Category Archives: History

He Shall Be King Again! The “Silver King” Tarpon of the St Luice River, Indian River Lagoon

Tarpon Fishing, Kent Hagerman 1893-1978. Courtesy, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Fishing map of McCoy Bros. SLR/IRL date unknown, notice the extensive tarpon fishing grounds,  Thurlow Archives.
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Tarpon on the line!  Dave Preston

If we look into the mirror of history, we begin to see…

We begin to see how we destroyed one of the most famous and beloved inland fishing waters in North America and how we learned to do better.  And if we are able, in time, not only to do better, but to return “health and glory” to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, it should be the tarpon, not the sailfish, that becomes our symbol, our king.

The first formal fishing club documented in Stuart was the 1916 St Lucie River Tarpon Club. The late 1800s and early 1900s were an era of great fame for the St Lucie River, build upon President Grover Cleveland and other presidents fishing trips to the area. Yes, the St Lucie was known as the “Fishing Grounds of Presidents.”

Ironically, at this same time, the Commercial Club, that evolved into today’s Chamber of Commerce, was promoting not just Stuart’s remarkable fishing, but also enthusiastically encouraging and awaiting the completion of the St Lucie Canal.

SFWMD canal and basin map. C-44 canal is the canal most southerly in the image.

“Once the muddy water flowed into the St Lucie River, they began to realize that the canal was not the blessing they envisioned,” writes Sandra Henderson Thurlow.  Historian Alice Luckhardt more directly notes, “at one time tarpon were often caught in the St. Lucie River, but “disappeared” from those waters soon after the opening of the canal system to Lake Okeechobee in 1923.”

Ingeniously, and with more insight,  in the years following the loss of tarpon and other river fish as seen in the McCoy map above, the ocean-going sailfish was marketed to replace the tarpon and become “the most prized fish of all…” as well as in time the symbol for both the city and county governments.

The magnificent Silver King? Just a dying memory, or no memory at all…

By the mid 1930s the Chamber of Commerce began publishing the “Stuart Fishing Guide.” In 1941 the largest sailfish run in Florida’s history occurred off the St Lucie Inlet. Remarkable! More than 5000 sailfish were caught in a 90 day period. “Thousands were slaughtered only to be dumped in the river, carted off by garbage collectors, and used for shark bait.” Stuart as the Sailfish Capital of the world was affirmed, but as my mother states, if “Stuart’s fame was to endure, so was the need for conservation of the species.”

The idea for conservation/protecting the industry had been in the works, the Sailfish Club had been talking about it and a few sailfish were returned to the ocean….  But after the sailfish run of “41, the idea of an organized conservation effort was solidified, and Sailfish Club of ’31 updated their charter in “41 “to further and promote sports fishing and conservation in the waters of the City of Stuart and Martin County.” Visiting sportsmen were awarded and inspired to work for the most coveted bronze, silver, and gold lapel pins based on the size of the sail they caught and released, not killed.

This is a great story, but what of the tarpon?

I can see his giant, ancient, dorsal fin rising from the waters of a healthier St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. For me, no fish will ever compare. As we restore our rivers, it is he who shall be KING! 🙂

Close up of solidarity fish on Florida’s Capitol steps, Clean Water/Amd. 1 Rally 2-17-15.) (JTL)

FWC Tarpon: http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/tarpon/information/facts/
Tarpon Trust: https://www.bonefishtarpontrust.org/tarpon-research

*Thank Thank you to my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, whose work in Stuart on the St Lucie served as the basis of this blog post!

Link to 2016 unveiling of Silver King by sculptor Geoffrey Smith: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBwR1iHV3e8)

Vintage Catch and Release pin designed by the late Curt Whiticar.

Dave Preston of Bullsugar and Silver King, 2017.

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” Future Florida Forever Promises-Butter or Chiffon? SLR/IRL

My outdoor loving niece Julia Thurlow, Peace River trip, Martin County Bar Association.  Family photo 2009.

If you are like me, sometimes you read the headlines and ask yourself, “what is going on here?” Florida Forever? Amendment 1? Senate Bill 10?  House Bill 761?  And today? Representative Matt Caldwell, probably running to replace Adam Putnam’s cabinet position in the Dept. of Agriculture, (certainly friendly with the wishes of US Sugar Corporation) proposing “more land funding” for Florida Forever? Hmmmmm? What does that mean? Is there a  trap here? What’s the right thing? What’s going on anyway? How does all this work?

