Looking south in the direction of today’s St Lucie Inlet. Former home of Hiram and Hattie Olds, 1907, Hutchinson Island, in what became Martin County, Fl. Courtesy Agnes Tietig Parlin, achieves Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Deanna Wintercorn “Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History.”
The more I learn about water, the more I want to know about the land. Inexorably connected – as the lands change, so do the surrounding waters.
Don’t you love this above photograph?
The lone high-house rising through thick vegetation reminds us of what the beach-scape of today’s Hutchinson Island, Martin County, Florida, used to look like. Cradled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon, the home belonged to Hiram E. and Hattie Olds who made application for homestead with the United States Government in the early Florida year of 1862. The photo above spotlights the natural beauty and native vegetation; it was taken in 1907 – forty-five years after the original homestead. With almost a half century passed, like a protective cape over the sandy dunes, the Indian River Lagoon/Hutchinson Island vegetation remained in tact. What an incredible and rare photograph! It almost feels like Africa or some far-off exotic place.
There must have been so many hiding places for birds and other wildlife. Rain percolating through sandy soils to ocean and estuary. Only a shadow of this vegetation remains today, although Hutchinson Island remains a beautiful place.
This second photograph reveals the same house in the distance, the Olds’ homestead, granted in 1862-but structure built ca. 1894 -that later became the Yacht Club. From this perspective we are now looking south from the House of Refuge -built in 1876. It is clear from this Thurlow Archives photograph that theGeorges Valentine shipwreck had recently occurred thus this photograph must have been taken around October 16, 1904 – the fateful night of the ship’s destruction. Again, look at the thick high curve of vegetation along the western edge of the Indian River Lagoon. Fabulous!
With these 1904 and 1907 photographs we can, for a moment, go back and imagine what Hutchinson Island looked like. It was not just an Anastasia rocked shoreline, but a Beach-Jungle! A jungle that protected wildlife and waters of our precious Indian River Lagoon.
In our next blog post, we shall learn how the Olds homestead and the House of Refuge were “connected,” not just via fantastic vegetation, rocks, and dune lines, but also through claims of property rights to the United States Government.
For a number of weeks now, I have been on this quest to be able to identify pine trees as the history of our forests are connected to the our St Luice River. To get me started, my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, lent me a number of books, historic photographs, and great old newspaper articles. What I thought would be easy has ended up being hard.
Today, I am going to begin my pine tree series, asking for your help, starting with the example of the post card above. This ca. pre 1900 post card shows something we do know: Stuart, Martin County was once covered in pine forests, mostly sand pines or slash pines, but throughout varied texts that are references to other types of pines too.
According to column entitled “Memories of Early Forests In This Area” written on January 24th, 1974 by Stuart News editor, Ernie Lyons “most of the virgin longleaf yellow pines…were logged off from 1918-1928.”It has been confusing to me that Mr Lyons an avid naturalist, mentions longleaf yellow pines, rather than slash pines, but as all the trees were cut, I doubt I will ever know for sure the answer to this question: “Were there any longleaf pines in the lands that became Martin County?
Mr Lyons also notes: “They were magnificent trees, some towering to 60 feet. Where the big pines prevailed there was almost no undergrowth , just a forest floor carpeted with pine needles and giant cones.“
Pine identification is hairsplitting but it is easy to see that the longleaf pine has the giant pine cones, not the two varieties of slash pine, nor a sand pine. This leaves one wondering, could Ernie Lyons possibly be talking about longleaf pine? https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR00300.pdf
Below is Ernie Lyons’ column. What pine or pines do you think he is taking about? 🙂
Most of the virgin longleaf yellow pines in this part of Florida were logged off form 1918 to 1928. They were magnificent trees, some towering to 60 feet. Where the big pines prevailed there was almost no undergrowth, just a forest floor carpeted with pine needles and giant cones.
The big stands were practically immune to the ravages of fire. There simply wasn’t enough undergrowth to send the flames high enough to reach viable limbs and branches. But the lumberman’s crosscut saw was a different matter.
This not to say that all of Martin and St Lucie counties was tall yellow pine country. The big pines did not favor high water tables. The were most avoidant on the high ground along the North and South Forks of the St Luice. There were scattered strands on high ridges in western Martin County and dense forests between Indiantown and Okeechobee.
Three big mills operated in the area at that time. One of the largest was at Rio, with a logging railroad which ran from there across the North Fork at about the site of the present Port St. Lucie bridge over the river. Another mill, which left a giant pile of sawdust was located on the upper North Fork about half a mile west of the present mouth of C-24, then called Cane Slough Creek. There was a giant lumber and turpentine operation at Sherman west of Indiantown.
