“Jacqui, there is a beautiful linear park containing a diverse sample of trees similar to what was in the historic Barley Barber Swamp: the Lake Okeechobee Ridge Park. The park is the last remnant of the original shoreline of Lake Okeechobee. The Rafael E. Sanchez Memorial Trail runs throughout the length of the park and is a part of both the Big Water Heritage Trail and the Great Florida Birding Trail. The trail runs along the original sand/muck berm that was constructed along portions of Lake Okeechobee before the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes washed them out. Access is along US41 just north of the St Lucie Canal.”
The park in Port Mayaca, Martin County – next to Indiantown, is open from dawn ’til dusk, so yesterday afternoon, Luna and I went for a walk in the Rafael E. Sanchez Memorial Trail that Gary told us about. It was fascinating!
The skinny forest was stunning and even with the modern noise from the old Connors Highway ringing in my ears, it took me back about a hundred years. As I walked, I thought: “The park is the last remnant of the original shoreline of Lake Okeechobee; the trail runs along the original sand/muck berm that was constructed along portions of Lake Okeechobee before the 1916 and 1928 hurricanes washed them out…”
Soon after 1928, the state and federal governments’ answer materialized into the Herbert Hoover Dike, -forever altering the living-lake, shrinking it and blocking it from expanding.
Today I share Luna and my walk through this amazing remnant forest. Once periodically flooded, now dry, Luna and I saw only a few very tall and beautiful cypress trees. But we could imagine the old shoreline full of them with their knees pushing forth from the earth. Luna and I also saw massive strangler-figs and oaks and even the famous white moonvine that once graced the pond apple forest south and east along the lake. Luna and I also saw many cabbage palms. The leaning/curving palms, seeking light, were really beautiful. Certainly a hundred years ago the flora and fauna was very different, but Luna and I did get a “glimpse” and for that I am thankful.
For perspective, the FPL cooling pond lies to the east. The park goes on for six miles well beyond my image below. I hope you’ll check it out! Thank you Gary for your comment and for expanding my knowledge of the once great forests of Indiantown.
Even though I am obsessed with water, my first love is trees. Because the trees are gone we forget that deforestation was occurring at the same time as the building of the St Lucie Canal – and was equally destructive.
Because the cypress and pine forests of our area were logged prior to the first ariels taken by the Department of Agriculture in 1940, there is really no visual record. But we have clues.
A recent article shared with me by my mother got me thinking about our region’s “once forests” again. The long title of the article from mom’s archives reads: “Hammons Sawmill Employs 300 Men, Big Business at Indiantown Has Hum of Activity, Largest Industry in This County is Run by Texan Men.”The Stuart News article is dated Saturday, July 19, 1930 and it really gets one thinking about how extensive our cypress and pine forests once were.
The article begins:
“The biggest and busiest operation in Martin County is the plant of the Long Leaf Lumber Company, five miles northwest of Indiantown.
There, in the woods, 300 men are busy daily, cutting timber, sawing the busy logs into boards of many shapes and sizes, curing the refinished lumber and shipping it to all parts of the world… enough timber for ten years….”
“Five miles northwest of Indiantown” puts one about at today’s Florida Power and Light plant, so recognizable from the air. It is located west of Highway 710 also known as Warfield Boulvard. As far as cypress trees are concerned, we know an extensive cypress forest connected to Lake Okeechobee existed in this area prior to it being converted into a cooling reservoir for FPL in the 1970s. Today what is left is a thumb known as “Barley Barber Swamp.”
So a clue, cypress just outside the marsh of Lake Okeechobee, yes, but what about the numerous pine trees and were there any long leaf pines as the article notes the Indiantown sawmill of 1930 was run by a Texan “Long Leaf Lumber Company?”
Pines were very prevalent as we see in old photos and reports of the digging of the St Lucie Canal, but the best clue I know of mentioning long leaf pine trees lies in an abstract, No. 12386, of Indiantown. These lands can be traced to the 1850 Swamp and Overflow Lands Act; Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund; the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railway; the Southern States Land and Timber Company; The Land Company of Florida- Seaboard Railway; and in 1925 to the Indian Lumber Company. Certainly this 1855 survey map below from the abstract is a snapshot of the surrounding area pre-drainage.
Back then, as now, there were a lot of land shisters and one them of that era according to the abstract was J.H. Vaughn who in 1910 made an agreement for someone to “examine” 2000 feet of long leaf pine and 90,000,000 of cypress. He acted as a representative for Southern States Land and Timber Company but was later called into court for false representation, so perhaps he is not a trustworthy source. Perhaps Southern States Land and Timber -the company that first planted sugarcane at Canal Point blossoming into today’s sugar industry- and owned just about all the lands of Martin, Palm Beach and other- was so powerful they framed him? I don’t know. In any case, the very broad swath of lands mentioned in his agreement clearly refers to”long leaf pine.” If it wasn’t long leaf some could have been virgin slash pine or “yellow pine” that can live up to 400 years old.
So whether it was virgin cypress, virgin long leaf pine, or virgin slash pine, or another type of pine when was it timbered, some of it was cut in Martin County, Florida, near Indiantown.
According to the same abstract, in 1924, after all the lawsuits, the lands that make up today’s Indiantown went back to Southern States Land and Timber Company, or it was theirs the whole time. Crazy land deals! Eventually, they gave permission for the The Land Company of Florida to cut the timer. And then in 1926, Indian Lumber Company was “given” land to erect a sawmill at Indiantown.