In order to try to answer some these questions, one has to take some time and study history….

In 1963, through the will of the people, the Florida Legislature began the Land Acquisition Trust Fund; in 1972 the Florida Legislature passed the Land Conservation Act for Environmentally Endangered Lands; in 1979 there was a major scandal as the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources was convicted of taking kickbacks from a land acquisition transaction and thus emerged the Conservation and Recreation Lands Program with “broader administration and oversight of land acquisition activity; ” “CARL” as it came to be known, expanded in 1981 with Governor Bob Graham’s “Save Our Rivers” and “Save Our Coasts” programs; all the while the citizens of Florida demanded such;  Governor Bob Martinez continued the tradition by appointing a “Commission on Florida’s Future” that spawned the 1990 “phenomenal success” of the Preservation 2000 Act; the successor to Preservation 2000, through Governors Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush was a name we all know and recognize, “Florida Forever.” 

Florida was on a roll supporting the wishes of the citizens to preserve the state’s natural beauty before it was plowed down for more agriculture  and development. Florida’s population was increasing exponentially…

So…..things are going “well.” The economy was growing. Florida was growing and the monies for land acquisition programs had evolved over the years to “tax the development that was causing a loss of open space in Florida.”  Thus ironically the destruction of the state became the source of funds for conserving  it. (Doc-stamp tax on the deed for real estate transactions ….) So when real estate was selling there were funds, when not there were not…

Fast forward to 2008. Some call it the Financial Crisis, some call it the Great Recession. Any of us who worked and lived through it, called it scary. During this time real estate values fell drastically. My husband and I in Sewall’s Point, Martin County,  lost 40% of the market value of our home almost overnight. In St Lucie County it was as high as 65%.

So even though at this time in 2008 right before/during the giant crash, the state legislature “promised” funding to Florida Forever at former levels, but they did not give it as they couldn’t. So instead they raided trust funds like Florida Forever to “keep the State’s doors open….” and funding for Florida Forever stopped flowing with the drought of Doc Stamp monies.

After a long dry spell, as the economy slowly improved, and people realized things were bad, but that it would not be a repeat of the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 30s, some confidence returned and once again the people of Florida rose up and spoke out to their political leaders about what was important to them.

By 2014, Amendment 1 (Florida Land and Water Legacy) was put on the ballot and eventually the Florida Constitution by a citizens’ initiative with a whopping  75% plus approval calling for 33% of doc stamp money towards land and water conservation. Palm Beach County, the land of the Everglades Agricultural Area and more commissioners gone to jail for land fraud than all the rest, was one of the highest voting blocks. The message was clear. “We are back on our feet, we want to protect Florida, fund land acquisition as before!”

The state legislature did not do this, the numbers go up and down, but never near pre 2008, and never close to 33% of doc stamp money as the intention of the initiative, so now there is a law suit by the Florida Wildlife Federation and others to force implementation thereof.  Continually, the legislature cries “separation of powers” and their right to interpret as “they know best….”

It is understandable that the recession has made us all more mindful, but this doesn’t mean we should forget about the environment, especially the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon.

Matt Caldwell? Yes, give more money to Florida Forever. But what is really behind your bill?

Joe Negron? He’s the real deal.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite commercials was Chiffon margarine. The message was that Chiffon tasted so much like butter it could even fool Mother Nature. When she found out she was mad and called on her powers with the animals surrounding her saying: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature….”

I say the same.

Stop fooling around state legislature and give us the butter. #SupportJoeNegron #SenateBill10

Chiffon Commercial: It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLrTPrp-fW8

Peace River

 

For a complete history of Florida Land acquisition from DEP please read here:
http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/AcqHistory.htm

To see how monies are divided presently under Florida Forever see this DEP link:http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/fl_forever.htm

TCPALM, Caldwell/Florida Forever funding altered but “increased…” : http://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/local/indian-river-lagoon/politics/2017/04/24/matt-caldwell-land-conservation-dollars-under-florida-forever/100846576/

Remembering Lake Okeechobee’s Moonflower This Easter, SLR/IRL

Florida map 1500s
Moon flower, public image

Florida translates to “Flowery Easter” and was christened such by Ponce de Leon in 1513. Yes, we were a “land of flowers!”

Everglades Wildflowers: http://www.wildflowersearch.com/search?oldstate=gmc%3A25.32%2C-80.93%3Bgms%3A12%3Blocation%3AEverglades%3Belev%3A1%3Btitle%3AEverglades%20Wildflowers%3B

The wildflower I would like to remember in “all its glory” this Easter is the moonflower whose sweet fragrance used to fill Lake Okeechobee’s shores.

