Tag Archives: History St Lucie Canal

Part III -The Boon of the Huge Monster Ditch, St Lucie Canal

-Stuart News 50th Anniversary Edition, 1964.Today I will complete part three, the final portion of my transcription of an historic 1964 Stuart News, anniversary edition from my mother’s archives. She actually shared this article with me over a year ago and I was so taken by it that I thought it may be an inspiration for a book. I never got around to it, thus now I am sharing on my blog as part of my 2023 new year’s resolution to write more and learn more about the St Lucie Canal. 2024 is the official 100 year anniversary of the St Lucie Canal according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Here are links to Parts I and Part II.

~Interesting references in part three of the article are the mentioning of a “release canal,” south to the Everglades, something that never materialized; reference, once again, to cutting edge “scientific water control” and the amazing success of the agriculture industry; 1933 noted as the first extreme discharge year from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie River and damaging effects to fisheries and tourism; and in the final paragraph, a future plan linking a new “C-23 Canal on Martin County’s northern border with a major channel which would extend westward to Lake Okeechobee, with a side link to St Lucie Canal, and another channel from St. Lucie Canal southeastward down toward Pratt & Whitney and the Loxahatchee Marshes;” Gulp!

This is a reference to part of the canal system proposed in the 1948 and many following editions of the Central and Southern Florida Plan that thankfully was never built. This reference also leads me to believe that I was incorrect in part two when I wrote the article was written around 1937 or 1920 in part one. With these references to C-23, the article must have been composed after the great flood of 1947 as it is referring to the Central and Southern Florida Project of 1948.  I am learning all the time as I sludge through this stuff. The St. Lucie Canal has had so many face lifts! It is hard to know what cut they are referring to!

~As we learn, we are more informed and able to change the future of this huge “ditch” that has defined, benefited, and destroyed the region of our St Lucie River.

So here is a transcription of Part III.

I have entitled my post “The Boon of the Huge Monster Ditch, St Lucie Canal,” as both terms “huge” and “monster,” are noted in full article. To me, the canal is a monster continuing to haunt and terrify. And just like in the movies, I know that until I meet this monster face to face, it wont go away. I hope you will encounter it with me.

You can click on images to enlarge.

Begin transcript paragraphs 11-25:

The great hurricane of 1928, which drowned about 4000 persons in the Lake Okeechobee area, resulted in the widening and deepening of both the St. Luice Canal and the Caloosahatchee River as well as major outlets from the lake. The widened and deepened canal was officially dedicated at ceremonies headed by Secretary of Commerce, Daniel Roper on March 22, 1937.

In the intervening years, the canal’s “good and bad” points have been the cause of growth in the agricultural lands of the interior and of damages to the fisheries and resorts on the coast in periods of excessive discharge. Today, as ever since 1933, when the first heavy discharge from hurricane rains was experienced, efforts are under way to so shape the discharge so that the canal’s benefit can be enjoyed without attendant harm. The U. S. Engineer Corp’s plans for a higher lake level by diking the entire lake may result in less necessity for discharge and a long-range plan has been advanced for diversion of excess water to Everglades National Park by means of a relief-valve canal.

However in the half century which has ensued since the canal was approved, one indisputable fact not clearly seen in the beginning has emerged stage by stage to justify it.

It is “scientific agriculture by water control.”

Thousands of pleasure craft and hundreds of barges, shrimp boats, and other commercial craft use the waterway today, but it never did develop into the “thriving artery of commerce” that was predicted in which ocean ships would sail up to Stuart and load the products of the Everglades Empire brought to the coast by the St. Luice Canal.

Nor did a plan advocated during World War II jell out to make it a major barge and oil transport canal to escape the submarines which infested the Straits of Florida, Yucatan Channel and the Gulf Stream.

What did “jell out” was an expansion all along the route of the the scientific water control for agriculture that was  proven at Port Mayaca by that pioneering agricultural beginning in 1925.

