Stuart, St Lucie River, Sewall’s Point, Indian River Lagoon, and Hutchinson Island, Atlantic Ocean, Martin County, Florida 1971
“I have enjoyed looking at this aerial taken in 1971. Too bad our little house on Edgewood is out of the photo. It shows the location of the future Monterey Road through the Krueger property. The Krueger building to house Merrill Lynch has not been built yet but you can see the little surgery center was already built. I think I can see Mimi and Grampy Tom’s house in Snug Harbor–at least the driveway. So many things yet to be built.” Mom
My mom, local historian, Sandra Thurlow, recently shared this aerial with my brother, sister and me as we grew up here in Martin County. It’s a really great photograph capturing a growing community. Look how Hutchinson Island, Sewall’s Point, and even parts of East Ocean were undeveloped. No Indian River Plantation, later renamed “Marriott Hutchinson Island.” No Cedar Point Plaza. No Benihana! White sands shine through the remaining forest denoting scrub habit, home to threatened and endangered scrub jays and gopher turtles. This sand pine scrub habitat that made up most of Florida’s east coast is now considered one of the most endangered habitats in the world. The East Ocean Mall on the right sits next to a flower farm. At this time flower farms were giving way to roads and development. Already, the freshwater ponds have been directed and drained, and obviously thousands of sand pines have been mowed down for condos, houses, farms, roads, and shopping centers. By 1971 this area was fully on its way to build-out as we see below in 2020. Nonetheless, from air and ground this area of Martin County stands out as one of the most beautiful.
But it would be fun to bring back some of the scrub habitat ~easy to do by just altering our yards. How things could change…
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.
TCPalm’s Elliott Jones reported this morning that Stuart has received a whopping 11.30 inches of rain just so far this month! (The average being 7.14.)
Although due to the recent drought, the ACOE/SFWMD are not dumping Lake Okeechobee through Canal C-44, canals C-23, C-24, C-25, and areas along C-44, as well as our own basin, are draining right into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Very little of this water is cleansed before it enters and thus is damaging to the eco system. Next time you see water draining through a grate in a parking lot, think about this. Remember too that before the major canals were constructed the 1900s, the river received less than half the water it gets every time it rains today.
The aerials below were taken 6-13-17 by my husband Ed Lippisch and pilot Dave Stone. It is important to monitor the river all of the time so we can view changes.
“Rain stained” we are; please remember not to fertilize during the rainy season. The birds on Bird Island will appreciate it! (http://befloridian.org)
Canals draining water into SLR/IRL after rain events:
The sands of time….shifting, reforming, just like my childhood memories. 1977–Seventh grade—I remember riding my bike with my best friend, Vicki, out to Hutchinson Island. No traffic. Along the way we would take our hands off the handle bars holding them over our heads, laughing and shouting “look mom!”
A veritable paradise and giant playground we left our bikes at Stuart Beach not locking them and jumped into the ocean.
This photo was taken in 1957, twenty years before Vicki and my bike ride, but it was still relatively undeveloped at that time. If my memory serves me correctly Indian River Plantation’s first condo, The Pelican, went up in 1976 and later in the 1980s the establishment filled out to its final glory. Later sold to the Marriott these lands, though altered, remain a beautiful part of Martin County with public beaches for all to enjoy.
I got ahold of this photo from my mother asking her what kind of vegetation pre-development was on the island. This was her reply:
“This aerial was taken on October 16, 1957. The causeway was under construction as were improvements to Stuart Beach. It is hard to tell what kind of trees are there. They were probably a variety of things, oak, salt bush, cabbage palms, palmetto and Australian pine. The later were growing at the House of Refuge at this time so they were no doubt popping up everywhere. It was “disturbed land” since patches of it had been cleared for farming. Mangrove would be growing along the water but I doubt they had reached inland yet. You can see the new piles of sand indicating mosquito ditches had recently been dug. Notice the little Beach Road.” Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow
Thinking a bit more about this area I asked my brother, Todd Thurlow, if this area formed “the fan” because it was once an inlet, such as the Gap, he talks about so much. He sent me this:
“The steady forces of long shore drift have operated over the eons to produce not just the current BI and previous BIs such as the ACR on the mainland, but even the peninsula of Florida itself (Schmidt 1997). The strong linearity of the east central and southeast Florida coastline, its low fractal dimensionality (Rial n.d.), indicates the steadiness and consistent directionality of these forces. Chaotic events like storms, on the other hand, produce drastic BI and lagoonal modifications via overwash and tidal inlet cuts, and leave chaotic, or irregular (“squiggly”) backbarrier shorelines, the former producing overwash fans, and the latter producing flood tidal deltas (Figure 3-6).
