As we continue our historic journey, today we view pages 8-9 of the 1937 Stuart Daily News. Today’s ad for the City of Stuart is so large that it is featured side-to-side rather than top to bottom in the publication. Proudly, because of the completion of the Stuart to Ft Meyers Cross-State Canal, Stuart has branded itself as “the Atlantic Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico,” particularly for the nation’s yachtsmen.
Although this image below was not in the publication, I wanted to include it because one might drive by and not recognize this recently renovated, now officially registered historic structure in Rio for what it really is, ~a monument to the cross-state canal!
Of course also in the ad Stuart lauds itself as a fishing mecca touting: “Florida’s finest fishing in adjacent waters.” The truth of the matter is that the quality of the St Lucie River and Southern Indian River Lagoon, as documented by local fishermen, had been deteriorating since the opening of the St Lucie Canal to Lake Okeechobee in 1923. (Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Stuart on the St Lucie) Nonetheless, the rivers and ocean remained “marvelous” fishing arenas as this 1938 Chamber of Commerce Fishing Guide shows.
Today, the City of Stuart remains the vibrant and beautiful heart of Marin County, but it no longer brags about being “the Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico.” As much as the St Lucie Canal has caused issue with our local waterways, I do think the Stuart to Ft Meyers connection, and being a starting point for a historic boat trip across the state is worth re-boasting about!
I was recently reminded of train depots while reading a front page “Stuart News” article showing an artist painting a mural of the old Hobe Sound Train Depot….All Aboard Florida being rammed down our throats has the Treasure Coast very unhappy about “trains…” yet our area has a history of trains that we may know a bit better if the rail service and the government hadn’t demolished most of the depots that once peppered the Indian River Lagoon Region from Volusia to Palm Beach counties.
As the daughter of a historian, I was fortunate to hear many stories during my youth that if nothing else “made me think.” One of these stories was about how lonely it was to be pioneer here in Stuart’s early days. My mother would say….
“Jacqui, for the people, for the women especially, this was a very lonely place.”
The daily train used to alleviate that loneliness and give the people a place to meet, gossip, and share. Kind of like today’s Facebook. As my mother Sandra Thurlow notes in her book, “Stuart on the St Lucie,” “Town life centered around the arrivals and departures of passenger trains that also brought the mail.”
Sound familiar? “YOU’VE GOT MAIL!”
From my reading it sounds as if most of the construction and the use of depots and lesser “flag stops,” (a flag was raised if they needed the conductor to stop?)….was between 1894 and 1935. The Hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 coupled with the real estate crash of 1926 was a big part of the railroads’ demise as was the fact that wholesale fishing industries waned from unwise over-fishing, and pineapples had to start competing with Cuba. So basically, in about one generation, the railroads depots and the railroad of Henry Flagler along the Lagoon had seen their “best days.”
In the 1960s and before, the aging, remaining, cute-little, aging stations were demolished by order of F.E.C. Railway officials. As my mother writes about the Stuart Depot: “The depot that was once the center of the community’s activities was demolished without fanfare during the 1960s.”
And so “it goes,” and “so it went”….. THERE GOES THE TRAIN!
The passenger train is gone, along with the depots….today we have too much car traffic, roads are everywhere, All Abroad Florida threats purport a bleak future, Florida’s population is expanding, Panama Canal freight is coming…
Well, at least we have Facebook or we can stay home and text…..
I vividly remember my father going fishing for sailfish with his buddies in the 1960s and 70s; my brother has taught his three girls to “reel them in…”
Me? I have never caught a sailfish; I am not a hunter either. Nonetheless, I recognize that fishermen and women, and hunters are some of the strongest conservationist in the United States and around the world. People protect what they love…
I started thinking about sailfish recently because Jamie Burns asked me if I would be a “judge” for a boat theme contest taking place October 24-25 for the “Salt Water Sisters” Lady Angler Tournament.
I was honored to be included and started reading about the organization which is an arm of the famous “Stuart Sailfish Club” that formed in Martin County informally in the 1930s, and later formally in 1941. This organization set the bar on conservation in our area.
According to my mother, Sandra Thurlow’s book, Stuart on the St Lucie:
“Immediately after the club’s incorporation, Ernie Lyons announced the next immediate goal was the creation of a release button to be given to individuals who consistently released their sailfish….in 1941 records show that a record, over 5000 sailfish, were caught in a 90 day period, January through March 1941. Many sportsmen let their sailfish go but thousands were slaughtered only to be dumped into the river, carted off by garbage collectors, or used for shark bait.