(First you drain the land, then you cut the timber, then you develop it and name it after something that is no longer there.) Sorry!
So the article says 1930 and the abstract says 1926….
I think we can safely say that most of the cypress and pine forests in and surrounding Indiantown were cut in the 1920s and 1930s. I think this is important to remember. It’s not just the canals that killed the St Lucie River. It was also the cutting of the trees. Thousands of acres of trees. Great forests. Home to wildlife beyond our imagination.
Next time you’re are driving around out there, imagine the once great forests of Indiantown. They must have been a sight to see!
-July 19, 1930, Stuart News, Martin County, FL., courtesy Sandra Thurlow.
On Halloween eve, October 30th 1979, the southwest side of the dike embankment at Florida Power & Light Company’s Martin Plant suddenly, and without warning failed catastrophically.
It was the dead of night and certainly the creatures of the nearby Barley Barber Swamp sensed more than their human masters. No person saw the incident. There were no cameras, no guards, no witnesses. It was the 1970s.
We can imagine, though, even though the final report said “not,” that for months sands had been slipping, eroding underground, perhaps led by connection to the old borrow pits dug for the railroad that came through in the 1920s.
My brother Todd’s latest spectacular time capsule flight takes us through this fateful night that by the time Halloween arrived, derailed a southbound train. The conductor reported the incident to his superiors as a “flash flood.” It was eventually realized that this flash flood was part of something much larger in scope!
Even if you know the story, the numbers are staggering…
As Todd notes, when the dike let loose, 100,000 cfs of water (cubic feet per second) blew into L-65, the canal on the edge of the FPL reservoir, and into the C-44 canal connected to the reservoir at S-53. The biggest numbers we hear these days in cfs is about 5000.
Facing west, a wave surged over the sugarcane fields and overtop US 441, traveling north seven miles in the rim canal. S-308 at Port Mayaca flowed backwards, and 4000 cfs entered Lake Okeechobee.
The finally alerted ACOE maxed S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam at 15,800 cfs, (over twice the highest amount of the Lost Summer of 2013 at 5700+/-). Crazy! Todd says the max for S-80 into the St Lucie River is 16,900 cfs. Not too far off were they.
Of course, these peaks would have only been for a few hours, but nonetheless, as is often the case, these kind of numbers mean “instant death for the St Lucie.”
This FPL event traveled much further north than the C-44 canal though; the last paragraph of the SFWMD 1980 report’s “failure section” notes:
“The Rim Canal reached a peak the next day (November 1) at the north end of the basin, 17 miles from the St. Lucie Canal. The flood was contained at this northerly point by the Nubbin Slough Tieback Levee along Canal 59. The maximum area flooded, was about 14,100 acres.”
What a story!
Well, it’s only history, right? But then history has a strange way of repeating itself in one form or another doesn’t it?
From the air, Barley Barber Swamp is distinctive. Like a thimble, it sticks out into Florida Power and Light’s reservoir in Indiantown, Martin County. The 6700 acre “man made lake” can hold more than 80,000 acre feet of water. It lies just north of the C-44 canal, and east of the dike from a once sprawling Lake Okeechobee. Barley Barber is the “crown jewel.”
“This jewel of a swamp” is a popular tourist destination and considered to be one of the finest remaining old-growth cypress communities in the country. In 1972, FPL purchased the swamp and surrounding lands to build their 6700 acre cooling reservoir that it operates in agreement with the South Florida Water Management District. An intake canal connects to the C-44 and S-153 to the northwest, contains and drains waters that once naturally flowed into Lake Okeechobee.
It is a wonderful thing that FPL saved the remaining 400 acre swamp! Today it is teeming with plant and wildlife species, including ancient bald cypress tress, one qualifying as the largest in the United States. My brother, Todd, notes that some estimates put that tree at 1,000 years old. The Wikipedia entry says its 88 ft. tall with a circumference of 33 ft., while the “Lady Liberty” tree in the same park as the late “Senator” is 82 ft. tall and 32.8 ft circumference – and is claimed to be 2,000 years old?
Hmmm? Maybe in south-central Florida we are really in first place!
Cypress are valuable and majestic water trees. It’s so nice to have what’s left, but one can’t help but wonder what the swamp looked like before its ancient branches were cut for lumber, and its massive stumps burned to make way for agriculture?
Well, we can can know…almost… I asked my brother, Todd, historic map expert, if he could show us, and he has created yet another “time capsule flight” video to take us there!
Using 1940 United States Department of Agriculture aerials, a 1953 USGA topographical map, and 1974 Florida Department of Transportation map juxtaposed to Google Earth images from today, we see the swamp in all its glory stretching east with forks, like a “river of trees.” What a beautiful, beautiful swamp it must have been!
Before it was cut down, Todd calculates it at 3076 acres, or 14.81 square miles. Amazing! I wonder what animals lived there? We can imagine alligators, and owls as the images fade in and out. And then we see the swamp’s stately trees replaced by the shape of the reservoir; we see the tree stumps burning, and smoke rising the sky. An offering perhaps…
….as humans we seem determined for the theme of our lives to be “Man over Nature.” Well, sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose…
Today, Todd’s video focuses on the structure and size of the former Barley Barber Swamp, but in Part II, he will share yet another story, the 1979 catastrophic failure of the FPL reservoir that burst through its dike like a tidal wave…