David Troxtell of the Marie Selby Botanical Garden in Sarasota writes:

Not too long ago, Florida’s giant Lake Okeechobee would fill with rainwater and flood its southern banks every year during the wet season. The water’s slow journey through the Everglades’ 100-mile long “river of grass” and out to Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico would take months.

At the very beginning of this journey would have been a floodplain covered in a massive pond apple forest, completely blanketed in moonvine. Pond apple is a native tree which grows in regularly flooded areas, and is a preferred host for the moonvine. It has also become a rare sight in the state outside of the Everglades due to development, mostly agriculture.

The massive forest of moonvine and pond apples covering 32,000 acres along the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee was destroyed in less than a decade…” (http://selby.org/moonvine-morning-glory-family/)

What is exciting is that there is a resurgence of interest in reestablishing the pond apple also known as the custard apple which would inadvertently include the moonflower. The Art Marshall Foundation worked on such, but many were destroyed in the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. Sarah Brown, a local South Florida photographer, has a show presently at the Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades. Many of her photographs feature the few remaining custard apple trees and moonvines. Zachariah Cosner, a student at University of Miami, is writing a book on the subject and I will be featuring his work more in the coming months.

So on this sacred Easter, remember, there is hope of recovering some of Florida’s wildflowers for which we are named. May we once again be Florida, “land of flowers.”

Sarah Brown Images, http://www.sarahbrownimages.com

Nativeg8r, Pinterest image of moonflower
Moonflower center, Rebecca Fatzinger

“Holding on to the Old Ways,” Pitchford Camp~Still Alive Today, SLR/IRL

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Boo Lowery

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Courtesy of “Historic Jensen and Eden of Florida’s Indian River,” Sandra Henderson Thurlow

When I was kid growing up in Stuart, I remember seeing a lot of cottages. I loved these structures ~so simple, efficient, and adorable too. I remember cottages at Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort just north of Sewall’s Point;  I remember cottages in Rio along Dixie Highway; and I recall the cottages along Indian River Drive in Jensen at the old Pitchford Camp. Somehow the more run down they were, the cooler they appeared. A reminder of days long past before Martin County developed and we were all brainwashed of the need to build bigger houses and complicate our lives.

Today, when one hears the name “Pitchford,” one may envision a Martin County Commission embroiled in a decade of controversy, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact in the early 1900s the name “Pitchford” was a family name that defined “good times” of fishing, dancing, and playing shuffle board along the beautiful and healthy Indian River Lagoon.

Recently, I was invited by long time friend of my parents, Boo Lowery, to see his modern-day, old-fashioned, fish camp.  Boo, himself, an “old-timer” is related to many of the early families of the Stuart area. Boo’s career as a respected contractor working closely with famed architect, Peter Jefferson, allowed him to become an expert in building, moving, and renovating homes.

In the 1980s when the cottages at Pitchford Camp were going to be demolished, Boo, who along with his wife Soo is a “lover of all things vintage” stepped in and saved five of the Pitchford Camp cottages. Over time, the little structures have been moved alongside land where a “borrow pit” (dug to build part of I-95) was located. This hole in the ground, today, is a serene pond in the middle of a pine forest, and a living museum housing the Pitchford cottages and of a way of life along our waterways that no longer exists.

It was so much fun going to Boo and Soo’s and today I am sharing some of my photos. While eating hush puppies and alligator, I told my husband, Ed,  “I could live in one these cottages.” That I wanted to live in one of these cottages! He looked at me like I was out of my mind… Perhaps, he thinks I’m too soft and spoiled by “progress.” Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think I’d love it. I think I’d be as “happy as a clam…”

In any case, enjoy the photos of this very special place and thank you Boo and Soo for holding on to the old ways and for keeping  our Indian River Lagoon history alive.

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“Robert McClinton, “Doc, ” Pitchford was the only remaining Pitchford brother after Herbert’s death in 1988. When Doc died in December 2001, it was the end of an era. Doc tried to hold on to the old ways and was quite successful. The Pitchford holdings were like a time capsule surrounded by computer-age progress. Although most of the original Pitchford Camp cabins were demolished….”

Boo saved a few!

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(Excerpt and photo below from my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book “Historic Eden and Jensen on Florida’s Indian River.”

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Pitchford Camp, Jensen ca. 1930s