharge capacity of about 9,000 cubic feet a second with lake stage at 15.6 feet.

End transcription…

Cover
Page 3, History w/ my notes
Spillways map referred to in text

Next post, I will continue with Section 5. “Discharges through St. Lucie Canal.”

 

 

The Great Rain of 1924 – Postponing the St. Lucie Canal

The condition of this October 23, 1924 Stuart Messenger article makes it difficult to read, but it is important to the history of the St. Luice Canal whose 100 year anniversary is coming up next year in 2024.

In my research, I have noticed the final date of construction of the canal varies in historic documents. Sometimes I see 1925 or 1926. I have chosen to use 1924 because that is the official date used by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.

This article entitled “Storm Damage Comparatively Light—Heaviest Rain in Fifty Years,” may shed light on why the completion date of the Everglades Drainage District is hard to pin down.

The bolded line under the headline reads: “Fifteen Inches in Two Days–Trains Stalled for Several Hours–Roads Out North and South–Canal Around Locks–Local Damage Very Light–Wires Kept Open With Few Interruptions.”

Trying to be optimistic, the article begins:

“Stuart is back to normal and is counting up its comparatively small losses after the heaviest rainfall in history. Fifteen inches of rain fell in less that forty-eight hours. Rainfall for the past week has been particularly heavy. On Saturday it rained steadily all day and far into to the night. Sunday’s rainfall was heavy and continuous, all day Monday the downpour continued in to early hours of Tuesday morning…”

~The railroad washed out at Rio…

~The river is the highest within the memory of the oldest inhabitants and backed up over the sea wall both north and south of the county bridge…

~The St Lucie hotel dock went out…

~The river washed away fifteen feet of high ground in front of the hotel annex…

~Reports from the west lock on the St. Lucie canal are to the effect that the canal has cut through around the lock and is digging  a wide channel…

~Homes on the South Fork were inundated…

~Water is pouring into the river from the back county in an immense volume. …

Archives, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Stuart Messenger, 10-23-1924

The erosion cutting around the lock of the St. Lucie Canal creating a wide channel would have spelled failure for controlling the waters of Lake Okeechobee and surrounding basins. Water pouring in from Allapattah Flats known as the “back county” would have exacerbated an already very dangerous situation.

Lost in time, today we read about an October 23rd, 1924 storm where Stuart, Florida experienced a major rain event ironically occurring right around the time the St. Lucie Canal was being completed or was “complete.” Maybe that is why some articles say the canal was finished in 1925 or 1926 when it was really first completed in 1924? It is important for me to get the date right.

If only it had never had never been completed…