Tag Archives: drainage machine

The Far Reaching Hand of Hamilton Disston/Our Savannas, and the Indian River Lagoon

Aerial photo over the Savannas, a mosaic of color comparable to one of Monet's most beautiful.
Aerial photo over the savannas.(Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch/Ed Lippisch 2013.)

I learned something recently that surprised me…

Hamilton Disston, the titan-developer and “drainer extraordinaire” who bailed Florida’s “Internal Improvement Fund” out of debt in 1881 owned land right here in St Lucie and Marin Counties. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_Disston)

My first thought upon realizing this, was “what if he’d started draining here? “

Disston instead started along the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee and was the impetus and inspiration for draining south and central Florida which has led to our state’s development but also our environmental destruction.

Disston 4,000,000 acres from the state of Florida in 1881, which included much of the land within the savannas. ( Public map, 1881.)
Disston purchased 4,000,000 acres from the state of Florida in 1881, which included much of the land within the savannas. ( Public map, 1881.)

The above map shows in pink the 4,000,000 acres of land that Hamilton Disston purchased which although hard to see  included much of the land within our savannas.

Plat map of St Lucie Gardens originally part of Disston's lands in the savannas, 1911. (Courtesy of historian Sandra Thurlow)
Plat map of St Lucie Gardens originally part of Disston’s lands in the savannas, 1911. (Courtesy of historian Sandra Thurlow)

Another wild thing I recently realized in relation to Hamilton Disston is that my friend Sam Henderson, of Gulfport, is the mayor of Disston’s first founded city. Gulfport is in Pinellas County near Tampa. Sam is certainly one of the most environmentally oriented mayors in the state; we know one another from our work on the Florida League of Cities’ environmental committee.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulfport,_Florida)

Mayor Gulfport, Sam henderson and I at a recent Florida League Cities meeting, 2014.
Mayor of Gulfport, Sam Henderson and I at a recent Florida League of Cities meeting, 2014.

So for some reason, before my epiphany last week, I had no idea that Disston’s drainage machine went so far north beyond Tampa, to where Sam lives on the west coast, and so far east, to my home area near the savannas, along the Indian River Lagoon. You’d think I’d know such a thing!

Savanna State Park, Martin and St Lucie Counties. (Photo from their website.)
Savanna State Park, Martin and St Lucie Counties. (Public photo.)
The Savannas today are located  between Jensen Beach Boulevard to Midway Road.
The Savannas today are located  between Jensen Beach Boulevard to Midway Road. (Public map.)

Well my mother Sandra Thurlow did know, and when I ask her about it she told me that in her book  Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River, I could read all about the savannas ecosystem that was once almost 200 miles long and has been reduced to 10 ecologically intact miles between Ft Pierce and Jensen Beach, and how the railway running along its eastern edge ironically protected it.

She also noted that in 1854, a Florida state engineer/geologist proposed cutting a canal from the “Main Savanna” into the St Lucie Sound. This did not happen, but some of the land was developed as St Luice Gardens and development certainly has encroached…

What if they’d drained it all…..

To close, we are fortunate that Hamilton Disston did not start draining around the SLR/IRL and that we have a small remnant of the savannas left. Let’s continue building  friendships with other environmentally water-oriented people our across our state and put the drainage spirit of Hamilton Disston on the shelf where it belongs.

_______________________________

Many thanks to those who worked to create Savannas State Park like former Martin County commissioner Mrs Maggie Hurchalla.

Savannas State Park website: (http://www.floridastateparks.org/savannas/)

 

“Stuart on the St Lucie,” Real Estate History and the Cluelessness of Developers Regarding the Health of the Indian River Lagoon

St Lucie Estates, On the Beautiful St Lucie River, Stuart Florida, 1926 booklet. (St Lucie Estates, Inc.)
St Lucie Estates, On the Beautiful St Lucie River, Stuart, Florida, 1926 booklet. (St Lucie Estates, Inc.)

