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. …
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.
Location: Confluence of the St. Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon; St Lucie Inlet; Roosevelt Bridge; west of Jupiter Narrows; western Martin County lands near Green Ridge and other areas; S-308 Port Mayaca; Palm City SLR area.
Conditions: No discharges from Lake Okeechobee. ACOE stopped April 15, 2013. There have been two major rain events in the past weeks.
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 toalligators like Al-Pa-ti-o-keeSwamp 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 somerestoration 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.
Documenting the Discharges – 2023 to St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from Lake Okeechobee – 74 days!
Date: Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Time: Around 11 am
Tide: High at Sewall’s Point
Pilot /Photographer: Ed Lippisch
Location: St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, St Lucie Inlet, Nearshore Reefs, Atlantic Ocean, Sailfish Flats, Jupiter Narrows, S-80 St Lucie Lock and Dam in St Lucie Canal (C-44), and S-308 at Port Mayaca at Lake Okeechobee
These aerials were taken today, March 22, 2023, around 10:45 am. High tide crested at 11:09 am. Thank you to our eye in the sky and the apple of my eye, Ed Lippisch for consistently photographing the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Also included is S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee-checking for algae.
Tomorrow there is a meeting at noon at the St Lucie Locks and Dam of the longstanding defenders of the the river, the Rivers Coalition, asking or one could say, demanding, that the discharges to be stopped. We all know that discharges are helpful for lowing a high (now 14.84) Lake Okeechobee, but not for the health of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, who has unfairly bore this burden for 99 years.
-St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon with discharges of 500 cfs. Aerials Ed Lippisch.
-S-308 3-22-23 Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee – no visible algae at 1500 feet, Photos Ed Lippisch.
Today I share “on the water” visual reporting by my brother, Todd Thurlow. On Saturday, March 18, 2023, Todd and family took a boat ride to the popular Sandbar area just inside the St Lucie Inlet of Martin County. This is a region my husband Ed and I have been documenting since the 500 cubic foot per second discharges from Lake Okeechobee began by the Army Corp of Engineers on January 22, 2023. First there was no algae reported then there was. The ACOE has started and stopped at least three times as reported by TCPalm, but now with the weather cool the gates are again open.
For months, from the air, the historic seagrass beds have looked like a desert.
Todd’s pictures close up, on the water, show some life and give hope that by June or August there may be more lush seagrass meadows as retuned in 2022. Sprigs of seagrass, although light, are visible along with young welch, conch, and moon snails. Wading birds and sea birds can be seen feeding on and around the flats. Rays or manatees take off -hiding in sand cover. Such a beautiful place! This area and its critters are protected; be careful and thoughtful when boating here. It is an Indian River Lagoon aquatic preserve.
Ravaged by discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 2013, 2016, and 2018, the SLR/IRL does not need any Lake O water, this particularly holds true when blue green algae has been reported by the SFWMD, ACOE, FDEP, and the public.
Thank you Todd for this documentation 3-18-23 taken around 11: 50 am.
Thank you for FWC – Florida Wildlife Commission- for creating these IRL Aquatic Preserve signage to help educate and protect seagrasses. Please share! IRL A.P. 18-24 large seagrass_sgn
Todd Thurlow is the author of the website eyeonlakeo.com for “science for the everyday person.”
My husband Ed took these aerials yesterday March 4, 2023 around 11am. He described it as a “mid tide” between high and low. Also swinging by Port Mayaca, at Lake Okeechobee, this time there was no visible algae.
Following Ed’s aerials I am including those of Dr. Scott Kuhns whose photographs taken on February 27, 2023 around 10am showing streaks of algae caused the ACOE to close gate S-308 at Port Mayaca for about 2 1/2 days. Kudos to Dr Kuhns! And thank you to the ACOE for closing!
So the pictures directly below are Ed’s 3-4-23 and those following are Scott’s 2-27-23. We will continue to document the discharges with hopes they will be halted. We all agree that St Lucie River suffers under the discharges. She was taking water to avoid algae in summer. No one thought algae sightings would begin so early in February, but they have. With this discovery, it is time to 🛑 stop! Cyanobacteria is impossible to 100% track and understand. It is too ancient and will outsmart us every time. Close the locks.