G.C. Troup and Troup Brothers at Indiantown on their former 20,000-acre holdings, demonstrated that the combination of irrigation and good drainage would unlock agricultural riches. Today the Minute Maid and Hood corporations are among the huge citrus firms which have planted some 10,000 acres of new citrus and the largest lemon grove in the world on former Troup lands and lands opened to agriculture through water control by P. L. Hinson and others.

On both sides of the St. Lucie Canal, in the entire twenty-five miles of its length, there are spreading pastures, ranches where blooded cattle graze, and the Indiantown area also has some of the country’s largest diaries.

The Bessemer firm that proved it could be done is “in there pitching” with some of the most outstanding modern developments including Westbury Farms 1, 2, and 3, the new Westbury Farms Valencia Groves on the south side of the canal, and the spreading Green Ridge Groves on the north side. George Oliver who manages the giant spread and Michael Phipps of the major corporation are proud of the agricultural and ranching growth but prouder still of St. Lucie Training Park, unique race horse training facility where, “hopefuls” of some of the nation’s top stables get their “running” starts.

They can be found at dawn watching the work-outs on the oval track. Both are skilled polo players.

“Scientific water control with ample supplies from the St. Lucie Canal, and drainage into the canal, is the key to our county’s solid growth,” commented Oliver.

Currently being pushed by Martin County agricultural interests is a new over-all water control plan for the county which would spread the advantages of irrigation and drainage to areas not continuous to the St Lucie Canal.

The new plan would link in C-23 Canal on Martin County’s north border, where huge  citrus planting have recently been made, with a major channel which would extend westward to   Lake Okeechobee, with a side link to St Lucie Canal, and another channel from St. Lucie Canal southeastward down toward Pratt & Whitney and the Loxahatchee Marshes. Private landowners would link in with these new canals by irrigation pumps and drainage outlet as they have done along the St. Luice Canal.

-End of transcript and article JTL

Part II: The Boon of the Monster Ditch, St. Lucie Canal

Today’s post is the second part of a story. A story from the 1964 50th Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News. Signalizing Half a Century of Growth and Progress in Martin County, Florida.” It is a huge special edition newspaper, 110 pages!

The article I am sharing is on page 6-H and is titled ” St. Lucie Canal Approved in 1914, Is Boon to Agriculture Here. Huge Citrus Growth Along Water Route; Mayaca Groves First.” I feel this remarkable article given to my mother for her history archives by family friend and real estate man, Ronnie Nelson, must be shared. As the 100 year “anniversary”of the St. Luice Canal is next year in 2024. At this time, I must state I am finding many different dates as to the completion date of the canal, but at this point I am sticking with an article from the Department of Environmental Protection, 1916-1924. (Ecosummary 2001, C-44 Canal)

Learning about the St. Lucie Canal can be confusing because it was “rebuilt” or “improved”  and, believe it or not, “celebrated” a few times. I think this article included in the 50th anniversary edition was written as the canal approached its second rebirth in 1937.

There is so much to learn about how the St. Lucie Canal was perceived in earlier times. And it is only through understanding the past, that we can create a better water future for today and for tomorrow.

Part I  Paragraphs 1-4 

Part II, transcription continued, paragraphs 5-11

1964 Stuart News, 50th Anniversary Issue, Thurlow Archives
1964, Stuart News 6-H and 7-H

Transcription begins:

“The completion of this monster ditch will mean much for the Everglades, for south Florida in general, and for Stuart in particular. The improvement of the St. Lucie Inlet and harbor will thus make Stuart the gateway to the Everglades, and millions of dollars worth of agricultural timber, fish, and livestock products will pass through the canal transferring at Stuart onto ocean-going vessels. The canal is, according to contract, to be completed in four years.

First tangible result of the canal for large-scale agriculture was the pioneering effort of the Port Mayaca development back around 1925, created by Bessemer Properties, Inc., a Phipps company which saw the opportunities for agriculture through scientific water control by tapping on to St. Lucie Canal with pumps to provide irrigation in dry spells. At the same time, a series of canals discharged excess water into the canal during wet spells.

