Like hard resin, stories of long-leaf pine and towering Florida forests are in me. Since my earliest days, I remember visiting my mother’s family and hearing tales around the dinner table:
“In the 1930s your Granddady and Uncle Gordy dove down to the bottom of the Swanee River, chained those sunken water-logged giant trees, pulled them out with mules, put them on a train to Gainesville, milled them, and built this house by hand. Virgin long-leaf pine that had been on the bottom of that river for 90 years became our home. This house is history.”
At the time, the stories were just part of a lifestyle I did not lead living “down” in Stuart, Florida with the Yankees. In Gainesville we ate boiled peanuts, okra, gigantic breakfasts of bacon, eggs, toast, and homemade jelly. In Stuart, I ate Lucky Charms.
Now that I am becoming an old-pine myself, the story of the long-lost, long-leaf pine is more interesting to me. And “lo and behold,” although public records show the famous long-leaf forest stopping just north of Lake Okeechobee, recently my mother and I learned that they were, indeed, further south, right here in what today is Martin County!
This observation is bases on a 1st hand account of 1910 by J.H. Vaughn in an Abstract of Title for Indiantown, Florida.
In the early days of our country, long-leaf pine forests covered approximately 90 million acres and stretched across the entire southeastern United States. These trees are documented to have stood from 80 to 175 feet tall and many were up to 400 years in age. Of course multiple animals were dependent on the forest for shelter and food and there were massive benefits to the watersheds. The cleanest waters in the world run off of forests. These amazing trees evolved to completely withstand forest fires, actually thriving in such conditions. Imagine if you would these remarkable trees of our Creator, cut to the ground with the same state of mind as today when mowing one’s lawn….By the 1920s only 3% of the forests remained.
So where were these trees in Martin County? Where do we fit into the incredible history of these magnificent conifers? J. H. Vaughn, a lumber man of the 1800s, negotiating a sale states in the abstract of title below:
“…there is an average of 2000 feet of Long Leaf Yellow Virgin pine per acre.. being on the eastern side of Lake Okeechobee…”.
(The Townships and Ranges listed are today’s Indiantown.)
I think it is incredible that we are part of the long-leaf pine odyssey. As today, the Nature Conservancy and people like M.C. Davies have dedicated their fortunes and lives to bringing back this magnificent species and the animal life that comes along with it. The situation is a lot like St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee restoration. It’s a generational goal done so that our stories and our lives are remembered, and not “long-lost.”
Looking back gives us perspective when looking forward.
This old map showing the Palm Beach Farms Company Lands is interesting as is shows where people saw the “edge of the Everglades” when they were first developing around 1910.
Today it is hard to judge where we are and what “was” the Everglades…Some of us are literally “in it.”
Looking back, it is easy to see how after over 100 years the waters of Lake Okeechobee are becoming more and more “toxic.” Kind of like a fish tank that can never be cleaned out….
One has wonder if the developers of the Everglades ever considered what would happen to the lake by building and developing farm lands right in the way of the natural flow, and then really blocking it by eventually putting a dike around the lake? In this map, the push was to develop lands further west beyond the eastern ridge…Think all all the development today out west beyond the ridge and into the historic Everglades!
Perhaps in their wildest dreams the early developers would have never envisioned how many people live in south Florida today. Maybe they didn’t care. In any case, today we all here in South Florida are connected somehow to Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s “liquid heart,” for drinking water, recharge, recreation, property values, and our health.
Over our history the human spirit has overcome greater threats than toxic algae; I am confident we will once again.
I have shared this 1925 aerial previously, but it is worth sharing again. What a wonderful photograph of a healthy confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Every time I see it, I see something new.
I see the white sands of the newly dug St Lucie Canal, today’s C-44 connected to Lake Okeechobee, in the far middle distance; I see dark, prevalent natural vegetation; I see an undeveloped Sailfish Point, Rocky Point, Manatee Pocket, Sewall’s Point, and Stuart; there are a few roads, but no airport; no spoil islands along Sewall’s Point; there are no “bridges to the sea; ” I see shoaling, as the St Lucie Inlet had been opened/widened not too long before ~located just around the left hand corner of the photograph; I see beaches at Hutchinson Island with beautiful coquina sands that had not been “re-nourished;” I see lush seagrass beds, the nurseries of life, cradled against the shoreline; I see Paradise…
What would we do as far as development in this paradise, if we had it to do all over again?Or would we do just the same?
How we develop lands, of course, affects the health of surrounding waters. Today, what can we do to reinvigorate our rivers, our paradise? How can we help bring back the seagrasses especially? Well, we can do a lot.
Think of all the lawns that would be in this photo today! All the development, and how when it rains everything on our streets, parking lots, and lawns runs into our drainage systems and into our river.
