Tag Archives: History of Martin County

History’s Stairway-From the “Greatest Fishing Waters in America” to the Home of Toxic Algae 2016, SLR/IRL

Stairs leading to the former home of Hubert W. Bessey, the Perkins family and later William H. and Lucy Anne Shepard ca. 1890-1947 via historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Stairs leading to the former home of Hubert W. Bessey, the Perkins family, and later William H. and Lucy Anne Shepherd ca. 1890-1947- via historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Courtesy of "Stuart on the St Lucie," by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Courtesy of “Stuart on the St Lucie,” by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Shepherd's Park, Stuart 5-30-16. JTL
Shepherd’s Park shoreline, St Lucie River, Stuart 5-30-16. The ACOE in collaboration with the SFWMD and other state agencies has been discharging waters that cannot go south to the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee as they are blocked by the EAA. The ACOE has been releasing this year since January 29, 2016. The estuary is now fresh and breeding the algae blooms of Lake Okeechobee. JTL

My earliest memories of Stuart include stairs…stairs leading to the river…

Walking in Shepherd’s Park as a child, I would ask, “Where did those stairs go Mom?” Her answer may have gone something like this…

“Jacqui, those stairs led to a great house, one of Stuart’s first, built by pioneer, Hubert Bessey. It later became the residence of William and Lucy Ann Shepherd who first came to Stuart in the early 1900s. They came, like so many did at that time, for the fishing. Stuart, you know, was “the fishing grounds of presidents” and known as “the greatest waters in America” for this sport. Mr Shepherd was president and owner of T.H. Brooks and Company, a steel corporation in Cleveland. He and his wife were generous citizens of our community.  In 1947 the house was almost demolished by a hurricane, but repaired. Then in 1949, disaster struck. Right in the middle of the winter season, the house mysteriously burned to the ground, but the stairs still stand today…” (Adapted from “History of Martin County”)

Yesterday, with these 50-year-old lessons ringing in my ears, I approached the remains of the old Shepherd residence that became today’s Shepherd’s Park. I was here on Memorial Day to meet reporter Jana Eschbach, from CBS affiliate Channel 12 News in West Palm Beach. It was Jana who had alerted me to a large fluorescent green algae bloom-more than likely toxic.

I arrived early and walked around. Lots of memories. Seeing the old stairs, I thought about how they used to lead to “the fishing grounds of presidents and the greatest fishing grounds in America.” And today, less than 100 years later, they are leading to toxic algae blooms. Never in my wildest dreams would I have foreseen this as a child.

Walking around the breakwater, I thought to myself:

“I will not give up on this place–this former paradise. It could recover if given the chance. History can repeat itself in some form here for the positive.  Yes, and I will remember the words of Ernest Lyons who my mother taught me about too—the writer and editor of Stuart’s early paper–a leader and inspiration in fighting against the digging of the excessive agricultural canals that have destroyed our St Lucie River.

I mused for a second and remembered his inspirational quote:

“What men do, they can undo. And the hope for our river is in the hundreds of men and women in our communities who are resolved to save the St Lucie.” 

Yes.

The recovery of this river is in the people, for no government can exist in today’s age knowingly bringing this upon its people…It continues to be our time to change history.

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CBS 12 report: http://cbs12.com/news/local/toxic-green-slime-invades-waterways-for-miles-in-martin-county#

http://cbs12.com/news/local/toxic-green-slime-invades-waterways-for-miles-in-martin-county#
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OTHER PHOTOS FROM STUART, 5-30-16, Dusty Pearsall.

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Rand’s Pier Remembered, Seminole Shores-Sailfish Point, SLR/IRL

Rand's Pier 1957. Photo via Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Thurlow Archies.
Rand’s Pier being built in 1957; the pier  was built out 400 feet into the Atlantic. I visited the pier often through the 60s-80s growing up in Martin County. Photo Sandra Henderson Thurlow archives.
Aerial of Seminole Shores. Thurlow Archives.
Aerial of Seminole Shores. Thurlow Archives, ca. 1950s.

I think it is typical to think the time one grew up in was the “best of times,” but I feel mine really was…

One of my fondest memories of growing up in Stuart is visiting Rand’s Pier at Seminole Shores on Hutchinson Island. This area became today’s Sailfish Point. Tromping through the hot sands, my mother would lead my brother, sister, and I down a long, winding, sand-spur/beach-sunflower covered path. Finally, we would arrive at our destination, a pier that would provide shade and shelter for the outing.

From here my brother, sister, and I would take our buckets and nets and catch baby fish, collect shells and sea glass, or dig holes and bury each other up to our necks.

1957 Seminole Shores. (Photo Thurlow Archives)
1949 Seminole Shores. (Photo Thurlow Archives/Ruhnke)

The pier was a reference point for a time past, and man gone, who my mother said was famous. The man was James Rand Jr. of Rand Ledger Corporation decent who went on to build his own fortune. An impressive eccentric,  a Harvard graduate, with his share of troubles—but always a gifted business man— he did many wonderful things for Martin County including becoming a benefactor to the hospital and helping found and fund the Florida Oceanographic Society. Although it was not to be his fate, he had dreams of fully developing what was then known as Seminole Shores—-today’s Sailfish Point.

