The photograph above is one of those rare images that tells you everything even without a caption. This photo, shared by my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, (http://www.sandrathurlow.com) was given to her by Mrs. Elizabeth Early, a pioneer of Stuart, “Stuart on the St Lucie.” The photo is entitled “Mosquito Ditch Digging,” and the subjects are unidentified. My mother believes the photo was taken in our region around 1920.
Mosquitos…such an integral part of Florida ~as is our war against them. Some have even gone as far to call the mosquito our “state bird.” As a kid, growing up in Sewall’s Point, in the 1970s, I remember having to run in place at the bus stop so as not to be attacked. Forever it seemed, I had white scars covering my tan scrawny legs. Another classic mosquito tale is gleefully riding my bike, along with my friends, behind the fog of the mosquito trucks. When we heard the trucks coming we ran from our houses, meeting in the street, quickly negotiating who got to be first behind the blower.
In any case, the mosquito ditches, the mosquito control districts, and the small green and white metal markers along Indian River Drive reading “MC” for Mosquito Control are not something we think too much about anymore, but for the old timers, mosquitos, and our war against them, and thus against Nature, defines this place.
My mother’s photos from her “Mosquito Control” file tell part of our local Martin County tale below. The lands are almost unrecognizable. In 1948 when the “Bridges to the Sea” were constructed over the Indian River Lagoon onto Hutchinson Island’s beaches – everything changed. The wetlands, the scrublands, and the old bean farms from early pioneers were ditched and diked, laced through and through like a pearl necklace. The government and owners organized with the goal to control those pesky mosquitos so the land would be fit for fill and for sale.
Over time, the mosquitoes lessened, and more and more people came to replace them.
According to my mother, some of the very early mosquito control worked by allowing fish into ditches to eat the larva; this not-so-intense mode was later replaced by other more stringent methods, including chemical means using DDT. As so often is the case in Florida, we are “successful,” successful at the expense of the environment.
Today we drive over the the Indian River Lagoon and forget the wars we’ve waged to live here, and instead, we wage a war to put our environment back into place.
Whereas, if the ACOE’s discharge waters of Lake Okeechobee were “filling up the City of Stuart,” last Thursday, October 26, these polluted waters, would have reached the top of Stuart’s iconic 134 foot water tower…
Whereas, once again, our economy and ecology is completed devastated, and high bacteria levels in the water are exacerbated therefrom….We shall remember this day…
We shall, therefore, designate, Thursday, October 26, as “Water Tower Day” and say together: “Lake O discharges have reached the top; this must STOP!”
Yes, to put the Lake Okeechobee discharges into perspective, last Thursday the cumulative 2017 ACOE/SFWMD discharges from S-80 passed 134 “Stuart Feet”. The Stuart water tower is 134 feet tall. See my brother Todd’s cumulative total page below:
– In the lost summer of 2013, Stuart/Martin County received 284 “Stuart Feet”, 2.1 times the height of the tower.
– In 2017, the gates did not open until September 5. So it took only 52 days to accumulate that same amount of discharges!
– In 2013, the discharges started on May 8 (with the exception of some small pulses earlier in the year). That year, it took 91 days to hit a cumulative “134 Stuart Feet” – on August 7.
In other words, the discharges have been almost twice the rate as they began in 2013. You can see this in the slope of my brother’s graphs in the web page above. This doesn’t really mean a lot though. In 2013 the discharges didn’t really begin to accelerate until mid-July. At that point, the rates of discharge were comparable to what we are getting now.
– At the current average of about 4200 cfs, we would hit the 2013 total of 284 Stuart feet in another 42 days (December 9). If they are saying the discharges could continue for months, this could happen. We could have another record year, even though the disaster didn’t start until September. Maybe they will throttle it back a little or start pulsing again so it won’t be the case. In any event, this is already another lost year…
(This blog post was based on writing and ideas by my brother and contributing blogger, Todd Thurlow, http://www.thurlowpa.com)
* I edited this post from “today” to “last Thursday.” An ever rising story. 🙂 JTL
This first hand account of a man who is considered Stuart’s most important business leader, river captain, and pioneer, Stanley Kitching, gives rare insight into what it was like to take a drive to see the new St Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades in 1918.