Figure 4-19. Cartographic signatures of geomorphic stability and instability. Map to left is most north, right map is most south”
Alan Brech, NEITHER OCEAN NOR CONTINENT: CORRELATING THE ARCHAEOLOGY AND GEOMORPHOLOGY OF THE BARRIER ISLANDS OF EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA, 2004.
Translation: Breaks occurring during storms create overwash fans. (e.g. IRP and Sailfish Point). Tidal inlets produce flood tidal deltas, somewhat like the old Gilberts Bar. BI = Barrier Island; ACR = Atlantic Coastal Ridge. —-Todd Thurlow, “Time Capsule Flights:”(https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDaNwdmfhj15bmGNQaGhog9QpkQPAXl06)
The shifting sands of time… So many wonderful memories, and so many more to make as times and sands continue to change.
Hutchinson Island is located on the east side of the Indian River Lagoon–
I find myself thinking of bears…recently I was in Silver Springs with my UF Natural Resources Leadership Institute class. We were staying at the Florida Wildlife Commissions’ Ocala Conservation Center and Youth Camp. That night, I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning—the springs under my mattress squeaked relentlessly through the dead-aired, dark, dusty cabin. I knew I was keeping my bunk-mates awake. It was 2:00AM. I decided to get up. Walking out the door into cool darkness the stars shone like diamonds in a velvet sky; Orion looked down on me as he has since my childhood.
Standing alone in glory of the night, I wondered if I would see a bear. After all, I was in “bear country”…There had been a lot of talk about bears and the controversies of hunting during our session. I imagined that if I did see a bear, I would do what they say to do. I would stand tall and slowly back up. I would not run.
Later that night I fell asleep in my car, and dreamt of bears. In my dream, I forgot the rules and I ran. The bear did not chase me, but rather stood up like a human and summoned me to a large rock; I went to him and he told me a story… his story of being the last bear shot on Hutchinson Island in Martin County, 1926…
The bear looked me straight in the eye and began speaking in a steady, low voice:
“For countless centuries there were black bears on Hutchinson Island…they co-existed with the Indians whose mounds are found there. We roamed the beaches on the long summer nights, digging up loggerhead turtle eggs. When the white settlers came a few sailed over from the mainland to put out bees on the island and we knocked over the hives to get the honey…
It was tough being a bear….white men and bears were enemies in a one-sided war. In 1926 I was shot by Captain Billy Pitchford. I was the last bear on Hutchinson Island…”
Suddenly I awoke. My car window was open; I heard owls hooting close by and the wind whistling through the spanish moss. My bones ached and moisture coated everything. I rolled on my side thinking about my dream. Thinking about the last bear shot on Hutchinson Island and the old Stuart News article my mother had given me…
Bears, I though…
“A one-sided war….”
That was the message.
The Florida Wildlife Commission sanctioned bear hunt, the first since 1994, will begin in two days on October 24th. There is nothing wrong with hunting, but a man of dignity should never take pride in winning a one-sided war.
One of my favorite childhood memories is searching for sea glass along our beaches, on the other side of the Indian River Lagoon…
My parents’ friends, the Nelsons, were one of the first to build “out there,” on Hutchinson Island; I would often spend the night with their daughter Lynda. Lynda and I would wake up in the morning before dawn, climb the stairs to the roof, and wait for the sun to rise. Like yellow gold, it would emerge over the ocean, and we would begin our treasure hunt for sea glass.
