Tag Archives: comprehensive history St Lucie Canal

“The Boon of the Huge Ditch,” St Lucie Canal

Today, we will continue to study an article of a 1964 50th Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News from my mother’s history archives. We are doing this in light of the upcoming 100 year “anniversary” of the St. Lucie Canal.

The title of the this article, published originally in the 1920s is “St Lucie  Canal, Approved in 1914, Is Boon to Agriculture Here. Huge Citrus Growth Along Water Route; Mayaca Groves First.” In 2023with all of our water quality issues it is hard to imagine supporting the digging of this giant ditch. Back in the 1920s, it was a promise for a better future.

Looking west towards Lake Okeechobee. St Lucie Canal meeting the south fork of the St Lucie River c. 1920s. Thurlow/Ruhnke Collection.

TRANSCRIPTION, first 4 paragraphs of Stuart News 50th Anniversary Edition, 1964, page 6-H. JTL

“The St Lucie Canal, a twenty-five  mile artificial river tapping vast Lake Okeechobee, was originally approved back in 1914 as a drainage and navigation outlet from the lake, with great accent upon its commercial use as a barge waterway, but few foresaw that its greatest boon would be to agriculture. Digging began in September 1915, with dredges starting at the lake and working eastward.

Excerpt, Stuart News Anniversary Edition 1964.

The land from Stuart westward to the mysterious lake was a wilderness supporting a few scrub cattle and a few patches of “hit-and-run” tomato farms which were frequently drowned out or parched. Small scale citrus plantings, attempted on ten-acre tracts west of Palm City and Port Salerno were bringing heartbreak because of a lack of water control. There was either too much or too little.

Back on November 5, 1915, the Stuart newspaper reported the work of digging the huge St. Lucie-Okeechobee drainage and shipping canal is progressing nicely and is being hurried along with night and day shifts. Two dredges are employed in the work, each operating from the Okeechobee end. The small dredge, which precedes the larger, is now about one and one-half miles from the lake, and is advancing at the rate of about 600 feet a day. The large dredge which completes the actual work of digging the huge ditch has reached a point about one and one-half miles from the Okeechobee end and is excavating dirt at the rate of about 10,000 cubic yards daily. If this rate could be maintained constantly work would be finished in a year. Actual digging operations on the canal have been in progress for about five weeks. It is probable, the the Furst Clark Construction Company, the contractors, will also put a dredge at the St Lucie end of the canal so as to expedite the work, although no definite announcement to this effect has been made.

Manuscript Collection, courtesy, Florida Memory https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/335255
Dredge “Culebra” on the St. Lucie Canal in the Everglades Drainage District, 1925.

The St Lucie Canal will be the main control canal of the immense Everglades drainage system, the largest drainage project in the world. The huge ditch will be twenty-five miles in length. 200 feet wide at the top, 160 feet wide at the bottom, with a maximum depth of twelve feet. It will empty into the south fork of the St lucie River six miles above Stuart, the waters reaching the Atlantic Ocean through St Lucie Inlet about the same distance southeast of Stuart. Indications are the digging operations will now go steadily forward until the completion of the canal and that no further hitch up will result  as the Internal Improvement Board of Florida and the United States War Department have come to a thorough understanding…” 

-End of transcription.

Florida Geology Collection, courtesy Florida Memory, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/124753
People along the Saint Lucie Canal near Indiantown. Note sand. Unlike other canals  constructed, at least partially along the alignment of natural creeks or rivers, the St. Lucie Canal winds through uplands with no natural drainage patterns (SFWMD historic timeline). The St Lucie has/had no natural connection to Lake Okeechobee.

The St Lucie Canal, now known as the C-44 Canal since becoming part of the Central and Southern Florida Project of 1948, runs from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Luice River. The canal/ditch allows for both “basin runoff” (historically almost all of this water flowed south to the Loxahatchee system attached to the Everglades) and  Lake Okeechobee’s waters to be directed through the St Luice River. The “ditch” is also designed to flow backwards into the lake if the lake level is lower than the canal level.

The infamous St Lucie Canal in spite of its “boon for agriculture and Everglades drainage” has been, and continues to be, the most controversial canal in Martin County (in 1925 Martin County was created from Palm Beach County and a smaller part of St Lucie County) due to its potential for immense, longstanding, economic and environmental damaging discharges to the St Lucie River.

Thankfully and ironically, progress by the same entities that built this huge “ditch” is being made by the modern  Army Corp of Engineers (referred to in the historic Stuart News article as the United States War Department) and their local partner whose origins go back to the 1905 Everglades Drainage District now the South Florida Water Management District.  Yes, modern progress is being achieved through the Indian River Lagoon South portion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. As we know, times change and so does the definition of what brings a better future!

As we work to improve the system it is important to understand the perceived positive and negative consequences of the history of this “ditch.” I will be writing a lot about the St Lucie Canal this year, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, next year, 2024, will be the official anniversary of the St Luice Canal.

Google Maps today in 2023. The red bubble is near Indiantown. The St Lucie Canal runs from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River and out to sea at the St Luice Inlet, near blue dot. The St Lucie “ditch” cut through uplands of narrow strips of pine flatlands interspersed with hammocks, ponds, sawgrass, wide prairies, sloughs and cypress trees, severing the natural flow south of water from Allapattah Flats and connected lands that once drained almost entirely  into the Loxahatchee/ Everglades system that also has been severed.

Study of this historic article is to be continued…JTL