My mother sent her transcribed work first published in the Stuart Messenger, entitled “A Stuart Pioneer Away From Home,” stating: “Jacqui, You might find this interesting. It’s about the Custard Apples.” The custard apple forest was 32,000 acres along the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee that like a giant sieve strained the southern flowing waters of Lake Okeechobee before entering the sawgrass river of the Everglades. That forgotten forest was demolished to access the very richest of the Everglades Agricultural Area’s famous “black gold.” There are very few first hand accounts of this forest so this article is special. Many other parts of the story will captivate you as well.
Enjoy! And “thanks mom!”
P.S. The digging of the St Lucie Canal, (C-44,) from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, was started in 1915, but not opened until 1923.
July 25, 1918
Transcribed by Sandra Thurlow, Sept. 22, 2017
A STUART PIONEER AWAY FROM HOME
TAKES TWO WEEKS VACATION NEAR HIS OWN BACK DOOR
CAMP ON OKEECHOBBE-ST. LUCIE
Party Included Mr. and Mrs. Charles Christensen, Mrs. Smart, Mrs. Robinson and Stanley Kitching.
Like a great many Stuart people, we had heard stories about the wonderful Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the rich soil, bumper crops, and the great Stuart-St. Lucie canal, so on July the Fourth our party consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Christensen, Mrs. Smart, Mrs. Robinson and myself started out to see the wonderful country lying to the west of Stuart.
We left Stuart at 9 a.m., with two cars, a Ford and a Dart, the Ford in the lead, of course. Each car was loaded to the limit. We estimated the weight in each car to be about 800 pounds. Consisting of tents, cots, cot pads, suit cases, fishing tackle, guns, axes, spade, rope, tent poles, nails, extra tires, gas, oil, spiers, mosquito bar, and enough groceries to last our party three weeks, also a lantern and flashlights and five heavy army blankets.
Just before starting we discovered a leak in the radiator of the Dart, but as we expected to find plenty of water along the road we didn’t let that bother us. We made our first stop twelve miles from town to fill the radiator as we were in cane slough and the sand on the fill was heavy and pulling hard, we put in water several times between there and the Platt place. After leaving the Platt place we left the main road and followed a cut off through the woods, passed a deserted Indian village and a mile further on came to another Indian village. We were now in the territory known as Indiantown. A squaw came out and told us we were on the right road. One mile on we passed another deserted Indian village. We found the wood’s road much easier to travel as the ground was harder. We arrived at the dam across the St. Lucie-Stuart canal at 12 noon, distance 30 miles. The dredging company were hauling a tug over the dam and we had to lay planks and board around the bow so we could pass. We got over the dam at 1 o’clock with the kindly assistance of some of the men from the big dredge.
Everglades, we ate lunch here, surrounded by a drove of genuine razor back hogs of all sizes. There is a sign on a pine tree at this point which reads 30 miles to Stuart.
Shortly after leaving the dam the road leaves the pine timber and climbs the fill made by the dredges. This fill is composed of rock, marle and shell, and we traveled it in high gear. Six miles from the dam the road enters the cypress timber, on the edge of the canal. It is very rough here for a short distance and everybody gets out of the cars but the drivers. This belt of timber extends nearly all around the shores of the lake, which looked like the Atlantic ocean on a calm day. It started to rain at this time. The road followed the lake shore, winding through the rag weeds which grow between the water’s edge and the timber line to a height of 8 feet. Five miles after leaving the canal the Dart sank in a mud hole and it took about one hour to get on the road again. We arrived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Spiers, Cleve and Reginal Kitching wife and children, about four o’clock. This locality is known as Canal Point and is close to the Palm Beach canal. Our friends came out and greeted us and helped us put up the two tents. Then everybody got busy and we all had supper out in the open under the cypress trees just as the sun was setting in a golden glow on the west shore of Big Lake. After supper we all sat around the camp fire till bed time, which came early as we were tired with the day’s run.
Friday, (6th) morning everyone was up early and the day was spent fixing camp.