In those days, in the late 1960s and 1970s, our Martin County beaches were not “renoursished,” and if you picked the sand up in the palm of your hand, it was beautiful and consisted of thousands of little crushed shells of every imaginable color….often a piece of sea glass would be there too.
Lynda and I had baskets her mother had given us, and on any given weekend we could fill a small basket full with glass. The most common color was brown, then green, then clear, and the rarest of all was blue! Blue was the prize. Blue was goal…Lynda always won!
It is harder to find sea glass today. And this is a very good thing…
Prior to the 1970s, and many places until the 1990s, trash was dumped from barges off the shores the United States. It was not until the 1972 passage of the “Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act” that laws, regulations, and public awareness stopped this practice.
The plethora of glass along Atlantic beaches came from the bottles dumped with the trash. After years of being tumbled in the sea, once sharp pieces emerged rounded and frosted by nature….just beautiful!
What do they say? “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” Thankfully in this case, there is less “treasure” to find.
Late yesterday afternoon, I walked the Ernest Lyons Bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. There was a storm in the west–way off in the distance over Palm City perhaps. In what seemed like minutes the storm had flattened and stretched out over the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. It was upon me.
For a moment I was scared. There was lightning in the near distance. Cold rain pelted down. The winds generated tremendous power and the birds flying back to Bird Island were caught in place suspended like mobiles.
I started running, not something I do ever anymore….
After stopping and starting, and taking photos….. 🙂 I got safely to the other side.
I had ‘made it.” I felt invigorated. It’s good to be aware of your smallness against nature every once in a while….
Today I will share “Reflections on Reflections on a Jungle River” written by famed environmentalist and “Stuart News” editor Ernest Lyons. The work is transcribed by my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow. I think Ernie’s essay “captures the storm better than I ever could…although he is writing about the St Lucie or Loxahatchee, the sister Indian River seems just the same…
Drifting on the surface of a Florida jungle river, like the South Fork of the St. Lucie or the Northwest Branch of the Loxahatchee, I experience the feeling that nothing is ordinary, nothing is commonplace.
The onyx surface of the water reflects in perfect color the images of the bushy headed cabbage palms, the moss draped live-oaks and cypresses along the banks.
Cascading clumps of wild asters and a fragile white spider-lily are mirrored on the smooth blank film. I drift in my rowboat on top of an image of scenery. There is probably, a natural law which some logically minded egghead can recite to explain how a color image can be reflected on the face of a river, but please don’t quote it. I would rather marvel.
What has happened to awe? Where has wonder gone? I suspect that too much has been “explained” by the ignorant to the stupid. Modern man’s greatest loss of spirit may be that he has ceased to be amazed at the wonders all around him.
Looking up from the tunnel of trees one sees more intimately the blue sky and white clouds. Why blue? Why white? Why are the palm fronds that glittering green? Why is that crimson color on the air plant’s flowering spikes? I glance at the molten sun above the palm trees. Just a glance. What frailty is in us that we can not ever look the sun in the eye? I remember a snatch of Alfred Noyes’ poem to the sun: “My light upon the far, faint planets that attend me…whose flowers watch me with adoring eyes…”
A flower can do what a man cannot; it can look the sun in the eye. Mighty Ra to whom the ancient Egyptians built temples on the banks of the Nile. The Sun God who controlled the seasons, the droughts and the floods. We smile at the fantasies of the Pharaohs and have replaced them with plain, old ordinary sun among millions like it sending out radiation as it burns nuclear fuel. But it still does what Ra did — and sunlight remains as great a mystery now as then.
The river on which I drift begins in that distant flaming sphere pouring our rays of light that suck mists from the sea to make clouds in the sky.
So simple a process. There’s really nothing to it. Just done with light. All of the rivers and all of the clouds all over the world are children of a star. The sun is their father, the sea is their mother and they are born and reborn again so long as the light shines on the waters. We yawn at continuing creation. It is all explainable, if you just have a logical mind. I’m glad I don’t.