Port Mayaca Valencia orange groves today represents the first big-scale successful planting of citrus in Martin County.

Port Mayaca could well be said to be the test plot on which millions were spent to prove, by trial and error, with the best possible scientific agricultural advice, what could be done by enlisting the aid of the man-made waterway.

Paul M. Hoenshel, now a resident of Stuart, was the first agricultural manager in the Port Mayaca development. He was backed by the vision and guidance of such able Phipp’s representatives in Florida as Paul R. Scott and Roy M Hawkins, as was Thomas Gartland when he took over the management in later years.

Port Mayaca was an outstanding “first” because it squarely faced up to the fact that the problems of drainage and water control must be solved if agriculture was to be successful in Martin County. The Phipps interests took the property of several thousand acres and divided it into forty-acre fields separated by drainage ditches, roads, and windbreaks.

About 100 miles of those ditches were dug in the Port Mayaca development, all linked by giant pumps to the life saving waters of the canal. Since Port Mayaca contained both muck lands and sand lands, it was an ideal test tube not only for for its initial 600 acres of Valencia oranges but also for various truck crops, gladiolus- then a major flower crop before chrysanthemums came along- and for experiments in the right grasses and mineral additives to make pasture lands where livestock could thrive…”

~End of transcription. To be continued. JTL

Google Maps 2023 shows Port Mayaca’s location on/near Lake Okeechobee, in Martin County, FL. Blue Dot is area of confluence of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon leading to St Lucie Inlet.

Article about the history of Port Mayaca and Cypress Lodge by the late historian, Alice Luckhardt.

“The Boon of the Huge Ditch,” St Lucie Canal

Today, we will continue to study an article of a 1964 50th Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News from my mother’s history archives. We are doing this in light of the upcoming 100 year “anniversary” of the St. Lucie Canal.

The title of the this article, published originally in the 1920s is “St Lucie  Canal, Approved in 1914, Is Boon to Agriculture Here. Huge Citrus Growth Along Water Route; Mayaca Groves First.” In 2023with all of our water quality issues it is hard to imagine supporting the digging of this giant ditch. Back in the 1920s, it was a promise for a better future.

Looking west towards Lake Okeechobee. St Lucie Canal meeting the south fork of the St Lucie River c. 1920s. Thurlow/Ruhnke Collection.

TRANSCRIPTION, first 4 paragraphs of Stuart News 50th Anniversary Edition, 1964, page 6-H. JTL

“The St Lucie Canal, a twenty-five  mile artificial river tapping vast Lake Okeechobee, was originally approved back in 1914 as a drainage and navigation outlet from the lake, with great accent upon its commercial use as a barge waterway, but few foresaw that its greatest boon would be to agriculture. Digging began in September 1915, with dredges starting at the lake and working eastward.

Excerpt, Stuart News Anniversary Edition 1964.

The land from Stuart westward to the mysterious lake was a wilderness supporting a few scrub cattle and a few patches of “hit-and-run” tomato farms which were frequently drowned out or parched. Small scale citrus plantings, attempted on ten-acre tracts west of Palm City and Port Salerno were bringing heartbreak because of a lack of water control. There was either too much or too little.

Back on November 5, 1915, the Stuart newspaper reported the work of digging the huge St. Lucie-Okeechobee drainage and shipping canal is progressing nicely and is being hurried along with night and day shifts. Two dredges are employed in the work, each operating from the Okeechobee end. The small dredge, which precedes the larger, is now about one and one-half miles from the lake, and is advancing at the rate of about 600 feet a day. The large dredge which completes the actual work of digging the huge ditch has reached a point about one and one-half miles from the Okeechobee end and is excavating dirt at the rate of about 10,000 cubic yards daily. If this rate could be maintained constantly work would be finished in a year. Actual digging operations on the canal have been in progress for about five weeks. It is probable, the the Furst Clark Construction Company, the contractors, will also put a dredge at the St Lucie end of the canal so as to expedite the work, although no definite announcement to this effect has been made.