If your’e a history person, or someone who likes to read about the Everglades, you have probably heard the name, “Buckingham Smith.” We learn that the drainage and destruction of the Northern Everglades to drain the Entire Everglades all started with his 1848 reconnoissance and report to the United States Treasury.
Perhaps Smith’s report was the first and major factor, but one can’t read it without noting Smith’s stunning description of the Everglades. Today such words, from someone hellbent on drainage would sound contradictory.
Today, I am transcribing parts of Buckingham Smith’s 1848 report. It was Florida’s Senator, James Westcott who asked the U.S. Department of the Treasury to make this study. Westcott was one of Florida’s first senators when Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845. Smith’s report came out in 1848 and has been reprinted many times. It is world famous. You can access the report partially reprinted in 1911 at the above link.
The link will bring you to Document No. 89 of the U.S. Senates’ 62nd Congress, 1st Session, entitled, Everglades of Florida, Acts, Reports, and Other Papers, State and National, Relating to the Everglades of the State of Florida and their Reclamation, Washington Government Printing Office, 1911. The excepts below are of particular interest from that report.
Transcription page 49, Buckingham Smith Report: (Draining Lake O)
“To reclaim the Everglades and the Atseenahoofa and Halpatiokee Swamps and the lowlands on the margin of the Kissimmee River and its tributaries, and the other rives emptying into Lake Okeechobee, this lake must be tapped by such canals running into the Caloosahatchee on the one side and into the Lochahatchee or San Lucia, or both, on the other, and the cuts must also be made from the streams on both sides of the peninsula into the Glades. Besides, after the height of the waters in the Glades should be decreased, even as much as 5 feet, there will probably be a necessity for several drains through the Glades and those swamps, by which the waters accumulating from the rains may be conducted to the ocean or gulf…”
This excerpt is interesting for me because San Lucia is the St Lucie River. Smith is saying the St Lucie should be tapped or cut to allow Lake Okeechobee to drain to the ocean. This is the first formally government documented statement of such an observation/recommendation. The Halpatiokee Swamp, also mentioned as the headwaters, was located between today’s Martin and St Lucie counties. I am told by my brother Todd that Halpatiokee Swamp and “Alpatiokee Swamp” were used interchangeably. Both meaning “Alligator” in Seminole or some similar language stock. The Loxahatchee river, spelled “Lochahatchee” by Smith, was never connected to drain Lake Okeechobee but has been partially channelized and otherwise extensively drained. The Calooshatchee was tapped first by Hamilton Disston around 1881 to drain Lake Okeechobee and then widened and deepened multiple times as also with the St Lucie. “Asteenahoofa,” a new work for me, was Smith’s word for today’s Big Cypress Swamp.
Transcription page 51, Buckingham Smith Report: (The unusual beauty of the place)
“Imagine a vast lake of fresh water extending in every direction from shore to shore beyond the reach of human vision, ordinarily unruffled by a ripple on its surface, studded with thousands of islands of various sizes, from one-fourth of an acre to hundreds of acres in area, and which are generally covered with dense thickets of shrubbery and vines. Occasionally an island is found with lofty pines and palmettos upon it, but oftener they are without any, and not unusually a solitary majestic palmetto is seen, the only tree upon an island, as if to guide in approaching it, or a place of signal or lookout for its former denizens. The surrounding waters, except in places that at first seem like channel ways (but which are not), are covered with the tall sawgrass, shooting up its straight and slender stem from the shallow bottom of the lake to the height of 10 feet above the surface and covering all but a few rods around from your view. The water is pure and limpid and almost imperceptibly moves, not in partial currents, but in a mass, silently and slowly to the southward. The bottom of the lake at the distance of from 3 to 6 feet is covered with a deposit of decayed vegetable substance, the accumulated product of ages, generally 2 or 3 feet in depth on the white sand and rock that underlies it over the entire surface of the basin. The flexible grass bending gently to the breeze protects the waters from its influence. Lilies and other aquatic flowers of every variety and hue are to be seen on every side, in pleasant contrast with the pale green of the saw grass, and as you draw near an island the beauty of the scene is increased by the rich foliage and blooming flowers of the wild myrtle and the honeysuckle and the shrubs and vines that generally adorn its shores. The profound and wild solitude of the place, the solemn silence that pervades it, unless broken by the splashing of a paddle of the canoe of light bateau with which only can you traverse the Pahayokee, or by the voices of your “compagnons du voyage” add to awakened and excited curiosity feelings bordering on awe. No human being, civilized of savage, inhabits the secluded interior of the Glades. The Seminoles reside in the region between them and the Gulf. Except for the occasional flight of an eagle or a bittern, startled by the strange invaders of their privacy, for for a view of the fishes in the shallow waters gliding swiftly from your boat as it goes near to them your eye would not rest on living thing abiding in this wilderness of “grass waters,” shrubbery, and flowers…”
This page 51 excerpt is interesting because this man who we have forever associated with the determination to drain the Everglades obviously also recognized its awe and beauty. Buckingham Smith was a very learned man of his era, a deep intellectual. I think it pained him in some way to recommend drainage. He had a job to do -survey – and he knew what the government wanted to do. In his full report, he did really present both options: the Everglades’ incredible beautiful essence, and then on the other, hand demonizing it as a filthy swamp to be resurrected for mankind, as below.