I would make a good Druid. I believe in magic and in miracles, in mysteries and wonders, and that trees, mountains, rivers, even clouds and certain secret places have personalities. I like storms. I enjoy watching the maneuvering of giant thunderheads, edging around each other, moving in closer, muttering and grumbling and threatening, coming together and destroying each other with furies of wind, crashes of lighting and deluges of rain.
They remind me of the ponderous movements of great governments coming in on each other toward a war which everyone wants to avoid —until caught in the thick of it, when all must make the best of it. One is a storm of mist, the other a storm of belief —and the second is the least tangible and the most destructive. The sun makes one from water; we from the other from thoughts and beliefs. As we believe, they are shaped. What a power for good or evil is the human mind, making its own storms, malignant and benign.
Storms up the river remind me of creatures that sneak up and pounce. You hear them muttering, you see them coming, you figure they are going to miss you—and there is a time when you could do something about avoiding them. Then there is a point of no return. You are definitely caught, can do nothing to escape. There is no place to go.
You look at the bright side. You are glad you are not in a small boat at sea. You are going to get wet, but you are not going to be drowned. You are, after all, a land creature, and having shielding trees and firm land close by is relatively comforting. How human it is that, our first thought about the threat of nuclear storms is that perhaps—just perhaps, but hopefully—we may burrow into the earth and escape.
Hauled under a leaning palm, I endure the storm, but it finds me out and soaks me to the skin. And it is gone. Nothing is so completely gone as a storm that has passed or Druids or Pharaohs or empires in which people have stopped believing.
There are trickles and rivulets and creeklets coming into the river, making it whole again, flowing to the sea to be warmed once more by the sun and made into clouds to fill the river again.
What is light? I glance at incandescent Ra, but dare not look him in the eye. “You wet me good,” I say, “Now warm me up.”
I always enjoy looking at old photographs, and fortunately my mother and father have acquired hundreds through their history work. Many of them spawn memories of what for me was a “simpler time and place” in Martin County history—as I was a child.
My mother probably took me to the “Bathtub Beach,” with family and friends, for the very first time, when I was an infant, but in my first memories of the place I was probably four or five years old.
I can remember my mother parking along the road and all of us walking– carrying all of our towels, buckets, and nets to catch tropical fish in the reef (to be returned) and my looking down and seeing bright, yellow beach-sunflowers— the sand was SO hot, you wouldn’t believe it, and there were stickers. Hundreds of stickers that stuck in your feet and you had to stop and pull them out as the sun beat down on you like a flashlight.
I remember, it became a game with me to see if I could walk in the burning sand from the road, along the path, to the beach without any shoes. I remember jumping in the cool water and swimming to the reef and sticking my homemade net into a hole to catch a little fish and a moray eel came right out and put its scary face up to my mask!
I remember the simplicity of these times, and the beauty of this place that is no longer wild like it was then, but is still equally remarkable.
The photo above shows Seminole Shores, that became “Sailfish Point” and a formalized county beach–“Bathtub Reef Beach.” Even at the time of this photograph there were “issues:” the photo is labeled “Washout.” As we all know, today, this area is still eroding away and the county must spend substantial amounts of monies in partnerships with the state of Florida to “re-nourish” this area. See chart below for all Martin County, provided for me by Martin County.
When I really think about it, every era of history has its difficulties. It is never simple.
The aerial photos I am sharing today were taken not long after the atrocities of World War II. I was born in the social and political unrest of the 1960s…Today has its own set of problems whether it be the possibility of terrorists training in Treasure Coast airports; our eroding beaches; the “tipping point” that has occurred with releases from Lake Okeechobee and the area canals into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon; our struggles with the US Sugar option land purchase; or the next population explosion that our state is counting on….
Nonetheless, it is rather amusing to me, that after all these years, some things remain the same: it is still beautiful here; I still love the fish; and somehow sometimes I still feel like I am running on the hot sands to see how long I can stand it, having to stop to pull out those irritating stickers; and every once in a while, I stick my net into a hole, and out pops a moray eel…. 🙂
Since the 1960s, I have seen many bridges destroyed and rebuilt, right here in Martin County. They are symbolic of our history, our accomplishments, and our struggles.
