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.
“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! 🙂
A friend of mine, Mrs Mary Chapman, once described Stuart News reporter, Ed Killer, as “the only reporter in America who got her to read the sports page.” I feel the same way. Ed Killer’s past Sunday article entitled: “Bearing Down for the Bear Hunt,” was quite the read, and I have been thinking about it the past few days.
Bears….to think that they used to live right here in along the waters of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, and now there are none.
Today I thought I’d share a photo I have shared before, but it is certainly worth dusting off and bringing out of the archives again.
The above photos are from my mother’s book, “Sewall’s Point,” and shows Mr Reginald Waters with multiple black bears he killed on Hutchinson Island, a mother and two cubs, around 1918. The other is the “last bear shot on Hutchinson Island, 1926.” Historian, Alice Luckhardt, wrote a comprehensive piece on these black bears that once roamed our region. Here is an excerpt from a recent vignette:
“At one time, Florida black bears existed in fairly large numbers along the ocean coast between Jupiter and Fort Pierce, living in and among the mangroves and feeding on palmetto fruits and turtle eggs buried in the beach sand. However, as more people began settling the area, bears became unwelcome guests, and many were hunted and killed by early pioneers.
By the 1920s and early ’30s there were still a few wild black bears in the area. They found a tasty delight in honey and bee larvae from the numerous beehives in operation on Hutchinson Island at that time.
Jensen resident William Pitchford felt the only solution was to hunt down the bear that had been raiding his bee hives during the summer of 1931. Pitchford first thought to capture the bear using a steel trap he set out over several nights near the hives. The bear, however, was too smart to fall for that trap, avoiding it each night and still getting into the honey, destroying several hives.
Determined to end the bear’s raids, Pitchford, with the assistance of a neighbor, Vincent Wortham Sr., laid in wait one Saturday night, Aug. 8, 1931, with weapons in hand. As hoped, in the darkness of night, the bear appeared and the men turned on their flashlights. Pitchford immediately fired three times using his 303 Savage rifle, and Wortham fired his 32-20 Smith and Wesson revolver twice at the animal. The seriously wounded bear managed to scramble a short distance away before the two men later found him dead near the Pickerton farm. They managed to bring the 200-pound animal back to Jensen where photos documented the event, as this marked the last bear killed on Hutchinson Island.”
So, quite sad as far as I am concerned that we killed all the bears here. Let’s figure out how FWC, the Florida Wildlife Commission, the agency making the laws on bear hunting today “works.” —How do they fit into Florida government? How were they able to determine it is OK to shoot bears this season? For one thing FWC is not “under the governor,” a situation many state agencies would “kill for.” Oh, no pun intended… 🙂
Also, I must state that the structure of the agency is confusing like everything else in government.
There is “US Fish and Wildlife,” a federal agency, and then there is FWC, or the Florida Wildlife Commission, a state agency. One will also hear this same agency referred to as Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Why I am not sure. So Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) are the same thing. If anyone knows more about this please let me know….
In 2004 the agency, FWC. was restructured by an act of the Florida Legislature:
This excerpt below explains:
“The FWC was established with a headquarter in Tallahassee, the state capital on July 1, 1999 after an amendment to the Florida Constitution approved in 1998. The FWC resulted from a merger between the former offices of the Marine Fisheries Commission, Division of Marine Resources and Division of Law Enforcement of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP}, and all of the employees and Commissioners of the former Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) serves as the environmental regulatory agency for the state, enforcing environmental legislation regarding air and water quality, for example. In 2004, the Florida Legislature approved a reorganization of the FWC that integrated parts of the Division of Wildlife, Division of Freshwater Fisheries, and the Florida Marine Research Institute to create the ‘Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’ (FWRI) in St. Petersburg, Florida.It has over 600 employees. As of 2014 FWC had over 2,000 full-time employees, maintained the FWRI, five regional offices, and 73 field offices across the state.”
Looking at the structure one can see that the commissioners are at the top of FWC chart and the “people” are over the governor for DEP chart….
If the bears had a seat at the table, I wonder where they would be?
Full note from my historian mother when she sent the “last bear” photo:
“Jacqui, Here is a photograph of Bill Pitchford’s “last bear” that Alice Luckhart wrote about. I have a file on the Waters family who lived in Walton on Indian River Drive. The photograph of Russell Waters with the mother bear and two cubs had “1918” written on it. I am glad Ed Killer’s article explain that hunters will not be allowed to kill a mother with cubs. Reginal Waters Rice who supplied the photograph said his uncle Russell felt very bad about killing “the three bears.” Mom
When I was a young person growing up in Sewall’s Point, things were unlike today. Very few people lived here and some of the old estates sat empty for us kids to explore with out the Sewall’s Point cops arresting us for trespassing.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, I often rode my bike to what I called “Paradise Found,” or the “Secret Lagoon” which I later learned was part of the north Sewall’s Point Mt. Pisgah estate, last owned at that time, by Mr Louis Dommerich and his wife Margaret. This large parcel was later developed as “Plantation.” It is the northern most subdivision in Sewall’s Point. It is a lush amazing piece with all sorts of palms planted by the Dommerichs and many lagoons attached to the rising and falling tides of the St Lucie River.
