With the help of Ms Kelly Arnold, my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, has a web-site! My brother, Todd; my sister, Jenny; my father, Tom; and I –are very happy that people can now contact her directly to purchase or discuss her local history books.
Mom’s web site tells you where you can buy a book locally, or you can even arrange to get one at her Sewall’s Point home–she will sign the inside cover should you wish. Her work is meticulously researched, cited, and contains wonderful photographs and maps that take you back to a time of wild beauty and raw grit.
Undoubtedly because of my mother, Martin County has one of the best documented historys in Florida. All of her books, Sewall’s Point, The History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast; Stuart on the St Lucie; Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River; and Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History; are about the pioneer families that came here to live and thrive because of our waters-a precious resource that must be restored.
Today I am sharing a historic photograph from my mother’s book “Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River.” It is a remarkable photo that takes us to another time and place. Looking at the river viewed from the ridge, we witness our region’s pioneer history when hard-working people like Mr and Mrs S.F. Webb, and Capt. John and and Annie Miller bought acreage along the Indian River Lagoon, cleared the land, planted pineapples and built a school.
My mother writes: “Jensen Beach evolved from the historic communities of Eden and Jensen perched beside the Indian River. This estuary beginning above Titusville and stretching south along the Florida east coast for more than 140 miles to the Jupiter Inlet, served as a highway for early settlers when sailboats were the primary mode of transportation.” –Sandra H. Thurlow
The river may not be our primary mode of transportation today and the pineapple fields are long gone, but it is certainly the reason why many of us are here. The river continues to be our path…the way…
The idea of a toll bridge over the Indian River Lagoon is not a new one as there were toll bridges in Jensen and Stuart in Martin County’s early days.
As my mother says in her Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River book:
“People fishing on both side os the Jensen Bridge made it necessary for automobiles to cross the narrow wooden bridge with extreme caution.”
Over time, we have had caution for people, but not for fish.
This morning the Tyler Treadway’s article in the Stuart News states there has been a catfish kill along the Indian River Lagoon Ft Pierce north; it is not yet reported to be in Martin County; in the 1920s no such virus or water quality issues prevailed and fishing was the sport of the day, some of the best in the nation, along the bridges, in the forks, in the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon, along the clean and sparkling Atlantic Ocean…
Mrs Thurlow writes in her book:
The Jensen Bridge was instrumental in the development of Jensen with its numerous tourists camps. In the 1930s, the Pitchford, Gideon, and Wade camps sprang up at the western end of the bridge. Other camps, including the massive Ocean Breeze Park, soon followed. The Jensen Bridge was given so much publicity that it became a nationally famous fishing pier.”
Today the Indian River Lagoon is still famous for fishing, but also for its seagrass loss and declining fish stock. Yesterday, my father gave me an issue of Florida Sport Fishing, the lead article was entitled “Gator County, Florida ‘s Famed East Coast Lagoon System May No Longer Be the State’s Premier Destination for Giant Trout,” by Jerry McBride.
The beginning of the article reads:
“Two miles of previously lush green vegetation dotted with sandy potholes and carved by narrow channels–once home to monster gator trout–has been reduced to a single acre of sparse seagrass, I fished the entire stretch in less than an hour and paddled home… The estuary’s south end is losing its 80 plus year battle against polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee, while the rest of the 156 miles long waterways faces an even more insidious adversary—a multi-source nutrient-fueled brown algae scourge that virtually overnight reduced 43,000 acres of rich seagrass habitat to a sandy desert…”
Most of this seagrass loss may have happened north of us, but it is here too. Also, the lagoon is one waterway, whether it is Lake Okeechobee and local canal releases here in Martin County, or brown tide in the central and north lagoon, we are all affected.
Usually on Friday I try to post something positive and happy.
I have been wanting to share friend Bob Washam’s Jensen Bridge photos, today was the day. Nonetheless, I could not ignore the slow and now pronounced losses to our Indian River Lagoon, especially in light of Mr Treaway’s article this morning.
If the tin-can tourist who hardly had a nickel in their packs could be raised from their graves to see what has happened to the Indian River Lagoon, I am certain they would say:
“You may have more money, but you sure lost a piece of Heaven…and which would you rather have?”
One good thing is that nature is programmed to heal itself, may we have the strength to continue to fight for some semblance of the “good old days,” and should we need to exact a toll on our bridges to start an IRL Fund, I’ll vote “yes.”