I may be making this up in my memory, but I think I recall my parents driving me over the Palm City bridge when I was a kid and it was made of wood. The clunk of slow-moving, heavy car, over the uneven planks was somehow comforting, like the rhythm of a familiar horse. But times change, and bigger and “better” bridges are built…
The “bridges to the sea,” from Stuart, to Sewall’s Point, to Hutchinson Island–over the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon were built in 1958. Sandra Henderson Thurlow, in her book, Sewall’s Point, The History of a Peninsular Community of Florida’s Treasure Coast, discusses how the relative isolation of Sewall’s Point ended in 1958 when, two “bridges to the sea opened.” For 10 cents, one could come to Sewall’s Point, and for 25 cents, one could go all the way to the ocean. The tolls were removed in 1961 and the bridges formally named in 1965: “Evans Crary Sr,” and “Ernst F. Lyons”– going west to east.
I am almost sure, I also remember, my mother, or some history person, telling me “they” did not name the bridges right away as it was a political “hot potato.” Perhaps in the beginning there had been controversy regarding building the bridges and certain people did not want their names associated with them until the political fumes dissipated and settled upon something else? Perhaps I am making this up? Like my fuzzy romanticized memory of wooden bridge in Palm City?
I don’t know. But what I do know, is that bridges allow us to cross over, to get to the other side.
I am trying to build bridges to send water south to the Everglades and save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. This means working with the sugar industry; the South Florida Water Management District; the Governor; the state and federal Legislature; the Army Corp of Engineers; the County; and most of all the people who live along the Treasure Coast.
I must admit, jokingly, sometimes I feel like “jumping off the bridge.” But I won’t. With your help, I will rebuild it; make it higher, more beautiful, and less damaging to the environment. And hopefully, in the end, we will all be inspired!
When I was a teenager, one time my mother, a historian, pulled the car over on the side of the road near “Old Fort Park” in Ft. Pierce. She said,” Let’s get out of the car, we are going to look for Indian shards.” “Cool,” I thought, but how could that be? We were driving right along Indian River Drive in a residential area just outside of downtown Ft. Pierce. I’d been here a thousand times….
So anyway, she parked the car and we actually walked across the street, closer to the river, and right there lying on top of the pushed up earth, were discarded oyster and clam shells and splinters of pottery that my mother explained belonged to an ancient mound building culture. I was amazed. Later, we walked up the remains of the forty foot midden, turned around and looked out over the beautiful Indian River, through gigantic gnarled oak trees. I imagined I was an Ais Indian, looking out for the British or Spanish and their Indian collaborators who one day would destroy me and the Indian River too. (http://indianrivermag.com/LIVE/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=136)
According to the Florida Anthropologist 2002, Volume 55 3-4, a total of 49 shell middens, circles or graves have been found in Martin County and were determined to be in much better condition than the ones that had been plowed down in neighboring and over developed Palm Beach County. These Indian mounds were determined to be anywhere from 3000-4000 years old, possibly older, and belonged to various Florida mound building tribes. In Martin County they were named the Ays or Ais. (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00027829/00090/1j)
The “Old Fort Park” is in St Lucie County, but Martin County’s most well known Indian midden is known today as “Tuckahoe.” The mound was once 60 feet high and overlooks the Indian River as well. I learned that many of the Indian mounds, even parts of Tuckahoe, were all or partially bulldozed and the shells used to pave the early streets of the area. (http://www.mansionattuckahoe.com/htm/mansionHistory.htm)
How resourceful? How horrendous and completely unthoughtful.
This partial map below shows where some of the major coastal and interior mounds in Martin County are located: Mount Elizabeth or Tuckahoe; Hutchinson Island; House of Refuge; Rocky Point; St Lucie Inlet; Joseph Reed Shell Ring; Peck ‘s Lake Complex; Banner Lake Complex; Hobe Sound Complex; Jupiter Sound Complex; Jupiter Inlet Complex; Indiantown and Barley Barber.
A few years ago after a big storm, the Indian Mound on Hutchinson Island was opened up by the sea. Bones and artifacts were found, studied and reburied because today we have a deeper respect for these grave sites, these sites of culture that many of our ancestors, like mine, destroyed.