Because of the efforts of the Stuart Sailfish Club, anglers soon began to compete for Curt Whiticar’s beautifully designed release button in preference to all the rest.”
I think this is an amazing and inspirational story!
As a St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon side note, I hear a lot of things about the Indian River Lagoon and someone once told me the sailfish spawn right off the St Lucie Inlet. In our area the fish can spawn a good portion of the year but mostly in the warmer summer months, therefore, polluted releases from our canals and Lake Okeechobee have an effect on the sailfish population in our area. Just one more reason to stop them!
In closing, I would like to wish all of the participants of the Salt Water Sisters Lady Angler Tournament “good luck” this weekend. Wear your “catch and release” button with pride in the memory of those who came before us and had the foresight to protect the beautiful creatures of the ocean and our way of life.
Some things never change, like the wonder of a kid catching his or her “first fish.”
I still remember mine. A puffer fish! It was 1968, and my parents took me fishing along the Indian River Lagoon…
Fishing is a powerful experience for a young person. There is no better way to teach youth how to appreciate and protect the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon than by “taking a kid fishing.” It is well documented that hunters and fishermen/women are some of our county’s most outspoken and powerful conservationists.
In keeping with this Treasure Coast fishing legacy, on October 18th, 2014, something really remarkable is happening. Kids in our area have organized a fishing tournament for kids! The event is called “Lines in the Lagoon.” (http://www.linesinthelagoon.com/#!about/mainPage)
Vero Beach freshman high school student, Quinn Hiaasen and his friends organized the event. Quinn is obviously on his way to “stardom” himself, but it must be mentioned that his father is none other than satirist and writer Carl Hiassen, (http://www.carlhiaasen.com/bio.shtml), a well-known proponent of our rivers and Everglades. Quinn’s mother, Fenia, has also been working for the event and assisting her son for months– “spreading the word” and communicating with River Kidz momz here in Martin and St Lucie Counties. Martin, St Lucie, and Indian River counties are one, as the lagoon knows no county lines or political districts; it is a Tri-county tournament.
Early on, Mrs Hiaasen let us know that pre-fishing/fishing tournament events included:
September 6th: LAGOON CLEAN UP DAY
October 27th: INDIAN RIVER SCIENCE FAIR DAY
October 1st: CHIPOTLE IN STORE PROMOTIONS 3-7pm 50% DONATION TO ORCA AND EVERGLADES FOUNDATION
October 18th: FISHING TOURNAMENT AND AWARDS BANQUET AT THE BACKUS MUSEUM IN FT PIERCE
From what I am told by River Kidz mom, Nicole Mader, the group is also working on displaying a “responsible fishing tent” to teach children care with fishing line and hooks, as careless discarding of such is a serious threat to wildlife and of course the tournament is primarily “catch and release.”
Isn’t this a great thing?
So sign up…
Support the kids; support conservation; and support the Hiaasen family!
And remember, by taking a kid fishing, you are creating future advocates for our Indian River Lagoon.
History is a window, a window into understanding why and where we are today. The Town of Sewall’s Point along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon has some of the most wonderful historical descriptions of its original beauty, and I believe that is why we try so hard as a town to keep remnants of that historic beauty today.
The town is a “Tree City;” a bird sanctuary; and there are very strict fines for cutting down trees with over a two inch across trunk. Development rules are supposed to be protective of wooded uplands and wetlands, sometimes this does not seem to be the case.
Nevertheless, today I will quote from a “Description of Indian River County,” as it was called, from a Maine Journal , The East Coast Advocate, April 24, 1891 by Rufus King Sewall. This document was transcribed by my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow in 2009.
Here we go and remember 1891 was the year before the St Lucie Inlet was opened permanently so the river waters were fresher..
“At the Indian River Hotel, Titusville, we lodged for the night and were lulled with the song of two mosquitoes…at 5 a.m. the Indian River steamers called for embarkation south-bound and all aboard, most comfortable quarters in neat staterooms, spacious saloon and good service are found… The banks of the Indian River are general sops-wood, of cabbage palm, pine and cactus—uncleared because used as a screen against the fierce east winds which whip the orange and banana to death…Fine oysters, big trout, mullet, pompano, with channel bass abound…
The climate is the great charm of travel in the region. Within an hour of Titusville, the heavy, hot depressing , suffocating atmosphere of the interior of Florida suddenly changes to soft exhilarating, and cool refreshing inhalations, which the lungs expand to draw in with gateful sensation.