By the time the Florida Boom collapsed in 1928, there were not enough big trees left to make it worthwhile to operate large mills and the bottom had fallen out of lumber prices.
Then began the era of the small “hit and run” portable saw mills. These gathered in the few big trees overlooked becasue they were in dense hammocks and so hard to get out that the effort had not been worth the trouble.
The small operators cut anything big enough to saw a two-by-four from. Timber leasing was often overlooked entirely. If leasing was observed, the usual practice was to lease a quarter section and then timber the sections around it on all sides.
By the early 1940s, the county was practically denuded of pines bigger than three or four inches in diameter. It was a scraggly, ugly county, its natural beauty demolished shamefully. There has been a remarkable recovery in the past 34 years, but the pines of any size that you see now are mostly second growth and will never equal the old virgin forests.
The only evidence of the the former forests in most of the county is pitch pine stumps, and in recent years most of these have been removed and shipped off to make resin, turpentine, and dynamite.
I saw the virgin yellow pine forests up the North Fork and they are a marvelous sight to remember. They were the haunt of the huge Florida fox squirrels, big as cats- black, black and white, grey and reddish. When the big pines went, fox squirrels became scarce.
Some of he tallest pines, especially near lakes and along the river, had stick nests of bald eagles in their crowns. One over near the south end of Mile Lake, had a pair of the most aggressive eagles I ever saw, especially when there were newly hatched eagles up above. I discovered it was not safe to come within a few hundred feet of that tree without being dive -bombed in turn by Ma and Pa.
Wild turkeys used to stroll singe file through the tall pine forests as also did sandhill cranes.
The sun’s first light rose over a gigantic crane that was displaying both the American and Florida flags. Gusts burst through the C-43 construction site as the earth slowly warmed, the giant banners flapping loudly in the wind. I smiled to myself thinking, “it really is a new day for the Caloosahatchee.”
~Confusing for those of us on the east coast, unlike the St Lucie, the Caloosahatchee sometimes needs water. The idea of the C-43 Reservoir is to both reduce the amount of water released from Lake Okeechobee that makes it to the estuary during the wet season and to store water to be released during dry season in order to help maintain an ideal salinity in the upper estuary. Right now, it is often the case that the Caloosahatchee has to “compete” with other interests for water.
With this in mind, on his second day in office, Governor DeSantis called for expediting the important long-awaited reservoir as well as adding a water quality component. People on the west coast are bold to say that DeSantis has done great things for the Caloosahatchee since day one.
Knowing I would be traveling in lands unfamiliar, I drove a day early to the C-43 site with Sean Cooley, Communications Director, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and his assisting, Mr. Carter. Thus I was able to tour before and during Governor DeSantis’ visit. It was rare opportunity to learn more about Florida’s west coast.
How would I describe the expericence?
Let me explain…
Video of going driving up the 45 foot mound to view the site of the C-43 Caloosahatchee Reservoir, 10-25-19.
On Thursday, Mr Phil Flood -SFWMD West Coast Regional Representative – was the first to give me a tour. We drove a truck up a huge mound that was weighing down clay to be used in the reservoir’s surrounding dike. When we got to the top of the 45 foot hill, Mr Flood pointed in every direction: “See that tree line? See the horizon? See the edge of that old packing house? All this all will include the reservoir…”
The wind whipped by; I held my hair out of my face, eyes squinting. I thought about the once natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. I though about how much things have changed in a hundred years.
“Just like my friend Mr Haddad told me,” I shouted across the way,” we spent a hundred years taking the water off the land and we’ll spend the next hundred years putting it back on…”
Mr Flood broke into his wonderful smile directing my eyes, again, to the horizon.
“The C-43 will be huge! The lands consists of 10, 500 square acres of former orange groves, will have 19 miles of dam embankment, 15 miles of perimeter canal, 14 major water control structures, 3 pump stations, and 3 bridges.”
“And most important, it will help save the Caloosahatchee!” I replied. We drove back down the giant mound watching the excitement as all prepared for the Governor’s arrival.
These photos in this post are from both Thursday, October 24 and Friday, October 25, 2019. They were taken as SFWMD staff along with Lane Construction Corporation, a U.S. subsidiary of Salini Impregilo prepared for the groundbreaking ceremony. The was great fanfare! We all know it’s time to fix the water!