After school, I would ride my bike up the long, winding driveway as fast as I could so my skinny 10-speed Schwinn wheels would not sink in the shell-like sand. Upon getting to the top of the hill, lay a veritable jungle, as beautiful a thing as one has ever seen. There were egrets and herons and jumping fish. I could think here; I could wander in the most gorgeous nature ever seen; I could be away from my “nagging” parents whom I now know were just trying to raise a disciplined and productive child.
An empty house sat like a lone sentinel amongst the vines and sweeping palm trees. I never approached the house as it seemed to hold too many memories, but I made the lagoons my second home.
In my mind of memories, this area is a sacred place and I feel so lucky that I was able to wander its magical shores. I somehow feel the spirit of the place helped form the person I am today.
A lot has changed since those day, but I still recall it all with great fondness…
Very recently my mother contacted me saying she had a hunch, and had it for quite some time. Her hunch was that the Dommerichs of Sewall’s Point may be related to Louis F. Dommerich and Clara J. Dommerich who founded Florida Audubon.
Wow that would be cool! Why wouldn’t we know this?!
It is well-known and written about recently in “Conservation in Florida, A History of Heroes,” by Gary L. White, that the Dommerichs of the United States became wealthy socialites, and used it for “good cause.”
“On March 1, 1900, in their Maitland, Florida home, near Orlando, they organized with friends the first Florida Audubon meeting. In time, Florida Audubon changed the world, and the fate of shore birds in Florida. Until the Florida Audubon campaign these birds were being recklessly slaughtered in late 1800s for their beautiful feathers. Their chirping, starving, chicks were left to rot in the sun. Thousands, and thousands, and thousands of birds were shot—entire rookeries decimated—all to adorn ladies hats….
Within a decade, through advocacy and education, Florida Audubon had turned this slaughter around. Today we protect birds, and ten percent of what once graced the skies is remaining…
What a legacy….saved by a shoe-string.
So back to our detective work. The couple that owned the Mt Pisgah property were Margaret and Louis Dommerich, Louis died in 1982. The older Louis F. must have died in the early 1900s. Could Louis be related to Louis?
I knew just who to contact to find out, my mom’s friend historian Alice Luckhardt who specializes in genealogy. I wrote her and she wrote back in one day. Mom’s hunch was right!
From: “Alice L. Luckhardt”
Subject: Dommerich Family
Date: August 1, 2015 at 4:31:49 PM EDT
To: Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hi Jacqui –
As you and your Mom know finding information on families is my special area of research.
I have attached a MS Word document I did up of what I found and attached a photo of Louis Ferdinand Dommerich (1841-1912) – the one with his second wife, Clara who started the Florida Audubon Society – bring together many of the local branches across the state. In the Blake Library on microfilm are the obits (Stuart news issue dates) for Louis and his wife Margaret, who lived in Sewall’s Point, who both died in 1982.
DOMMERICH, LOUIS F. November 14, 1982 Pg A8 OB DOMMERICH, LOUIS FERDINAND November 15, 1982 Pg A5 DA DOMMERICH, MARGARET WHITEHEAD October 29, 1982 Pg A8 OB
Louis Ferdinand Dommerich born Feb. 2, 1841 in Germany, died July 22, 1912 in NYC
Louis F. Dommerich was born on February 2, 1841 in Cassel Germany. His father was a college professor. In 1858-1859, Dommerich came over to the United States where he worked for as an apprentice in a German factory, Noell & Oelbermann, which served as a direct agent for a foreign manufacturing. He was employed there for ten years before becoming a partner in the renamed E. Oelbermann & Co. In 1889 the company was renamed once again to Oelbermann, Dommerich and Co. His company specialized in dry goods exchange and bank dealing in textile commerce, and became so successful that it had manufacturing companies all across the United States and Europe.