Manuscript Collection, courtesy, Florida Memory https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/335255
Dredge “Culebra” on the St. Lucie Canal in the Everglades Drainage District, 1925.

The St Lucie Canal will be the main control canal of the immense Everglades drainage system, the largest drainage project in the world. The huge ditch will be twenty-five miles in length. 200 feet wide at the top, 160 feet wide at the bottom, with a maximum depth of twelve feet. It will empty into the south fork of the St lucie River six miles above Stuart, the waters reaching the Atlantic Ocean through St Lucie Inlet about the same distance southeast of Stuart. Indications are the digging operations will now go steadily forward until the completion of the canal and that no further hitch up will result  as the Internal Improvement Board of Florida and the United States War Department have come to a thorough understanding…” 

-End of transcription.

Florida Geology Collection, courtesy Florida Memory, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/124753
People along the Saint Lucie Canal near Indiantown. Note sand. Unlike other canals  constructed, at least partially along the alignment of natural creeks or rivers, the St. Lucie Canal winds through uplands with no natural drainage patterns (SFWMD historic timeline). The St Lucie has/had no natural connection to Lake Okeechobee.

The St Lucie Canal, now known as the C-44 Canal since becoming part of the Central and Southern Florida Project of 1948, runs from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Luice River. The canal/ditch allows for both “basin runoff” (historically almost all of this water flowed south to the Loxahatchee system attached to the Everglades) and  Lake Okeechobee’s waters to be directed through the St Luice River. The “ditch” is also designed to flow backwards into the lake if the lake level is lower than the canal level.

The infamous St Lucie Canal in spite of its “boon for agriculture and Everglades drainage” has been, and continues to be, the most controversial canal in Martin County (in 1925 Martin County was created from Palm Beach County and a smaller part of St Lucie County) due to its potential for immense, longstanding, economic and environmental damaging discharges to the St Lucie River.

Thankfully and ironically, progress by the same entities that built this huge “ditch” is being made by the modern  Army Corp of Engineers (referred to in the historic Stuart News article as the United States War Department) and their local partner whose origins go back to the 1905 Everglades Drainage District now the South Florida Water Management District.  Yes, modern progress is being achieved through the Indian River Lagoon South portion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. As we know, times change and so does the definition of what brings a better future!

As we work to improve the system it is important to understand the perceived positive and negative consequences of the history of this “ditch.” I will be writing a lot about the St Lucie Canal this year, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, next year, 2024, will be the official anniversary of the St Luice Canal.

Google Maps today in 2023. The red bubble is near Indiantown. The St Lucie Canal runs from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River and out to sea at the St Luice Inlet, near blue dot. The St Lucie “ditch” cut through uplands of narrow strips of pine flatlands interspersed with hammocks, ponds, sawgrass, wide prairies, sloughs and cypress trees, severing the natural flow south of water from Allapattah Flats and connected lands that once drained almost entirely  into the Loxahatchee/ Everglades system that also has been severed.

Study of this historic article is to be continued…JTL

 

Coming to Terms With a Painful Environmental History-St Lucie Canal 1913-1937

-Part of a series leading up to the 100 year anniversary of the St Lucie Canal (built 1916-1924) as we continue to work to understand and heal this waterway…

-Left side of 1913 east coast drainage blueprint, Florida State Archives -Right side of huge 1913 east coast drainage blueprint, Florida State ArchivesTwo days ago was the first day of 2023. As there is always a chance we will once again be tortured by the “C-44 ,” now seems like a good time to review it under its original title: the St Lucie Canal.

The above blueprints are from the Florida State Archives and they are enormous documents. Ed and I visited Tallahassee in order to lay eyes on these remarkable pieces of history. Laid out on a large table in the library one can piece the two pages together to read:

Territory From lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean,

Between Townships 37 and 43 South,

Showing Routes Examined for Proposed Drainage Canals,

Made Under the Direction of F.C. Elliot,

Acting Chief Drainage Engineer, March – April 1913.