Perhaps the spirt of the Ais Indians broke forth that day, and in the rolling waves was brought back to the shoreline. Maybe they are somehow helping us who care and empathise save what’s left of their Eden – the beautiful, the sacred, the Indian River Lagoon.
The subject of serial killer, Gerard Schaefer, is one I certainly never indented to write about, but with Tyler Hadley’s murder trial in the paper every day I am reminded of another terrible murder story that occurred “in Stuart” along the Indian River Lagoon, North Hutchinson Island.
When I was nine years old, growing up in Stuart, a Sheriff in our county of 28,000 people was arrested for allegedly killing and torturing two girls on Hutchinson Island. Over time, it was learned he had killed over thirty women in towns across America. This smiling killer is one of the most atrocious serial killers of all time. He worked and lived right here; as mentioned, his name is Gerard Schaefer.
As with Tyler Hadley, it didn’t make any sense. Schaefer came from a “nice family,” in Wisconsin, was raised Catholic, graduated from Florida Atlantic University, in Broward County worked as a teacher and in law enforcement, he was married, his mother also apparently lived with the young couple. As time went on things didn’t go so well in Broward, so he decided to apply for a Sheriff’s position further north in Martin County.
What was even more bizarre for me to grasp in my youth, was the fact that this serial killer’s public defender, Elton Schwarz, also working in Martin County, ended up marrying Gerard Schaefer’s wife, twenty four years Schwartz’ junior, while Schaefer was in prison. After divorcing Schaefer and marring Schwartz, the couple was happily married for thirty years. (The Early Lawyers of Martin County 1925-1965, Thomas Thurlow Jr, 2011.) Schaefer, on the other hand, was murdered by a fellow inmate while in prison in 2005.
The Schafer trail went on for years, long past my high school days, and definitely tainted my teenage mind.
I don’t know if it made me any more careful, in fact it may have made me more defiant, as I remember jogging along North River Road’s sidewalk at night in Sewall’s Point and being reprimanded by Chief Savini, even brought home; but, I know for sure that it certainly affected the way I view authority and “the world.”
“Things are not always what you think they are; don’t trust what you see.”
Today most people don’t even remember serial killer Gerard Schaefer, but I think as uncomfortable as it is, it is important that we do. Presently as Tyler Hadley is on trial in neighboring Port St Lucie, we are faced to confront demons even here along the beautiful Treasure Coast.
And most important, by remembering, there is a better chance that history will not be allowed to repeat itself.
When I was a kid, I had a favorite stuffed animal; he was orange bear with blue eyes and his name was “Beary Bear.” I carried him around until his eyes fell off and my mother sewed new ones back on. Over the years, all of his fur came off so he was bald.
There wasn’t a whole lot “to do” growing up in Stuart in the 1960s and 70s so a kid had to rely on the freedom of empty lots, friends, and his or her imagination to have any fun.
Before dinner, I used to climb to the top of a giant cedar tree in our back yard and look at the ocean and Indian River Lagoon from our house in St Lucie Estates, in Stuart. I carried Beary Bear up about forty feet with me and we talked about the black bears out there on Hutchinson Island and how there were just a few secret ones left, a few Mr Walters and the other pioneers couldn’t catch, and didn’t kill. That was fantasy.
Before modern man came and planted bean fields and produced honey, the bears ate turtle eggs, palmetto berries and the riches of the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River. But they they became a problem, so we “wiped them out.”
Isn’t it amazing to think of where we really live? A land where not too long ago a panther may have swum across the St Lucie Sound; or a black bear happily frolicked along the Indian River Lagoon? Where fish were so plentiful they kept you awake at night. What I don’t understand is why we “wiped them out.” I guess times were harder then and the mentality was 100% “man over nature” but it’s fun to imagine what it would be like if we hadn’t killed them all, or somehow, we brought them back.
Well, Beary Bear is long gone, and the bean farms have been replaced with million dollar homes and unimaginative condominiums. But I still have my imagination and somewhere out there, there’s a bear; I’m sure of it.