In 1885 Dommerich visited Florida for the first time, and two years later he visited Winter Park and stayed in the Seminole Hotel. In 1891 Dommerich bought 400 Acres of land in Maitland, Orange Co., Florida. His holdings included the orange groves on Lake Minnehaha. It was there that he built his first home in Maitland and called it “Hiawatha Grove” to serve as his winter residence. He kept also a home in NYC. The house constructed was a 30 room-mansion surrounded by 130 acres of landscaped grounds and 72 acres of citrus trees. The mansion was an impressive three-story frame house containing multiple turrets and gables. His wife, Clara J. Dommerich (his second wife, married in Oct. 1884) established the Maitland Public Library in 1896 — started with 360 books and Louis Dommerich was its major contributor. In 1907 he donated $3,000 in memory of his late wife, who died in 1900. From 1897 to 1904, Dommerich served on the Rollins College Board of Trustees. He and his wife founded the Florida Audubon Society in mid-1900 in the their home because of the all the bird feathers being used in fashion hats and served as president from 1901 to 1911. Supporters of the Florida Audubon Society in 1900 were President Theodore Roosevelt, railroad baron Henry M. Flagler, Gov. William Jennings, the presidents of Rollins and Stetson colleges and the editors of leading newspapers in the state. In 1903 Dommerich donated $5,000 towards Rollins College’s first endowment. In 1907 Dommerich donated $500 to help secure Carnegie Library and in 1910 he donated $1,000 to help secure a science building. Back on the Board in 1909, he remained a trustee until his death in 1912.
Louis Ferdinand Dommerich died at the age of 72 on July 22, 1912. His son Alexander Louis Dommerich served on the Board of Trustees as his other son Otto Louis Dommerich helped Hamilton Holt finance the College in 1927. By the time Louis Ferdinand Dommerich died, his company had become one of the most prominent commercial banking houses in the world. Hiawatha Grove stood until 1954, when the property was sold for $420,000, the house was torn down to make way for homes in the area.
Louis Ferdinard Dommerich and first wife Julie Louise Dommerich (1843-1882) – one of their sons was Otto Louis Dommerich (1871-1938). A son of Otto was Louis Ferdinard Dommerich, born May 4,1906 in NYC, married to Margaret, their had a home first in NYC and later in Deer Park Meadow in Conn. and on Sewall’s Point.
Louis F. Dommerich, born 1906 died in Martin County on Nov. 11, 1982. His wife Margaret died in 1982. This Louis was the grandson of Louis F. Dommerich who with his second wife, Clara started the Florida Audubon Society.
Their son was Louis Alexander Dommerich, born 1929 and died 2004.
Well thank you Alice and thank you mom! And thank you that I was born in a time when I got to experience “Paradise Found”, because so much of paradise has been lost.
Thank you my mother’s (Sandra H. Thurlow) chapter on Mt Pisgah in her book Sewall’s Point, a History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast,” form which content and photos come.
Today our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon Region is referred to as the “Northern Everglades,” back then, it was all the “Everglades”….
Today’s historic photos were shared because of my last two days of blogging featuring my brother Todd’s flying video showing where the dreaded C-44 canal entered the South Fork of the St Lucie River in 1923 connected from Lake Okeechobee.
Alice Luckhardt, friend and local historian, has been trying to figure out where the Everglades actually “started” in Martin County as she is writing a history of Martin County’s infamous Ashley Gang. (They used to hide out in the Everglades.) Alice’s Leslie’s New World Atlas 1920s map, the second from the top of this page, kind of makes Martin County “look” pretty dry….as do the other two maps shared by my mother…
Viewed closely, the old maps show different “Everglades” boarders as seen most clearly in the 1949 Everglades Drainage District map at the top of this page. This map comes from my mother’s files and she notes that it shows “Township 40, Range 39, in Martin “in” the Everglades….
So what determines “the Everglades?”
Of that I am not certain but in my mind it is a swamp. But swamps in Florida “come and go” with the rains. Also the Everglades has many different faces/landscapes that are part of a greater whole–different kinds of micro environments like pine forest, hardwood hammocks, mangroves forests, endless sawgrass prairies, tall ancient cypress forests, marshlands, wetlands, ponds, some higher ridges separating rivulets and standing water, little creeks that come and go, shallow clean fresh water flowing ever so slowly across white sugar sands…Aggg! Did I just say that! 🙂
So anyway, I then went to the US Government maps my brother showed me awhile back and here one can see the “little ponds “of the Everglades right there in Stuart, Jensen Beach, and of course in what is today’s Palm City. They were in today’s St Lucie County too. Wouldn’t this be the “everglades?”
In fact, when I was a kid, there was a large pond near our family home on East Ocean Boulevard across from today’s Fresh Market. Now it’s gone…and the road goes through…”They” moved it….
I think we have really moved just about “everything.” Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean we can’t put some of it back, or start draining and saving water in a new way. Studying old maps and aerials is a good place to start!
*Thank you to historians Alice Luckhardt and Sandra Thurlow and Todd Thurlow for sharing their cool old maps!