Tag Archives: 1964

Part II: The Boon of the Monster Ditch, St. Lucie Canal

Today’s post is the second part of a story. A story from the 1964 50th Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News. Signalizing Half a Century of Growth and Progress in Martin County, Florida.” It is a huge special edition newspaper, 110 pages!

The article I am sharing is on page 6-H and is titled ” St. Lucie Canal Approved in 1914, Is Boon to Agriculture Here. Huge Citrus Growth Along Water Route; Mayaca Groves First.” I feel this remarkable article given to my mother for her history archives by family friend and real estate man, Ronnie Nelson, must be shared. As the 100 year “anniversary”of the St. Luice Canal is next year in 2024. At this time, I must state I am finding many different dates as to the completion date of the canal, but at this point I am sticking with an article from the Department of Environmental Protection, 1916-1924. (Ecosummary 2001, C-44 Canal)

Learning about the St. Lucie Canal can be confusing because it was “rebuilt” or “improved”  and, believe it or not, “celebrated” a few times. I think this article included in the 50th anniversary edition was written as the canal approached its second rebirth in 1937.

There is so much to learn about how the St. Lucie Canal was perceived in earlier times. And it is only through understanding the past, that we can create a better water future for today and for tomorrow.

Part I  Paragraphs 1-4 

Part II, transcription continued, paragraphs 5-11

1964 Stuart News, 50th Anniversary Issue, Thurlow Archives
1964, Stuart News 6-H and 7-H

Transcription begins:

“The completion of this monster ditch will mean much for the Everglades, for south Florida in general, and for Stuart in particular. The improvement of the St. Lucie Inlet and harbor will thus make Stuart the gateway to the Everglades, and millions of dollars worth of agricultural timber, fish, and livestock products will pass through the canal transferring at Stuart onto ocean-going vessels. The canal is, according to contract, to be completed in four years.

First tangible result of the canal for large-scale agriculture was the pioneering effort of the Port Mayaca development back around 1925, created by Bessemer Properties, Inc., a Phipps company which saw the opportunities for agriculture through scientific water control by tapping on to St. Lucie Canal with pumps to provide irrigation in dry spells. At the same time, a series of canals discharged excess water into the canal during wet spells.

Port Mayaca Valencia orange groves today represents the first big-scale successful planting of citrus in Martin County.

Port Mayaca could well be said to be the test plot on which millions were spent to prove, by trial and error, with the best possible scientific agricultural advice, what could be done by enlisting the aid of the man-made waterway.

Paul M. Hoenshel, now a resident of Stuart, was the first agricultural manager in the Port Mayaca development. He was backed by the vision and guidance of such able Phipp’s representatives in Florida as Paul R. Scott and Roy M Hawkins, as was Thomas Gartland when he took over the management in later years.

Port Mayaca was an outstanding “first” because it squarely faced up to the fact that the problems of drainage and water control must be solved if agriculture was to be successful in Martin County. The Phipps interests took the property of several thousand acres and divided it into forty-acre fields separated by drainage ditches, roads, and windbreaks.

About 100 miles of those ditches were dug in the Port Mayaca development, all linked by giant pumps to the life saving waters of the canal. Since Port Mayaca contained both muck lands and sand lands, it was an ideal test tube not only for for its initial 600 acres of Valencia oranges but also for various truck crops, gladiolus- then a major flower crop before chrysanthemums came along- and for experiments in the right grasses and mineral additives to make pasture lands where livestock could thrive…”

~End of transcription. To be continued. JTL

Google Maps 2023 shows Port Mayaca’s location on/near Lake Okeechobee, in Martin County, FL. Blue Dot is area of confluence of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon leading to St Lucie Inlet.

Article about the history of Port Mayaca and Cypress Lodge by the late historian, Alice Luckhardt.

A School by the River…SLR/IRL

Martin County High School under construction. The school replaced Stuart High School and opened MCHS doors in 1964. (Ruhnke, Thurlow Collection)

Recently, I attended the ribbon-cutting for Martin County High School’s Administration and Classroom Building. They even opened a time capsule from the school’s origins in 1964.  I hardly recognized the place…having graduated in 1982. It was so much bigger and better than when I attended. The place has come a long way from being what was literally once the county dump.

When I got home my mother had sent me a historic photograph via email (above.) I looked at it wondering what it was. I wrote back: “Where is that? Somewhere near Frances Langfords? IRL?”

I couldn’t believe it when she replied that it was an aerial of Martin County High School in 1964. I didn’t even recognize it! All these years, and I have never really realized the school lies so close to the St Lucie River. In fact, it lies not too far from where the South Fork of the St Lucie River was connected to the St Lucie Canal, today known as C-44. The link that allows polluted water in from Lake Okeechobee. A link that should be closed…

This Google map shows location with the purple pin.
Another map from Mr Young identifying location.

In her Vignettes, local historian Alice Luckhardt writes about the first school in Stuart. ~Stuart became the county seat of Martin County in 1914:

“Stuart’s first school was a one room building, about 12 x 16 feet, built in 1891 on the banks of the St. Lucie River, to accommodate the community’s children; the first teacher was Kate Hamilton whose salary was about $30 a month, but at that time there were not 12 grade levels and very few students.”