It was 2 a.m. when the whistles sounded for San Lucie Landing at Sewall’s Point starting to wing acres of and acres of sleeping ducks whirring, splashing and diving, in dismay, before the lights of the rushing steamer and we rested on shore, while the St Sebastian turned toward Jupiter below. The river scene and surroundings were enchanting , sea and shore burnished with tinted rays of a sunrise and indescribably grand and novel. The ducks had grouped in shoals on their feeding grounds.
Fish were leaping in the light and the hum of her life stirred the evergreen prospective with a marked absence of bird song. In the east across the sound tree miles away, over Gilbert’s Bar, the broad ocean stretched beyond sight, the pathway of big ships southward bound clear to the naked eye. In front, Mangrove Islands bounded the horizon whose channel fretted the outgoing tides of Jupiter Narrows. Northward and west the broad reaches and pitch-pine plains of the deep and wide San Lucia shut off vision.
Underfoot and around the rock-bound bluff of the Peninsula of Sewall’s point in gorgeous green and gold, of satin-wood, oak, palmetto and rubber forest trees dazed the eye.
All strange and primitive with novel tropical surroundings out of reach the peninsula separating the Indian and San Lucie waters is a rockbound elevated ridge with bluff frontage on San Lucie shores in L. N. 27 degrees 15 min.
It is crowned with tall grown palmettos with tufted tops of palm leaves, naked branchless stems like the mast of a ship.
The water is pure and good…The largest trout I ever saw abound and shoals of mullet.
Sharks and alligators abound in the waters, and turkeys, bear and deer on shore in their season. In the creek opposite Point Manatee the fishermen linger with nets and gun to catch the sea-cow as they feed along the shore….”
The airs and winds are soft and balmy expect the northwest, refreshing, grateful to the lungs with wonderful healing properties and purifying effect exciting to outdoor activity and stimulating to vital forces…The entire atmosphere environment pregnant with healing…
Interesting. Like poetry but for me “disturbing” as it talked about people hunting manatees. This at least highlights how we have changed historically, as manatee are protected today.
I hope you enjoyed that reading….
It was a beautiful world, there for the taking and we have taken it. For better or for worse we have. Let’s remember our history and that no matter what this place, this St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is today, it has always been “a place of beauty.”
May we revive her waters and her shores in respect to that which created this sacred place, and for those who have loved and documented her before us. Thank you Rufus King Sewall.
The St Lucie Canal connecting Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River was constructed at the request of the state of Florida, the US Federal Government, and the local Martin County Chamber of Commerce, by the Army Corp of Engineers from 1915-1928. As this antique newspaper article of the Florida Developer above shows, by 1931 the Martin County Commission was already asking the state of Florida to close the gates and reporting clear evidence of the destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
I must thank my mother, historian Sandra Thurlow, for sharing this information and the photos in this post. She transcribed the 1931 article from the Florida Developer, a Stuart paper of the era. It reads:
South Florida Developer, November 6,
1931, LOCKS IN CANAL CLOSED; FISHING TO BE BENEFITED
Job of Checking Water Movement Was Completed Saturday TO KILL HYACINTHS; Fishermen Look For Decidedly Good Fishing the Winter
The east locks of the St Lucie Canal were closed Saturday, after being open nearly two years. In that time the level of Lake Okeechobee has been reduced from 18 to 14 feet.
The work of closing the locks began Friday morning under the direction of engineers for the Okeechobee Flood Control District. When they finished the job Saturday night, water continued to pour over the dam about as fast as before, in spite of the fact that the level of the canal had been raised 7 feet.
This morning the crew went to the west end of the St Lucie Canal to close the locks there and thus check the flow of water from the Lake.
The closing of these locks is regarded as highly important to the people of Stuart and adjacent communities, primarily because as long as they remain open, the ingress of water from the Lake made the St. Lucie River fresh, driving out the salt water fish and bringing in hyacinths. With the water cut off from the Lake, it is expected that the St Lucie River will again become salt and this should bring back the fish and kill the hyacinths. Fisherman say it will take about 30 days for the effects of the is change in water to be felt, but they are exultant that this change had come about in time to promote good fishing in local waters.
The minutes from the Martin County Commission meeting in 1931 also shown above are a bit harsher. The minutes state:
Be it resolved that the Board of County Commissioners herby instruct the Clerk to write the Trustee of the Internal Improvement Fund petitioning that they closed the gates at the Lake end of the St Lucie Canal until April 15, 1931, for the reason that the constant discharge of a large volume of dirty fresh water into the St Lucie River has killed all the shell-fish, driven out salt water fish from the river, filled the river with hyacinth and polluted the St Lucie River as to completely take away its attractive features and ruin its commercial value to our community.