Saturday we put up a flag pole on the lake shore and hoisted the American, French and English flags. Rigged up a trot line to catch fish on, cleaned up the ground around the tents, cut wood, carried water from the lake, went in bathing, etc., and found that the time passed very quickly.
Sunday we laid around the camp.
Monday we went to the farm with the boys and helped dig potatoes.
Tuesday we looked over the farm lands, raw acres of fine corn, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and the land was richer than we ever dreamed of. The custard apple land next to the ridge is covered with a growth of custard apples, rubber and maple trees which are pulled up by the roots with tractors, Fords and other kinds. This land extends for about a mile in depth, then comes the saw grass lands. This extends as far as the eye can see and is cleared by burning off the saw grass, then pulverized with a tractor. It cost $100 per acre to clear the custard land and $5.00 per acre to clear saw grass. The tractors start work at daylight, and there is no sleep after they start as they run with the exhaust wide open and can be heard for miles.
Thursday and Wednesday we went fishing and caught some speckled cat fish which were fine eating. Most of the food we used was raised right on the spot, potatoes, onions, Indian pumpkins, butter beans, green corn, tomatoes, okra, rabbits and plenty of fresh milk from Reginald’s fine cow, which grazed along the lake shore and doesn’t cost a cent to keep. There was a pen for branded Berkshire hogs on the place and lots of chickens also a fine pond. Everything on the place was at our disposal and we certainly had a fine time during our stay at Canal Point.
We took down our tents Thursday morning and left at 11 o’clock. We reached the dam about 1:30 and spent about one hour working on the roads. After lunch we left the dam and canal and started south through the pine woods looking for a new place to pitch our tents. After going about four miles through and over palmetto scrub, etc. we stopped and dug for water, couldn’t find any, so went about a mile further dug again, same result. Went about another mile and were in what is called Hungry Land. We decided to camp near a cypress pond put up our tents, got wood and dug for water. Found a damp spot after digging five feet and in about two hours we got a pail full of muddy water. We had enough water to make tea for supper, that was all. About ? p.m. we got two pails of water and boiled it on the camp fire, thinking it would settle by morning but it wouldn’t settle , it was real thick so we decided the place had the right name. We were all hungry for a drink so we went to the dam five miles away and got a pail of water. This took three hours. After breakfast we folded up out tents and drove back to the canal. Met Guyler Baker and he said he had a good pump two miles down the canal at his camp and told us to go there and camp and use anything we found there. We drove down and camped on top the bank of the canal 300 feet from the pump and stayed there until Thursday the 18th. Caught both trout and catfish out of the canal and went in swimming in the clear water drove out to the woods, a distance of five miles and while sitting in the car saw a big deer walk past at a distance of 109 steps, saw wild turkey, quail, rabbits and wild hogs in abundance and I didn’t fire a shot during the whole trip. We saw a few snakes of the harmless kind and quite a number of Indian camps. One family had nine children.
The dredge boat people were very kind to us and furnished us with ice, and offered us anything they had in case we needed it.
The lands along the canal are rich and when it is finished the adjacent farms and all the territory on the eastern shore of the Big Lake will be a feeder to the town of Stuart. If you are doubtful, take a week off and go out into the big back country to the west of Stuart.
We broke up camp Thursday morning and started for home and arrived four hours later. Luck was with us all the way as we didn’t have any tire trouble. In closing will say get a Ford and a tent and go out and see the big wide world west of Stuart.
Sometimes on a sunny day, I hear gregarious green parrots in the cabbage palms of Sandsprit Park near Port Salerno. When my husband, Ed, and I recently visited his niece at University of Miami two huge, gorgeous multi-colored macaws swooped down over cars stuck in traffic.
“Holy moly!” I exclaimed. “What was that?”
“Parrots.” Darcy calmly replied. “They got loose from the zoo after the hurricanes. Now they live here; they have chicks in a royal palm tree on campus.”
Pretty cool. Life adapts, unless you go extinct that is…Extinct: “No longer existing or living; dead.”