Yesterday was June 1st, the beginning of rainy season. The beginning of fertilizer restrictions that were especially inspired for the entire Indian River Lagoon by the work of Sewall’s Point, the first to have a strong fertilizer ordinance, in 2010. I am proud of this and thank my fellow commissioners of that era.
Do what you can by not fertilizing your yard this rainy season, and if you haven’t considered changing out your yard to a more natural, Florida Friendly landscape, perhaps begin the process.
Every little thing we do, counts. And the more we do, the pressure we can put on the “big polluters” to do the same.
For some stories there are no pictures, only your imagination…Today I will share a story brought to my attention by my mother in line with my recent interest in ponds.
It was September of 1924, Stuart was still part of Palm Beach County, and few people lived here. It was the “boom era” and residents were excited about building the future. But then it started raining, and raining, and raining…
By Edwin A Menninger, reprinted in the 1950 Anniversary of the Stuart News with my location references.
JUST WHAT WAS STUART LIKE 25 YEARS AGO? THE YEAR STUART ALMOST WASHED AWAY…
…We had just had four days of torrential rain. At one time it rained 36 inches in 36 hours. Stuart was flooded. The railroad tracks washed away at Rio. They washed away also just south of Salerno, and two FEC passenger trains carrying about 500 people were marooned in Stuart till the tracks could be rebuilt. The Vanderbuilts just happened to be on the train!…I published a special FLOOD EXTRA and sold 400 copies…the heavy rains made an enormous lake in th heart of Stuart. (It was before 4th Street (East Ocean) was graded and paved) and a huge lake stretched from the court house to the school.(Today’s Stuart Middle School and Ad. Buildings)
A small ditch to drain off the worst was dug from the lake’s edge (where W.V. King’s house now stands) (Across from Willie Gary’s office on Osceola today) to the St Lucie River; in an hour this became a raging torrent. Water ran so fast it dug a ditch 75 feet wide to the river, undermined houses nearby, threatened extensive damage before Curt Schroeder and his crew got things under control again. The ground was s waterlogged that drainage problems were difficult. Water stood across 4th Street (East Ocean) in deep, big ponds for more than a month in front of where John Demich now lives (today’s 5th and Cortez) and at the tennis court. The old hospital building was surrounded by water for weeks and physicians came and went in boats…
A raging torrent that dug a 75 foot ditch from East Ocean Blvd to the St Lucie River! Doctors going to the hospital in boats? Holy cow. That must have been something. How did they put back the land that washed out? Below I have tried to figure out where that area might have been…
In closing, hope you have enjoyed this week’s pond series. The message remains the same, Lake Okeechobee or a little pond on East Ocean Blvd. “Over drainage has consequences….”
Notes of location referred to in the 1924 article, by Sandra Thurlow, help to figure out location:
Mom, where is the King’s house?
The King house was Kay Norris’s parents’ house across from the Pelican Hotel (Willie Gary’s ) The corner of our church property where Mary’s Closet is today used to flood terribly. There was once a rectory there that had to be demolished because it flooded and was ruined. Uncle Dale could tell you all about that. The King house still stands on Osceola I believe. At one time it was Dr. Eckersley’s office.
2. Where was the Dumich house?
Dumich lived on 5th Street about where Cortez intersects it.
3. Mom, remined me about the flooding when I was a kid.
Think of the courthouse. As you probably remember Memorial Park was always flooding. When it was suggested for a site for the library years before, Mary Kanner, (Kanner Highway, Highway 76, is named after her Judge husband) said “I am not going to have the library built in that sometime lake.” The pond that was dug in front of where the Log Cabin was constructed, later became the Middle School Pond. Now, it too, has been made to disappear.
Notes of Edwin Menninger:
~Edwin A Menninger, The South Florida Developer, 1924
(Menninger purchased the weekly paper, South Florida Developer, in 1923, moving its publication headquarters to Stuart from Canal Point. In 1928 he bought the Stuart Daily News. This excerpt was reprinted in the 1950 Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News.) (This excerpt can also be found on page 453 of a History of Martin County.)
Thank you to my awesome brother Todd Thurlow who created this image after reading today’s blog post. He writes: “Hi Jacqui – If you want to see the 1924 lake, the FEMA flood maps show the low spot pretty well. Check thiis out:” ~Todd
“See that white strip just below the wetland? That is the extension of Flamingo Drive that skirts the pond behind the old car wash. They just dug a retention pond and conducted the water to it. All of that pineland is covered with condominiums today.” (Cedar Point, Vista Pines, and Kingswood)~ Sandra H. Thurlow
Today we drive over the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River surrounded by “civilization,” and forget that once it was once a wetland and pine forest full of wildlife. In the course of a lifetime, these things are long forgotten.