According to local Everglades SLR/IRL expert, Dr Gary Goforth, (http://garygoforth.net/resume.htm), 1931 was the first year the amount of water released from Lake Okeechobee in to the St Lucie River was documented. Although there is no documentation of the releases that occurred prior to 1931, in 1931 it is documented that 1,414,414 acre feet of water was released from the lake into the river. This is over three times as much as was released into the SLR from Lake Okeechobee in 2013, (419,951 acre feet.)
The historic photos below document and show local people taking the water hyacinth issue into their own hands.
On August 3rd at 10AM the people of Martin and St Lucie counties, on behalf of their government, will ask one more time for the state to close the gates from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
As we have seen this summer, we have enough problems with our own local runoff that has been expanded since 1931 to include the building of C-23, C-24 and C-25 as well as the widening and deepening of C-44 for its enlarged “local” runoff. Things must change, we have known this for a very long time. Finally there are enough of us to make a difference.
Hope to see you at the rally and may the state and federal government know that we will never stop asking, some would say demanding, that the ACOE, through the federal government and the state of Florida “close the gates!”
When the pioneers permanently opened the St Lucie Inlet in 1892, it killed the freshwater grasses that filled the waterways creating a brackish estuary that due to the convergence of tropical and temperate zones, and the nearby warmth of the Gulf Stream, became “the most diverse estuary in North America.” (Gilmore)
After a short period of time, sportfishing thrived in the area, and fishing guides called Stuart the “fishing grounds of presidents” as US president, Grover Cleveland, vacationed and fished the area in 1900 and years after.
In spite of long standing issues with the health of the estuary, as late as the 1970/80s Dr Grant Gilmore of Harbor Branch documented over 800 species of fish living and breeding in the then healthy seagrasses around Sailfish and Sewall’s Point at the convergence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. This was a larger variety of species in one place than any other area in United States. (Gilmore)
“Goliath Grouper” called “Jew Fish” at the time, Stuart. ca. 1920s. (Thurlow Collection)
Going back to the the 1930s, the 1938 Blue Book, a popular annual fishing publication of the time, lauds fishing throughout the entire Stuart area:
“The City of Stuart located approximately 20 miles south of Fort Pierce is world renowned for its fishing. Located as it is…it offers a variety of fishing similar to Fort Pierce but somewhat more pronounced, particularly with regards to the tarpon, sea trout, snook, channel bass, bluefish, crevasse jack, pompano and ladyfish. It’s fresh water fishing is particularly good far into the back county among the Sloughs with their tributary and drainage canals to Lake Okeechobee and the many drainage canals through this territory. These Sloughs and Canals offer splendid fishing for black bass, as well as for the larger game fish from the salt water, such as th snook and tarpon, that make their way into Stuart Harbor and on up into the both and south branches of the St Lucie River. –Particularly good fishing for these species can be had at the St Lucie Locks about 12 miles inland south of Stuart…”
It is interesting to note that although the Blue Book piece, written in 1938, celebrates Stuart’s fishing, one can find evidence of tension regarding the releases from Lake Okeechobee in the literature of the day as early as 1925.
Fearing the onslaught of development in the booming twenties and the changes brought on by the connection and building of the C-44 canal from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, beginning in 1923, the South Florida Developer’s, November 10th, 1925 headline reads:
“Fish Will Leave the River As City Grows, Fisherman Assert, Sewage and Oil Sure Death to a Favored Sport is Verdict.”
The article quotes commercial fishermen who know that the over abundance of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee will chase away the salt water fish and that the oil on the water from development, perhaps from cars and road runoff, if excessive, won’t allow the fish to sufficiently breathe.
Fishing guide Phil O’Brian is quoted as saying: “I know the ways of the sea fish. They can’t stand fresh water; and they won’t stand sewer water. We have the fresh water now mixin’ in from Lake Okeechobee and we’ll soon have the sewer water.”
These pioneers are probably rolling over in their graves should they have learned about the story of the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon most recently.
The St Lucie River was labeled “impaired” by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2002 mostly due to pesticides and heavy metals from agriculture and urban pollution runoff accumulating in the sediment from all area canals, especially C-44 and Lake Okeechobee. In a way, just like the 1920s fisherman foresaw…
The fight against the area canals and Lake Okeechobee continues today, and if by the grace of God we can undo some of the hands of history, the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon will surely heal herself and we once again could be the ” Fishing Grounds of Presidents…”
…but then we might have to get rid of that green and sprawling golf course at the Floridian.