The St Lucie Canal was built by the state of Florida’s Everglades Drainage District from 1916 through 1924 when Martin was Palm Beach County. Over the holiday I read through some of my mother‘s historic newspaper articles. They were sobering.

A 1923 Stuart Messenger headline reads “Wednesday Next is the Day Set for First Flow of Water From Lake to River Through St Lucie Canal.” It sounds a bit like today, fishermen and tourism had major concerns, but the chamber of commerce folk celebrated with visions of expanded inland agriculture and a port of commerce. The truth of the matter is that the primary reason for the St Lucie Canal, since Florida’s earliest fantasies, was drainage.

In fact most bragged about it. An April 29, 1920’s Stuart Messenger article expressed with pride: “The St Lucie is the main control outlet for Lake Okeechobee.”

On July 7, 1923, the same paper wrote: “the St Lucie is the key to the entire Everglades drainage project.” On November 6, 1931, not long after the deadly hurricane of 1928, The Florida Developer printed something that today makes me sick to my stomach:  “The east locks of the St Lucie Canal were closed Saturday, after being open nearly two years. In that time the level of the lake has been reduced from 18 to 14 feet.” 

Unbelievable! Four feet off the lake through the St Lucie!

In 1937, the year the St Lucie Canal was federally rededicated as part of the Cross State Canal to Ft. Meyers -another jaw breaker. In a 1937 February 27 Stuart Daily News article written by famous journalist and horticulturalist Edwin A. Menninger it reads: “…work on the St Lucie had begun when the pioneers realized the that canals through muck lands were unless as they refused to carry water out of the lake. Four of them had been dug and were utterly worthless. The St Lucie Canal was completed in 1924 and for 13 years has been the only functioning outlet from Lake Okeechobee to the sea.”

The St Lucie Canal the only outlet for 13 years?! No! Kill me please!

A Daily News Article of the same day has a title reading: “New Ortona Locks to Alleviate St Lucie Flow.”  According to this article, apparently until made part of the Cross State Canal’s Okeechobee Waterway in 1937, the Caloosahatchee’s drainage of Lake Okeechobee had not been functioning at least since 1924. 13 years! 

Upon reading through these old articles, I just about cried. I drank a lot of wine. I have studied this for years but nevertheless. And there were more articles…

The worst was a Stuart News January 9, 1964 anniversary issue article, the year of my birth of all years. There is a photo is the upper right corner with a picture, it reads again with pride: “Old Aerial View shows the island and lock formerly at Port Mayaca where the canal enters Lake Okeechobee. These works were removed in 1936 to give unimpeded discharge from the lake.”

They removed the structure at Port Mayaca so the most lake water could flow through? What’s wrong with you people?!!!!!! No!!!!!

As I was losing my mind, my husband, Ed, pointed out to me that the lake was not polluted at that time. True, but nonetheless! Fresh water is a pollutant to a brackish system! No! Another glass please!

Excerpt, Stuart News Anniversary Edition 1964.

To think of all the destruction the St Lucie River has experienced! As written in the archive timeline in the hallways of the South Florida Water Management District whose official close date for the St Lucie Canal is 1925:

“Recommended by the Randolph Report and begun in 1916, …unlike other canals constructed at least partially along the alignment of natural creeks or rivers, the St Lucie Canal winds through uplands with no natural drainage patters. Its sole purpose is to channel excess water from the lake to the Atlantic Ocean.”

SFWMD timeline

In closing, there is some good historical news, if you click on the blueprints above and study them you will see that in the design work for 1913 there was a proposed canal from Lake Okeechobee trough the Loxahatchee to Lake Worth. Boy they are lucky that canal was never built.

After a long drive, Ed is reflected while taking my picture in front of the Florida State Archives, 2022.