This was the fate in the early 1900s of a beautiful bird known as the “Carolina Parakeet,” last reported between 1910 and 1920. The “paroquet” as the old timers referred to them, had an expansive range that included much of the eastern United States, west into Colorado, and south into Florida. Their habitat? Swamps and old growth forests… what our state used to be.
As these habitats were cleared and filled for timber and development, especially from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, their range became limited, and their numbers declined. According to documentation, some of the last remaining lived in our Indian River Lagoon region.
The birds were sought after for their bright feathers and friendly voices. People kept them as pets and wore them on ladies’ hats prior to Florida Audubon’s rampage.
Perhaps the most poignant tale of their story is that the birds were very social, and like people, if a member of their group were shot, all the others would “flock to the injured,” making capture, or shooting of all others, “easy-pickings.” This compassion, an “advanced, evolved trait” sealed their fate in the extinction-book of history.
Ironically one of the most famous reports of the stunning birds occurred in the area of the Sebastian River and its confluence of the Indian River Lagoon. A local man, Chuck Fulton, whose relation was my principal at Martin County High School, seems to have guided Chapman thorough the areas as a lad when he stayed at Oak Lodge in Sebastian where his great-great grandmother lived. (Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Mind you Frank Chapman was like a movie star of his day. This would have been very exciting for young Chuck. “Frank Michler Chapman”—scientist, explorer, author, editor, photographer, lecturer, and museum curator, —-one of the most influential naturalist and greatest ornithologists of his era.
In a book “Letters to Brevard County” shared by my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Chapman accounts his travels of our region:
“The Sebastian is a beautiful river, no words of mine can adequately describe it.” Half a mile wide at its mouth, it narrows rapidly and three miles above appears as a mere stream which at our camp, eight miles up, was not more than fifty feet in width and about fifteen feet in-depth. Its course is exceedingly irregular and winding. The banks as we found them are high and for some distance from the water grown with palms and cypresses which arching meet overhead forming most enchanting vistas, and in many places there is a wild profusion of blooming convolvulus and moon flower…Here we observed about fifty colorful paroquets, in flocks of six to twenty. At an early hour, they left their roost in the hammock bordering the river, and passed out into the pines to feed….
In the “spirit of the day” Chapman goes on to describe how unafraid the birds were of him and then shoots a few birds for “science,” leaving alone those that come to the rescues of their fallen comrades…..
In all fairness, it must be noted Chapman also appealed to President Teddy Roosevelt to establish Pelican Island as a national preserve– which in time became the first U.S. National Wildlife Refuge, (also in Sebastian), and he is also credited with starting the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, where birds are counted, and not shot. Even today “scientific” specimens must be killed in order to be recorded as a new species. One day perhaps a photograph will be sufficient.
Quite a story….and so close to home.
So next time you see a brown pelican gracefully flying past, picture a flock of fifty, squawking, colorful parakeets happily trailing behind. What a colorful world our Indian River Lagoon must have been!
8-25-15 10PM: I am including a photos and comment sent to me by Dr. Paul Grey, Okeechobee Science Coordinator, Florida Audubon. Very interesting!
“Jacqui, thanks for the parakeet story. Look at the tags on these parakeets, these are the skins of the birds Chapman shot that still are in the Museum of Natural History in NY. There is a statue of the bird at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve that Todd McGrain did for his Lost Bird Project…Worth seeing.” —Paul Grey
*NOTE THE LITTLE CARD THAT SAYS “SEBASTIAN RIVER!”
I grew up in both Stuart and Sewall’s Point, not on, but close to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. My mother named our second home, “Shady Refuge,” because of the tremendous oak trees arching over the property. Many animals visited, and we welcomed them. Some even lived with our family for short periods of time. Early on, there was no Treasure Coast Wildlife Center like today, so we took animals that needed care to the vet or tried to help them ourselves. My mother was an expert at this. We were taught not to fear animals, even poisonous ones, but to respect them, and to learn from them. It was a great childhood; a great lesson for life.
The photos I am sharing today were taken at my parent’s home in Indialucie over many years.