Imagine being taught, along the shores of a clean, beautiful, fish filled, St Lucie River….what a day, what an education, that must have been….

Aerial of Martin County High School, Kanner Highway Stuart, on line -MCHS E. Hassert, TCPalm 2015
Martin County, Fl
SFWMD canal and basin map. C-44 canal is the canal most southerly in the image.

MCHS web site:
http://mchs.martinschools.org/pages/Martin_County_High_School

JTL 10-27-17

A Look Back to the Orange Groves of Today’s ACOE-SFWMD’s C-44 Reservoir/STA, 1964, SLR/IRL

C-44 canal with Coca Coal's Minute Maid Orange Groves, 1963. Photo Arthur Ruhnke courtesy of historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
C-44 canal with Coca Cola’s Minute Maid Orange Groves, 1964. Photo Arthur Ruhnke courtesy of historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
SFWMD including C-44 R/STA in blue, 2014.
SFWMD including C-44 R/STA in blue, 2014. This area was once Minute Maid’s orange groves.

The C-44 Reservoir and Storm Water Treatment Area has been in the news over the past few years. Once completed by the SFWMD and ACOE with help funds raised locally, it will clean water from the tremendous and polluting C-44 basin. It is one component of the  Indian River Lagoon South Project that is part of the Central Everglades Restoration Plan. But what was all that land used for in the past? That land was orange groves. Thousands and thousands of acres of orange groves! As far as the eye could see….

Today even with the area’s transformation to STA/Reservoir, “Coca Cola” and “Minute Maid” roads remain as reminders of an all too distant past…when oranges were healthy and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was not impaired.

Today I will share eleven incredible 1964 aerial Ruhnke aerials my mother stumbled upon while creating a presentation for the Martin County Property Appraiser’s office. Arthur Ruhnke photographs are so important to our understanding of our history and I thank my mother for sharing these treasures. Art was a well-known photographer in his day and my parents acquired many of his photos.

The following is an exchange with my mother, Sandy, and long time family friend Jack Norris, who was an executive for Minute Maid. In the exchange, they “talk”about these photographs. Their interplay tells the story best, so I have gotten permission to share.

—-Jack, Tonight Fred asked me if I had any images to illustrate the his Citrus Program. These are from a packet of 10 Ruhnke negatives marked Minute Maid Groves, Indiantown, 1964. Surely the canal shown isn’t C-44? Are those workers’ houses? Sandy 


—- Sandy”Hi Sandy – The barn, equipment storage & office are located in the NW  corner of the intersection,  the buildings in the SW and NE  are workers houses, and the buildings in the SE corner are supervisors houses.   The canal running N&S was the main source of irrigation, originating at the St. Lucie at the site of the rodeo bowl. It is now substantially enlarged by the SFWMD to carry water to the new reservoir. The NS canal and l the main drainage canal was owned and operated by the Troup – Indiantown Drainage District.”  Jack 

So then my mother sends this email to me:

—-Jacqui, I am working on my program for the Property Appraisers and thought I needed to say something about western Martin County. I thought I might show the old Minute Maid Grove and say it is now a reservoir. I couldn’t find my aerials. I have finally found them and thought I would share them with you. Understanding them would be an education. Jack Norris was in charge of planting all of those millions of citrus trees.

So I today I am sharing the photos and started researching Minute Maid and the land purchase for the C-44 STA/R; this is what I found: According to a 2011 Stuart News article bout C-44 R/STA by Jim Mayfield:

“The project site, 12,000 acres of former citrus land, was purchased in 2007 for $168 million, $27 million of which came from Martin County taxpayers through the one-cent sales tax for conservation lands, South Florida Water Management officials said. The property is south of the Allapattah Flats Wildlife Management Area near Indiantown. Over the last year, the water management district has spent roughly $5 million to remove trees and rid the topsoil of copper deposits, officials said.” Jim Mayfield

I hope you enjoy these historic photos today. I find these aerials amazing!  It is my hope that one day even more of this agricultural land will be converted to hold water as Nature intended. The C-44 STA/Reservoir is a great start.

Orange Groves and C-44 canal 1964. A Ruhnke.
Orange Groves and C-44 canal. All photographs below taken in 1964 by Arthur Ruhnke and shared by historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
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“Here is one of your pictures – here and now”
(Cool video with historic maps and Google Earth fly over by my brother Todd Thurlow: (https://youtu.be/i9h1d1pzfww)
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“Chapter in Citrus to Close,” Orlando Sentinel: (http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1993-10-30/news/9310300750_1_coca-cola-juice-citrus)

ACOE C-44 final plan showing map and Minute Maid and Coca Cola Roads:(http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/review_plans/Review%20Plan_C-44%20-Final%20Version.pdf)

This ACOE sponsored video gives an artists rendition of what the C-44 R/STA will achieve for water polluted by agricultural runoff once complete:video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BsC0BoIPJ4)

TC PALM 2007: (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/ceremony-marks-start-of-work-on-c-44-project-in)

Former blog post with comprehensive info on C-44 STA/R: (http://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/09/15/reaching-the-finish-line-c-44-storm-water-treatment-areareservoir-slrirl/)

ACOE C-44 R.STA fact sheet:(https://einvitations.afit.edu/attachments/IRL_FactSheet_October2015_webview.pdf)