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…
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….
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.
“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)