The above 1957 photograph hangs in my brother’s law office. When I visit him, I find myself staring at it for long periods of time. It is one of those rare photos that really puts things into perspective. The road construction through the wetlands, (note it going through the pond, and pine forest) was all taking place around the same time that the “Bridges to the Sea,” from Stuart to Sewall’s Point, and Sewall’s Point to Hutchinson Island, were completed. It’s amazing to see what the landscape once looked like. The road in the photograph, Fourth Street, was renamed “East Ocean Boulevard” in 1960, and is a major thoroughfare to the beaches today.
I remember early East Ocean Blvd, although it was already quite changed by the time I was born in 1964. My family lived at 109 Edgewood Drive in Stuart, a short distance away from these wetland ponds under development. I recall Scrub Jays in our back yard and feeding them peanuts. By 1974 the family moved across the river to Sewall’s Point “growing and improving” with the changing landscape.
By 1979, when I was fifteen years old, riding my bike over the bridge to Stuart to work at the Pelican Car Wash, the beautiful wetland pond had been relegated to a retention pond for run off. Over the next two decades, you didn’t see wetlands and ponds anymore, or wildlife, just condominiums, office buildings, and shopping plazas. The state four-laned East Ocean Boulevard and built higher bridges to the ocean too.
Believe it or not, the pond in the aerial is still located behind a gas station that used to be the car wash. It is not even a shadow of its former self. Two days ago, I drove by and noticed that there was an extensive algae bloom in the pond backed up to the parking lot and gas pumps; the water reflecting a sickly shade of green.
I sat there thinking about the long forgotten pond in the middle of East Ocean Boulevard in the photo I love in my brother’s office, wishing the developers had figured out a way to go around the pond. As the shortest distance between two points, over time, is not always a straight line.
Today I am sharing a very moving and disturbing historic letter written in the days following the hurricane that killed thousands of migrant workers and pioneer farmers south of Lake Okeechobee on September 16th, 1928. It is not an easy letter to read; please be warned. I do not believe it has ever been shared publicly before…
So how did I come upon this remarkable letter?
In January of 2017 I made it my goal to learn more about the communities south and around Lake Okeechobee. At this time, after a discussion with my historian mother, I offered my services as a volunteer at the Laurence E. Will Museum of the Glades in Belle Glade. This made sense as my mother’s friend, and Stuart local, Linda Geary, had opened the museum. Thankfully, present Museum Director Dorothy Block accepted my offer.
For weeks I went through old files and later, myself and a young Pahokee student from Palm Beach Community College scanned hundreds of photographs of the 1928 Hurricane for archival purposes. This was quite the education.
After one of my “museum days,” while having dinner at my parents, my mother, noting my interests in the 1928 Hurricane subject gets up from the table saying: “I do think I have a letter written after the 1928 Hurricane. It was given to me by Iris Wall.” (Some of you know, Iris Wall is a legend of Indiantown and the state of Florida.)
When my mother brought the hand written letter down, I read it out loud at the table, struggling with some of the cursive handwriting of the era. In spite of not getting every word, at one point tears streamed down my face. To think of what Floridians lived through, and reading it first hand almost a century later really puts things in perspective. I have read and listened to many first hand accounts of the storm, but this may top them all…
Letter About the Aftermath of the 1928 Hurricane, transcribed by historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow. Letter was given to Sandra by Mrs Iris Wall of Indiantown in 2003.
We arrived here at four A.M. this morning and tried to sleep for an hour and a half then started to work. This is undoubtedly as bad a mess as I ever care to see. They are bringing in dead people all the time and they are swollen up about as big as cows and stink something awful. The old Dog Fennels are where they are lodged up. The water is about three feet over the farms and deeper in other places. The town is about two feet deep all over. Everything is ruined. Houses look like trash heaps—lot of them are scattered for a mile, just a piece here and there. Dead cows and hogs everywhere. The place smells like a corpse. It is awful but I am about used to smelling it now. Don’t know what I will do when I smell fresh air again. The water in the lake is awful on account of the dead things in it. They will not allow us to even bathe as all the water we get comes in on boats and is used to drink and cook with. We cannot even shave on account of the danger of cutting ourselves and getting it infected and we have to [be] looked over ever so often and any scratch doctored.
Awful does not describe it at all. I saw one man identify his father, mother, and brother and wife in a batch of bodies brought in. Now that was a pitiful sight. He had not closed his eyes since Friday looking and waiting for them and then to find them all downed and they were in awful shape. Hardly any clothes left on them, just rags. One man identified his fifth child this afternoon and his wife is still missing. One old man about eighty identified his wife this morning when they brought her in with hardly a rag on her, that was awful to see the old fellow. Some bodies come in with all the skin and hair gone and their eyes swollen until they have busted and their tongues sticking out and swollen larger than your hand and their faces all out of shape. One man brought in here looked as tho he would weigh about 250 pounds they said only weighed about 110.