Thousands of dead hardhead catfish are floating in the Indian River Lagoon from Palm Bay to Fort Pierce.
Because only one species is affected and all the dead fish are juveniles mostly from 4 to 12 inches long, a local marine biologist believes the cause is a specific virus rather than poor water quality in the lagoon.
Weve had die-offs like this in the lagoon before, where only sea cats and nothing else was dying,said Grant Gilmore, lead scientist of Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science in Vero Beach.
The cause was a viral infection back then, so I would assume its the same this time. Kelly Richmond, a spokeswoman at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission laboratory in St. Petersburg, said the agencys hotline has received 16 reports of dead catfish beginning Monday.
Staffers collected three live catfish and water samples from the lagoon for analysis.
Results should be available early next week, Richmond said, and the agency wont guess at a cause until then.
Paul Fafeita, a Vero Beach fishing guide, said he saw dead catfish Wednesday morning in the lagoon from the Barber Bridge in Vero Beach to the North Causeway bridge at Fort Pierce.
Im talking hundreds, if not thousands of dead fish,Fafeita said.They werent sporadic, one here and one there. They were steady, up and down the lagoon. Mike Peppe, a Sebastian fishing guide, reported seeing dead catfish Wednesday in the lagoon from Wabasso to the Sebastian Inlet.
They were everywhere,Peppe said.There had to be thousands. Look down and youd see a bunch of white things in the waterthe catsbellies.
I love driving north along Indian River Drive towards Jensen Beach from the Town of Sewall’s Point. The palm trees, the river, the old brightly painted houses, and the Town of Ocean Breeze. Since childhood, “Ocean Breeze Park,” has been an icon for retired people growing old and having a great time. A little crowded in there for my taste, but still, what a cool place!
According to Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book, Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River, “In the 1930s, Harry and Queena Hoke along with their two teenage sons, came to Martin County in a red trailer that was their home.”
According to the family: “The trailer was so small you had to go outside to change your mind.”
After visiting Pitchford’s trailer camp further north, the family eventually purchased 23 acres of the former C.F. Wolf pineapple plantation. The formation of the town is an American dream story. After success as a park, they eventually incorporated in 1960 increasing their coffers and their land holdings by buying adjoining properties.
With a great advertising campaign and true caring for the lives and fun of their residents the park-city became a true home.
According to the town’s Wikipedia article: “at the time of its incorporation, in 1960, the 65-acre park was said to be the largest privately owned trailer park in the United States.”
One of the great town stories is Mrs Geeben.
Mrs Dorothy Geeben, embodied the spirit of Ocean Breeze. She was mayor from 2001 to 2010. When she was re-elected in 2004 at age 96, the national media dubbed her “the nation’s oldest living mayor. She passed on January 11, 2010 at the age of 101 just short of her 102nd birthday.
Today new things are on the horizon for the Town of Ocean Breeze. Yes, it is run down, but it is improving. Flying over or driving through one can see that many trailers have been removed and western lands belonging to the town are being cleared for residential apartments. The town owns a tremendous amount of land as well as land in the Indian River Lagoon. (see chart above.) The Town of Ocean Breeze is a sovereign. They regulate themselves.
Hmmmm? What will the future bring?
Recently, there was a rumor going around that the town could ignore the county’s four-story height limit within its boarders and build condominiums to “see the sea.” I think that is doubtful, but stranger things have happened in Martin County and if Ocean Breeze is to evolve into the future it will certainly have to change.
According to Scripps Newspapers, after great financial difficulty the town was bought in 2013 by Carefree RV Resorts for Arizona for 16.5 million. The company owns 60 communities nation wide.
Although I know I’ve got many more good and productive years, I find myself thinking about where Ed and I might eventually downsize. I want a great location, a place where I can see the Indian River, somewhere within walking distance to town, and a community where I can have fun and grow old. Ocean Breeze just might be the ticket!
“Sandra Thurlow was a resident of Sewall’s Point for twelve years before she became fascinated by its history. In 1986, the Town of Sewall’s Point commissioners ordered the demolition of a lovely old home that stood on a bluff overlooking the St Lucie River. Queries revealed that it was once the High Point Rod and Gun Club, a wildness retreat for a coterie of politically powerful Philadelphians. Further research uncovered a wealth of local history that needed to the shared and preserved. ”
As you may already know or have guessed, Sandra is my mother and the house was one the children of Sewall’s Point played in and got into trouble having lots of fun….And yesterday, we as a family honored Sandra’s 75th birthday and today she will be featured in my blog. 🙂
Even though she is my mother, it is my opinion that no one has done more for “Stuart’s” local history and no one has written more about the pioneer families who made their way along this wilderness, once known as “Santa Lucia” or the “Indian River Region.”