According to the History of Martin County: “In the early fifties James Rand acquired part of what was known as Seminole Shores on Sailfish Point three miles south of the House of Refuge. It was his intension to develop the area with exclusive residences, a marina, a clubhouse, cabanas, and a restaurant. He built the marina, the clubhouse and yacht basin, laid out and paved a number of streets, and built some thirty cabanas  in a semicircle around a swimming pool, facing the ocean that one might take advantage of either fresh or salt water bathing.  He also put in the telephone lines for the south end of the island at a cost of approximately $15,000…”

When my siblings and I were running around we did not think much about the man who built the pier, or put in the telephone lines, or helped make the island accessible for us to play. But his name always stuck in my head as someone who had made a difference to Martin County. The years have passed and Martin County has changed.

Today, Sailfish Point is beautifully developed– certainly beyond what Mr Rand would have ever imagined. The pier? Time tide and time have taken it: it has washed away– But when I walk the beach I still look for it and remember the “best of times”…

Pier 2009. (Photo JTL)
Remaining pier 2009. (Photo JTL)
My husband Ed under the pier in 2009. The pier washed away a few years later after a great storm.
My husband Ed under the pier in 2009. The entire pier washed away a few years later after a great storm. (JTL)
Beach sunflowers
Beach sunflowers…(JTL)

James Henry Rand Jr. 1886-1968: (http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Rand-1):
Historic Vignette including story of James Rand and his good works, historian, Alice Luckhardt: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/historical-vignettes-interesting-stories-and-facts-about-martin-county-part-2-ep-349553375-340215561.html

The Many Names of Beautiful Sailfish Point, SLR/RIL

South Hutchinson Island aerial showing miquto ditches through mangroves and other vegetation. 1952 courtesy of Thurlow Archives.
Confluence of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon at St Lucie Inlet. This aerial shows mosquito ditches through mangroves and other vegetation on today’s Sailfish Point. Due to state and local protections, the  mangroves could not be removed today as they were in Martin County in the late 70s and early 80s. Aerial dated 1952 courtesy of Thurlow Archives.

“A rose is a rose is a rose…”

The “Coral Strand” was a rose; “Seminole Shores” was a rose; “Sailfish Point is a rose…” and whatever Native American name the Indian’s had for this sacred area was also a rose….

In her poem’s famous first line: “a rose is a rose is a rose,” poet Gertrude Stein’s words are often interpreted as meaning “things are what they are”…”using a name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it..”

For me all these names are “a rose” evoking different images and times of Indian River Region history. The Coral Strand being the name given to the land by the McCoy brothers–famous rum runners and wheeler-dealer business men. Seminole Shores the name given by James Rand a wealthy eccentric of our area whose riches founded the Florida Oceanographic Society; and Sailfish Point the name given to the area after its development by Mobil Oil Corporation in the 1980s.

Will there be another name in the future? And if so what will it be? Well–a rose is a rose is a rose, always and forever…..no matter the name.

Picnicking at the Coral Strand 1927, for sale/lease sign in the background. Photo courtesy of Stuart the History of Martin County.
Picnicking at the Coral Strand 1927, “for sale/lease” sign in the background. Photo courtesy of Stuart the History of Martin County.
The Coral Strand was for sale for 25,000 in
According to the History of Martin County the Coral Strand was for sale for $25,000 in the 1920s.
Wider view showing the SLR/IRL in all its former fishing riches.
Wider view showing the SLR/IRL in all its former fishing riches, impacts from regional development agricultural canals, and area development with removal of vegetation have lessened water quality.

The Train Track Over the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon

Sunrise Roosevelt Bridge draw bridge, by John Whiticar, 2014.
Sunrise Roosevelt Bridge draw bridge, photo by John Whiticar, 2014.

All Aboard Florida and NOT All Aboard Florida have Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway on the front page of every paper along Florida’s Treasure Coast.

History and urban legend have some railroad stories of their own I’d like to share….

According to the book, The History of Martin County, Henry Flagler wanted to extend his railway through Sewall’s Point between the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, but instead had to take a sharp easterly turn near Rio in order to cross the shortest point of lands  along the St Lucie River, near today’s Downtown Stuart.

Looking at an aerial one can see that the Florida East Coast Railway swings east before reaching seal's Point.
Looking at an aerial one can see that the Florida East Coast Railway swings east before reaching Sewall’s  Point -see middle “line.”
Railroad takes a sharp easily turn over towards today's Downtown Stuart.
Railroad takes a sharp easterly turn over St Lucie River at today’s Downtown Stuart.

Quoting from The History of Martin County:

By February of 1894, Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway was as far south as Fort Pierce, and he planned to extend it along the Indian River Lagoon through Jensen Beach on through Sewall’s Point, and then to build a bridge across the St Lucie, to what is now Port Salerno, and so on to Palm Beach where he had already built a luxury hotel. Running into opposition from pineapple growers who did not want railroad tracks through their plantations,  and refused to sell him the right of ways he needed, Flagler faced a serious problem. Far sighted Walter Kitching with an eye to commercial improvement of his own property, was only too happy to solve the problem. 

