John Whitcar, of the famed local Whiticar Boat Works family, has been a longtime family friend, and I have featured his incredible photography before. Today’s shared photos were taken on March 5th.
He describes today’s photos below:
House of Refuge Huge Waves Monday, March 5, 2018 / Stuart Florida, USA 11 ft. waves coming in from North Easter off of New England. Very little wind / High Tide / ~11:00 am
The story of the House of Refuge is an amazing one, being the last of its kind, Old-Florida pine construction, having endured multiple hurricanes and other forces of time and nature, and still standing since 1876.
“US government houses of refuge were constructed to assist shipwreck survivors and were unique to the east coast of Florida. Ten were constructed between 1876 and 1886, but only but Martin County’s Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge survives.” ~Historian Sandra Thurlow
The moral of the story?
Build your house upon a rock. ~Including the Anastasia Formation, preferably.
The headlines of the South Florida Developer on December 29th, 1925 bragged about a Stuart along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon very different than the one we know today:
“Port of Stuart, Florida’s New Gateway. “
“The Opening of the St Lucie Inlet to the commerce of the world will bring to Stuart and all Martin County that belated recognition to which it is rightfully entitled by virtue of its strategic geographic location.”
“W.B. Shearer, recognized international authority on ports and waterways, makes the positive statement that of all the East Coast’s four hundred miles of waterfront, the harbor at Stuart is the the only port with natural advantages suitable for a naval base…”
“St Lucie Ship Canal Locks- the first link in the chain of waterways that will eventually form a navigable canal from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico is the “St Lucie Ship Canal” now 95% complete. It’s completion will open up the fertile western portion of Marin County…”
As these headlines show, the “Port of Stuart” was not just a dream, in the early 1920s, it was a becoming reality. Details of the port still exists in dusty federal, state and local documents. If it were not for the Great Depression of the late 1920s and the difficulty for the ACOE in dynamiting the Anastasia rock from the bottom of the St Lucie Inlet, it could have been a reality.
So how could this be? Today an idea like this would be heresy!
Well, Captain Henry Sewall, for which the peninsula of Sewall’s Point is named, was one of many responsible for this “heresy.” Not only had he led locals to open the St Lucie Inlet by hand in 1892, he had served as county commissioner, and state representative.
In 1910 Captain Sewall and his powerful business friends, including adventurer Hugh Willoughby, founded “Sewall’s Point Land Company,” as Captain Sewall had inherited the tip of Sewall’s Point and large portions of waterfront and other lands along Stuart through his family linage to the famous Miles-Hanson Grant.
According to Sandra Thurlow’s book: “Sewall’s Point, the History of a Peninsula on Florida’s Treasure Coast,” after the formation of Sewall’s Point Land Company, the men got right to work building the Sunrise Inn on Old St Lucie Boulvard, and miles of roads in today’s Golden Gate; (see map above), government, bonds were held by the county and a turning basin at the tip of Sewall’s Point was dredged; this fill created today’s Sandsprit Park.”
A turning basin at Sewall’s Point? You’ve got to be kidding.
They were not.
Even poetry was written for the dream, ironically by beloved environmentalist, Ernie Lyon’s father:
Just One Place for the Harbor by Harry Lyons 1924
“Brave sailors in Atlantic storms, A harbor need for aid. They skirt the coast of Florida, Lest commerce be delayed. When hurricanes sweep o’er the deep, And ships grave perils face, ‘Tis the duty of all mariners, To seek an anchorage place. You’ll find the place for a harbor here, Where the old St. Lucie flows. There is room for ships at Sewall’s Point, Where the Indian River goes. No where else is there such an inlet, Down below or up above. There is just one place for the harbor! Stuart the town we love! From Stuart to Fort Myers at last, We’ll have a waterway, When the canal is finished, And they’re hastening the day. Across Lake Okeechobee, From the Gulf of Mexico, Oil and phosphate, fruit and lumber, Into Stuart soon will go.”
Sewall died in 1925 and the bottom fell out of the real estate market around 1926. Around the same time, two devastating hurricanes put the nail in coffin of the Stuart Port at the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
It is interesting to note that the St Lucie Canal, C-44, between Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River was completed not only for transportation and trade, but for flood control of agriculture and people working south of the lake. The prosperity associated with the canal for the local people of Stuart never came and the canal ended up being a major factor in the destruction of their beloved waterways…
Well time goes on, new dreams come and go; new fortunes are made and lost. But for old times’ sake, one can stand at Sandsprit Park, and look out to Sewall’s Point remembering perhaps Stuart’s biggest dream, the lost dream, and for many, a dream well lost, the dream of the “Great Port of Stuart.”
*Thank you to my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, for sharing her historic articles to make this write up possible.