Pages 53 and 54: (Smith’s most quoted reference to why the Everglades should be drained)
“Eminent statements and philosophers have, in estimating the services of individuals to their county and to their fellow men, advanced the opinion that he who causes two sheaves of wheat to grow where one only grew before, better deserves the thanks of his race than the author, the legislator, or the victorious general. The degree of merit awarded by them to the particular act first specified may be extravagant, but no one of sound moral judgment will, it is presumed, deny that then increase of the agricultural resources , and the promotion of the the agricultural interests of a people already politically free, is the very highest service that can be rendered them, and most conductive to the preservation of their independence, prosperity, and happiness. The citizen, whether in executive or legislative station, or without either, who succeeds in making fit for cultivation, even if but partially, a region equal in extent to either of the smallest State of this Confederacy, now as useless as the deserts of Africa, will earn a rich meed of praise from the people of Florida and of the Union. The Everglades are now suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilent reptiles. The statesman whose exertions shall cause the millions of acres they contain, now worse than worthless, to teem with the products of agricultural industry; to be changed into a garden in which can be reared many and various exotics, introduced for the first time for cultivation into the United States, whether necessaries of life, or conveniences, or luxuries merely; that man who thus adds to the resources and wealth and independence of his country, who contributes by such means to the comfort of his fellow men, will merit a high place in public favor, not only with this own generation, but with posterity. He will have created a State. I feel that to be connected with the inception of a measure which, if carried out properly, will probably produce such results; to be identified, even in a secondary position, with the commencement of an undertaking that must be so eminently beneficial to my country, is a privilege of no mean consideration…”
This report has been used thousands of times to showcase the words “The Everglades are now suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilent reptiles.” A sharp contrast to “Lilies and other aquatic flowers of every variety and hue are to be seen on every side, in pleasant contrast with the pale green of the saw grass, and as you draw near an island the beauty of the scene is increased by the rich foliage and blooming flowers of the wild myrtle and the honeysuckle and the shrubs and vines that generally adorn its shores. The profound and wild solitude of the place, the solemn silence that pervades it, unless broken by the splashing of a paddle of the canoe of light bateau with which only can you traverse the Pahayokee, or by the voices of your “compagnons du voyage” add to awakened and excited curiosity feelings bordering on awe.”
I wonder what Buckingham Smith would write if he were alive today?
These aerial photographs were taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, on Friday, February 24, 2023 around 1:51 pm during high tide. It was a beautiful day and many boats were fishing over the nearshore reefs. The 500 cubic feet per second discharges are much less noticeable at high tide; the visual loss of seagrass remains. I am sharing all photographs -many are very similar, you can look for small differences.
Please see slides from ACOE Periodic Scientist Call on 2-21-23 for updates on Lake Okeechobee level, red tide on west coast, east coast conditions, and other important information. Periodic_Scientists_Call_2023-02-21
With the hot, dry weather the last few days Lake Okeechobee’s evaporation should be high. Today the SFWMD reported the lake at 15.61 feet. You can see the ecological envelope band in gray below.