Owning  property on the St Lucie including at the area where the railway bridge now crosses the St Lucie River along side the present Roosevelt Bridge , Kitching offered Flagler the right of way he needed provided the railroad went through his property: “I offered the railroad $200 in cash and all the land they required if they would give us a railroad dock and a depot on this side. They accepted the land and built the dock.” Downtown Stuart was born. 

Aerial of old roosevelt Bridge, draw bridge for train, and the New Roosevelt Bridge. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch 2013.)
Aerial of new Roosevelt Bridge, original draw-bridge for train, and the old Roosevelt Bridge. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch 2013.)

History is sometimes hard to really know as it “becomes” what is written. However, one thing is certain, for now, the sun always rises and the sun always sets, and a bridge is a symbol of the people and the times along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Sunrise over the fishing pier at the new Roosevelt Bridge. Photo by John Whiticar, 2014.
Sunrise over the fishing pier at the  Roosevelt Bridge. Photo by John Whiticar, 2014.

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Thank you to photographer of Whiticar Boat family fame, John Whiticar, for allowing me to share his beautiful photos. His words: “Going across the old Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart Florida this morning facing the new Roosevelt and old Railway bridges; Second photo is the fishing pier under the bridge.” September 22, 2014. 

The book, The History of Martin nCounty can be purchased at Stuart Heritage: (http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com)

The Contributions of “The History Lady,” Sandra Henderson Thurlow, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Sandra Henderson Thurlow, historian and author has written four books about the pioneer culture along the St Lucie River/IndianRiver Lagoon.(Photo, Tom Thurlow, 2010)
Sandra Henderson Thurlow, historian and author, has written four books about the pioneer culture along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. (Photo, Tom Thurlow, 2011.)

As the jacket of her Sewall’s Point Book states:

“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.

Book covers of the local history books written by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Book covers of the local history books written by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.

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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.

75 birthday SHT
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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 Coral Strand’s Fishing Riches; Today’s Sailfish Point, Along the Indian River Lagoon

1950 map by Ben McCoy of the "Coral Strand" and its riches,  today known as Sailfish Point.
1950s map of Hutchinson Island’s “Coral Strand.” Today, known as “Sailfish Point.” (Map, Ben McCoy, courtesy historic archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

How romantic, the “Coral Strand…” Like a string of pearls the riches of Hutchinson Island’s coast strung along the blue waters of the Atlantic and Indian River Lagoon. The crowing jewel, today,  known as Sailfish Point.

The above promotional map by Ben McCoy, brother, of the infamous rum runner, Captain Bill McCoy, highlights some of our area’s best features, most interesting history, and even an excerpt from a novel by Faith Baldwin:

” It was a long jut of land running into the water, upon one side was the ocean, upon the other, an inlet forming a small quiet bay. It was colored like a lithograph, strong blinding colors. The beach was so white that it dazzled, water and sky so blue they seemed unreal…”

If one looks closely at the map, fish of the area are listed around the point: Blue Fish; Sheepshead; Bass; Snapper; Pompano; Spanish Mackerel; and Tarpon everywhere…the Indian River is not noted just as the” Indian River” but the “Famous Indian River,” for fishing of course!

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The publication notes that five presidents, Arthur, Cleveland, Roosevelt, Taft, and Harding,  as well as Joe Jefferson, beloved  disciple of Izaak Walton, fished these waters as “who indeed among fisherman has not heard of the famous St Lucie Region, rendezvous for more than half a century for anglers  from all over the world!”

Believe it or not, according to The History of Martin County, the McCoy’s land, today’s Sailfish Point, was listed for $25,000.

It is fun to visit the dream like past, but soon or later, reality always sets in. In the 1950s the Coral Strand was sold to eccentric entrepreneur and Florida Oceanographic Society founder, James Rand, for its limited development the name was marketed as “Seminole Shores.” Later in the 1960s, the the Hutchinson Island property was sold by Harvard University to a group of Boston investors and eventually to Mobil Oil who legally tore the mangroves from the land, scared off the mosquitoes and filled it. Eventually, in the 80s the land was developed as exclusive “Sailfish Point.”

According to Dr Grant Gilmore, most famous for his long career at Harbor Branch Oceanographic, the waters/seagrasses surrounding Sailfish Point, the old Coral Strand, are truly the most diverse in the North America with over 800 types of fish, often growing baby fish, documented in these waters.

It is a crime that during rainy season, the Army Corp of Engineers often releases water from Lake Okeechobee exacerbating the pollution from our local canals killing the seagrasses in these waters, thus fish habitat destroyed. Last year, in 2013,  according to Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic, approximately 85% of the seagrasses were destroyed.

Yes, this has happened many times, but one day, it may not come back.

For history, for today, we must fight to protect our “Coral Strand,” and our pearl, our incredibly bio-diverse waters…

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The History of Martin County can be purchased at the Historical Society of Martin County: (http://www.martincountyhistoricalsociety.com)