It’s now October 25th, waiting for the Governor and First Lady to arrive!
At my request, my mother has been sharing historic real estate photos. Regarding today’s aerials, it seems the perfect time to broach the controversial subject of “septic to sewer.”
When I first saw the photographs of Lighthouse Point, I said “What is that?” I thought the land had been created by fill, but then realized it was natural lands filled and dredged. This practice was very common before the 1970s and happened at various locations throughout Martin County, but was more prevalent in destinations like Ft Lauderdale and Cape Coral. Wherever this land use was completed, early photographs allow us to see how strange, how vulnerable, how naked, the land looks. And we can see its connection, like a sponge, over the surrounding waters…
Let’s take a closer peek at this 1965 photo of Lighthouse Point in the St Lucie River. In 1965, developers had no concerns about nutrient pollution, and every property of course had its own septic tank.
Fortunately, in the 2000s, Martin County did help residents of Lighthouse Point and neighboring Seagate Harbor, convert from septic to sewer, along with other “hot-spot” communities, as documented in this outstanding presentation by former Martin County Ecosystems Manager, Deborah Drum.
But there is more work to do.
As we know, Septic to Sewer is one of those subjects people passionately fight over as we try to understand why our waterways have become so impaired. This was the case in my own hometown of Sewall’s Point.
Famous for the first strong fertilizer ordinance on Florida’s east coast in 2010, a year of my mayorhood, The Commission flipped this environmental streak, and last year, when I was off the commission, following much back and forth and very poor communication, ~in spite of heroic efforts, but a totally exhausted, confused and furious public, decided not to work with Martin County for a partial sewer conversion. The backlash to this is far-reaching.
I agree that most of Sewall’s Point is not dredge and fill, but some is, and with out a doubt, old septic tanks in flood zones along the Indian River Lagoon are not a good idea.
As we all begrudgingly work to lessen nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus) into our waterways, it is helpful to look backwards as we plan for the future. Thanks mom for sharing your photos; history helps us “see.”
Scientific paper: Earth Sci 2017 estimation of nitrogen load from septic systems
to surface water bodies in St. Lucie River and Estuary Basin, Florida, Ming Ye1 • Huaiwei Sun2,1 • Katie Hallas3: http://people.sc.fsu.edu/~mye/pdf/paper62.pdf
Few people realize that a little piece of Stuart history sits on Torry Island near the City of Belle Glade. Belle Glade of course sits south the man-made southern shore of Lake Okeechobee….I didn’t know about the bridge connection either, until I visited my mother last week.
When I got to her house, she handed me what appeared to be a gold leaf yearbook, but when I looked closer it read: “Florida Trails to Turnpikes 1914-1964, Florida State Road Department.” Page 216 was marked:
“The old original bridge across the St Lucie River had been built by E.P. Maule in 1917 with a twelve-foot-wide roadway swing span across the navigation channel. We moved that swing span of barges down the St Lucie Canal and down Lake Okeechobee to Torry Island. Should you cross from the mainland over the canal onto Torry Island today, you would cross on the old swing span of th abridge that originally went across the St Lucie River.”
“Wow that’s cool mom. Like you always say, we’re all connected.”
“Your father and I visited not too long ago. The Corbin family has been manning the bridge for generations. It’s a fascinating story that you should know about.”
A short history is explained here:
“The story of the bridge’s origins flow smoothly from Corbin… The 1928 hurricane that ravaged the Glades set in motion the chain of events that would bring the bridge to Belle Glade. The storm destroyed the original dike that surrounded the lake. To build the replacement dike, the federal government spooned out a canal, separating Torry Island from Belle Glade, and used the dirt for the dike. The new canal, called the Okeechobee Waterway, needed a bridge. In 1938, state contractors built the Point Chosen Bridge, replacing a pontoon bridge with a swing bridge that was built in 1916 and relocated from the St. Lucie River near Stuart. The bridge consisted of the movable portion and wooden trestles on each end.” Associated Press article, 2009.
“Very interesting. Do you have any pictures of your and dad’s field trip ?”
My mother disappeared and was back within minutes:
“Thanks mom”…..as I read more about it, I learned that the bridge’s name, “Point Chosen Bridge,” was chosen because there used to be town named “Chosen” located there. Chosen was one of the original towns along the shores of Lake Okeechobee. It was destroyed in the 1928 hurricane. So the bridge swing span from Stuart was chosen to rest at Chosen. Wow. An intertwined history indeed….