They do not embalm them any more, just put them in a box and haul them to Cities Center and bury them. Two trucks have been busy now two days hauling bodies out to the solid ground and two hauling in coffins. I guess they built about 20 coffins out of rough lumber today and they have to wait for boxes –some bodies have to lay on the ground for several hours before they have any thing to put them in.
The State is sending in a bunch of antitoxin to inoculate us with tomorrow to prevent us from getting sick. I saw a paper today but they don’t describe it near as bad as it is.
The town is under Martial Law and they are sending people out of here as fast as they can get a means of getting them out. They have to get them out because there is no place for them to sleep and nothing for them to eat.
I took a second lieutenant in tow this afternoon. He was drunk and just raising sand and Chesterfield told him to quiet down and he was in for getting his gun and he was standing right in front of me. I grabbed his arm and got a “Hammer Lock” on him and believe me he hit the ground like a sack of sand and…I held my holt until a deputy took him over. That is the only fun I have had since I left Arcadia.
I am on guard duty now and have been on for eight straight hours. Got up at 5:30 and it is nearly two A. M. now. How is that for a day. All I have to do is sit here and see that there is no stealing. My orders are to stop them and if they did not stop use my own judgement. Things are pretty quiet so don’t guess I will have any trouble. Most of the people are gone and no one is allowed in here.
There are houses or rather what is left of them, with lily pads on top of them the water was so high. The people say that when the dykes broke the water came in a wall and a lot of people were drowned before they could get out of it. Cars are left in the road right where the water caught them. There is a steel coal care one mile from the track and two big Gul Ref. Co tanks about four miles from town where they were washed. The water just picked up about a mile of the railroad track and just turned it bottom upwards. Now that was some force. The embankment was not washed away either.
Well, Papa, it is time for my relief so will close and try to mail this tomorrow.
Love to you all
No need to write as no mail comes in and I will have to meet a train or find someone who will to mail this as the train does not come closer that 12 miles. DBJ
Today, May 12th, at 9:45 A.M. Governor Rick Scott is scheduled to sign Senate President Joe Negron’s “Senate Bill 10” in of all places Clewiston. Clewiston is “America’s Sweetest Town” and the headquarters of U.S. Sugar Corporation…
According to the article in the Glades County Democrat announcing the signing: “Earlier this week Senate Bill 10, a move to secure funding for a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee was approved. In its amended form, Senate Bill 10 became a measure that we in the Glades could stand behind. The bill no longer stated that additional farmlands be taken out of production but rather the state would utilize the property that it already owns to create a reservoir with a much smaller footprint.”
Although I am scratching my head, you know what? Sometimes you just have to be happy for what you get, no matter where you get it. I am tremendously thankful to Governor Scott for signing the bill ~ although I do wish he had decided to sign it in Martin County since we’ve worked so hard to get it.
When I read the announcement officially last night, it got me thinking about Clewiston before I went to sleep. It brought back memories of 2013 and famed paddle boarder Justin Riney’s idea to hold the Sugarland Rally in Clewiston on September 1st, 2013 to unite the movement. This was one of the early rallies for the river during the devastation of the “Lost Summer.”
Since Governor Scott is going to sign in Clewiston I think it’s a good time to walk down memory lane and be proud of how far we’ve come and to get ready for how far we have to go! The point of the location of the Sugarland Rally was to “meet halfway.” Hopefully Governor Scott is thinking the same, in that Joe Negron helped us meet half way and we are all thankful.
Now let’s remember the past, enjoy today, and then take it to the finish line!
“The Sugarland Rally will unite the east and west coasts of Florida in a peaceful, historic demonstration to speak out against the pollution of our estuaries from Lake Okeechobee discharges. We support both immediate and long-term solutions, but ecosystems and communities along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries are in crisis. We cannot afford to wait for ecological and economic collapse. We urge all stakeholders–especially local, state and federal governments–to act immediately. We chose Clewiston as a central location to unify east and west at Lake Okeechobee, the source that is polluting our estuaries, and because we believe Florida’s sugar industry can be part of the solution. Please don’t misinterpret our intentions–we are NOT holding a rally at Clewiston to protest or point fingers at “Big Sugar.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. We invite Florida’s powerful sugar industry to join us in crafting an immediate solution to the ecological and economic crisis caused by discharges from Lake Okeechobee.” (Press release from Justin Riney, Aug. 2013)