I still live in Sewall’s Point today, 30 years later. Of course with continued development of the Treasure Coast, population growth, and continued degradation of our waterways, wildlife is not as plentiful. But it is still here! When I see an any animal, it is one of my greatest joys. Right now, a hawk is living in my and Ed’s yard. I always feel that having one of God’s wild creatures visiting me is a gift.
Thank you mom and dad for keeping this family wildlife album and know that siblings, Jenny, Todd, and I, are “passing it on….”
In first grade, I attended Parker Elementary School in Stuart. In 1970 it was called “Parker Annex.” I remember those days well and can still recall many of the names of the kids in my class; my teacher’s name was Mrs Jerdeman. Tomorrow, I will be returning to the school, 45 years later, as a guest speaker on the subject of “River Kidz and the protection of sharks”—a subject chosen at the requests of students in Mrs Maya Gebus-Mockabee’s first grade class.
Am I a shark expert? No. But I can give a good lesson as a former teacher and someone interested in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon as well as our Atlantic near shore reef habitat that is connected to our rivers. I have been a guest in many schools, mostly elementary. It’s a riot. A blast. I taught middle and high school, but elementary kids seem smartest of all. So creative! So enthusiastic! So wanting to help! Visiting these young students gives me hope for our rivers and “puts gas in my tank.”
Interestingly, if one takes a look at the River Kidz workbooks, both first and second edition, one will see that it is the bull shark who recites the River Kidz mission statement: “Our mission is to speak out, get involved, and raise awareness because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.”
Hey, did you know that the Indian River Lagoon is considered the second most important bull shark nursery in North America? Mother bull sharks come here (mostly central IRL) to have their live young and these juveniles may stay here for up to nine or ten years? Did you know that bull sharks swim way up into estuaries, can endure fresh water, and have even been reported to live in Lake Okeechobee?!
Cool! Yikes! Wow!
The River Kidz’ mission of course applies to ocean reefs as these waters and the creatures of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon are all connected!
We all know they are often needlessly exterminated for “fun,””sport” or wasteful “shark-fin soup.”
Kids with their creativity and sensitivity are able “see” that the fear and hatred directed towards sharks is sometimes extreme. And all kids know, hating just to hate, is not good.
Yes, we humans need to be careful and stay out of their way….but we need not hate sharks; it is better to respect them for the role they play in our oceans keeping disease at bay and populations in check.
3. Bull- 10 feet (The IRL is a bull shark nursery)
4. Hammer Head- 20 feet
5. Nurse- 14 feet
6. Bonnet 5 feet
7 Lemon-10 feet
8. Spinner-10 feet
9 Sand bar-10 feet
10. Great White- 21-26 feet (sometimes off our shores as they migrate through)
Legions of sharks migrate through our waters, and in winter especially, can be seen by plane sometimes by the hundreds. My husband Ed and I have seen this. And although I like and respect sharks, I have had visions of the plane crashing into the water and having a really bad day!
Yesterday, Terry Gibson, of the Pew Charitable Trust, and I spoke. What I got out of that conversation was that sharks are “really not protected;” this has to do with the politics and structure of federal and state agencies, and a “conflict of interest.” (Kind of like the Department of Agriculture oversees the Department of Environmental Protection for the state of Florida—now that’s something to be afraid of! )
Personally, I have seen boats right at our St Lucie Inlet, over the nearshore reefs, catching sharks and leaving them on deck longer than they could possibly survive– holding them up hooked to take pictures and then throwing them back hours later to sink to the bottom. I witnessed this from afar when I was a volunteer on Nancy Beaver’s Sunshine Wildlife boat from 2011-2012.
There is a long history of shark fishing in our area and acting like “sharks will last forever.” It is well documented that Port Salerno was an active and “productive” shark fishery in the Martin County’s early days—–until the resource was exhausted of course.
We must admit, that over recent generations, many of us have not been good stewards to our waters, or to sharks. Many of us we were not educated to be….I remember the movie JAWS in eighth grade. Do you? I never thought that sharks could become as they are today, a threatened species.
Hopefully the upcoming generations will be better than we were, than our parents and grandparents were. Considering these Parker students asked to study and protect sharks all on their own, a brighter future just may be coming.