In the 1960s, I grew up in St Lucie Estates, Stuart, Florida, the neighborhood just north and south of Kreugar Creek close to the St Lucie River, not too far from Downtown Stuart. Until I was ten, we lived at 109 Edgewood Drive. I loved that little brick house. I had full reign over the neighboring empty lots and could ride my bike on the “black road,” to get to a park, along  the river, next to the Granfield’s house. The kids of the neighborhood often met there, and we pretended the gigantic, falling Australian Pine was a ship and we made it into our fort. We traveled across oceans. We fought pirates. It was a wonderful childhood.

As a kid, I had no idea of the long running issues with the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the canals, and Lake Okeechobee. I just knew I loved the river. I loved that I could escape there. Even when I was in high school, living in Sewall’s Point, I’d steal away and sit under the bridges and “think” in the privacy of the river’s ancient calm.

Today, at half a century, I am still in love with the river, but I view it in a different light. A light of history and destruction. My heart aches because I really don’t know if it can make it against the odds. Now that I am older, I know its complete destruction has been coming for a long time, kind of like a cancer. I am miffed that since 1923, when the ACOE first connected the C-44 to the South Fork of the St Luice, that locals were not able to stop the “drainage machine,” as Ernie Lyons, previous editor of the Stuart News, called it. I am miffed also that the state and federal agencies would so blatantly kill an ecosystem.

When I look through my mother’s historical data and read the ads for selling land in Stuart in the early 1900s, it is ironic that they all incorporate the St Lucie River into their sell while they were killing her.

“Stuart on the St Lucie, 1907;” “St Luice Estates, On the Beautiful St Lucie River, 1926;” “Stuart, Atlantic Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, ca. 1926.”

The are all bragging about draining the Everglades; they are bragging about the digging of the Okeechobee Waterway from Stuart to Ft Meyers thorough Lake Okeechobee; they are basing the draw of the Stuart area on its  location/proximity to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and yet they seem to have no clue that by supporting the over draining and over dredging of everything, they have created the rivers’ own destruction!

All news adds and photos from Stuart on the St Lucie, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow, 2001)
All news ads and photos from Stuart on the St Lucie, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow, 2001)

IMG_5887 IMG_5882 IMG_5883;IMG_5877 IMG_5884

This is an excerpt from the St Lucie Estates sales booklet:

” St Lucie Estates is situated in one of the most gorgeous spots in Florida—the beautiful St Lucie River County…The St Lucie and the Indian River meet here to form one of the most wonderful bodies of water in the world—one hundred miles of navigable waterway,  edged with luxurious tropical foliage able white sandy beaches…”

“In the introduction to my mother’s book, Stuart on the St Lucie, she writes” Pioneer businessmen of Stuart…realized the St Lucie River was the town’s greatest asset. To foster awareness they of the town’s superior location, they used “Stuart on the St Lucie” in promotional literature, on signs and as newspaper headings. Time has not changed the fact that the St Lucie River is the best thing about Stuart.”

Promotional signs to "Stuart on the St Lucie"  along Dixie Highway from Jacksonville read as shown on list and stated, ca. 1919. (SHT)
Promotional signs to “Stuart on the St Lucie” along Dixie Highway from Jacksonville read as shown on list and stated, ca. 1919. (SHT).

The St Lucie is still the best thing about Stuart, and now we know better. The drainage of lands surrounding the St Lucie/IRL was too extensive. In order to make way for agriculture and real estate development.  The St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon now take on more than twice what was originally drained into them. 

The excess fresh water and pollutants have all but killed the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. This chart shows the original drainage in green and today’s drainage which has been added to the green area  in yellow. Lake Okeechobee’s  discharges, in pink, are often on top of this. It is too much.

The old adage says “history repeats itself.” Well, here in “Stuart on the St Lucie,” history cannot repeat itself anymore. We must create a new future.

Drainage changes to the SLR.
Drainage changes to the SLR 1900s to today.(Citizen’s Report to Congress, 1995)