When I came back to visit Sewall’s Point and Stuart after graduating from University of Florida in 1986, I could tell things had really changed at the Thurlow house. My sister Jenny was getting ready to go off to school, I had been gone four years and our bedrooms were being transformed into offices. –Offices full of shelves and drawers of historic negatives, old maps from my father’s law office, abstracts, camera equipment, historic photos, taped interviews and the beginnings of what would become personal computers.
“Wow, ” I thought, “that’s cool, she and dad certainly will not suffer from empty nest syndrome when Todd leaves in another two years….”
As the years went on, she and my father, dove into the history of our area, and the history of our area is the history of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. A teacher by early profession and native of Gainesville, by 2008, my mother, with the help of my dad, had written and published four books: Sewall’s Point, the History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast; Stuart on the St Lucie; Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River; and together with my sister-in-law Deanna, Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History.
My mother taught me not to brag. But today I am bragging. It’s time. She has inspired and educated not only me but thousands of people. She has given talks, presented slide shows, worked with students in our local high schools, and has won state awards for her work.
I think she has helped make Martin County one of the “best documented histories” of our state. And through it all, whether she is writing about Captain Richards and his daughter Lucy of Eden struggling to grow pineapples in the sandy soil along the Indian River; or the first pioneers of Stuart trading with the Seminoles and calling their new-found paradise, “Stuart on the St Lucie;” or the early fish houses pouring over in Jensen Beach; or the shark fishermen in Salerno; or the lonely House of Refuge Keepers longing for the site of a ship or boat in river or ocean and who sustained themselves from the great riches of its waters; and even the documentation of the great detriment that came to this place through the false hope of canals and connection to Lake Okeechobee, she writes about the relationship of people to the land and the relationship of people to the water. The water is our history and we are the water, as that is why we came to this land….
Thank you mom for all of your work and happy birthday! Stuart is 100, you are 75 and I, your oldest, am 50. Time is flying, and the water that defines this place is still defining it as we fight to bring it back to health so that future generations can have some stories and write some books too.
Sandra’s books are available at Stuart Heritage, 161 Flagler Avenue, Stuart, FL 34994 in Downtown Stuart.(http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com) and through Amazon and Barnes and Nobel.
The front page of today’s Stuart News, reads: “40 Acres Burn in the Savannas.” The wind shifted causing a prescribed burn to jump control lines. Unfortunate. There have been other fires in the history of our area too, like the great fire of Jensen in 1908.
Here is an anonymous account of the 1908 fire in my mother’s book. The account was published in the Jensen Beach Mirror in 1962.
“The town of Jensen is burning down this morning. The fire rages up and down Commercial Street, from the river to the railroad tracks and beyond. It seems certain that each of the seventeen stores…will be consumed. Jensen has no fire department. Men are trying to stem the holocaust with buckets of water and what little power can be built with hand pumps and windmills…”
The fire’s location at C.H. Munch & Co. was determined but the reason for the fire never was… Jensen business was slow to rebuild after the 1908 fire and two years later another fire brought down the iconic Al Fresco Hotel that was located closer to the river just off of Main Street.
Historic post card of the Al Fresco Hotel, Jensen, late 1800s. (Courtesy of Sandra H. Thurlow.)
Many fires in Florida and in Martin/StLucie Counties are made by Mother Nature and not humankind. Fire is actually a heathy and needed part of our area’s pine, scrub, hammock, and swamp system. Fire naturally rejuvenates the land and habitat of the native animals and birds. Many native trees and animals have evolved over thousands of years to live in harmony with this fire system. Gopher turtle holes can be very long and deep, providing protection during fires to many species. Palmettos, sabal palms, and pines trees are “fire resistant.” Fire is nature’s way to bring nutrients (fertilizer) to the plants in a way that does not hurt the river as ash holds in the soil, and shortly after fires, a very obvious “rebirth” occurs.
This Florida Forest Service chart shows how frequently fires would occur if mankind was not suppressing them.
Chart by Forest Service showing frequency of wildfire in Florida if there were no human intervention.
Prescribed burns are an attempt to help nature, not hurt it. Unfortunately, when playing with fire, things can get out of control quickly. At least we did not have a fire like the Great Jensen Fire of 1908. ___________________________________________________________________