“Eden,” the name says it all. Wouldn’t it be cool to say you lived in Eden?
Today there is a historic sign, but there is no longer a town. In 1879 “Eden” was named by Captain Thomas E. Richards who decided this spot along the high ridge of the Indian River would be a good place to grow pineapples. According to historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, “Richards felt he had arrived in a tropical paradise, and named his new home Eden.”
In Sandra’s book, “Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River,” she talks about how today’s Jensen Beach evolved from both the historic communities of Eden and Jensen, but over time, while Jensen had room to grow, Eden faded, as it was hemmed in by the wet, fragile ecosystem of the savannas. This marshy savannas system once stretched along the lagoon for over a hundred miles, but today, the only remnant lies right behind the lost town of Eden, and to the north and south of close-by extending lands.
These rare lands known today as Savannas Preserve State Park, “encompass more than 5,400 acres and stretch more the ten miles from Jensen Beach to Ft Pierce containing the largest, most ecologically intact stretch of freshwater marsh in southeast Florida.” Remarkable!
If you haven’t ever seen it, I can promise, “Eden awaits you…”
This past weekend, my husband Ed and I put on our wet weather gear, and walked from Jensen Beach Blvd to “west of Eden. ” It is amazing to have this treasure right in our own backyards, a study in plant and animal life that “used to be.” ~A study in what we can bring back, if we want to…
This photo is on page 23 of my mother’s book Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River. The insert reads:
“This photograph of the Seymour Gideon property was made after 1948 when Arthur Ruhnke started taking photographs locally, and before the August 26th 1949 hurricane that destroyed the fish houses. A trail leads to the ridge called “Mt. Washington” (Killer Hill, Skyline Drive today) by the pioneers. The watery expanses of the Jensen Savannas are in the distance. Notice the clear water and the abundance of river grass.” (Thurlow/Ruhnke Collection)
It is a beautiful photograph….isn’t it? Certainly after the Hurricane of ’49 hit the seagrasses of Jensen in the Indian River Lagoon were impacted too!
~Wind gusts reached 160 mph (260 km/h) at Stuart.
~Stuart (Jensen) experienced the most severe damage from the storm in south Florida; hundreds of homes, apartment buildings, stores, and warehouse buildings lost roofs and windows. Interior furnishings were blown through broken glass into the streets.
When hurricanes Frances and Jeanne hit within three weeks apart in 2004, entering both times at my hometown of Sewall’s Point, there was reported loss not only of property, but also of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon. Seagrass is very slow to recover…
As some locations of the grasses were experiencing recovery, they died back again due to the extreme discharges and toxic algae blooms in 2013 and 2016 ~linked to Lake Okeechobee, and canals C-44, as well as C-23, C-24 and C-25.
The South Florida Water Management District reports periodically on not overall numbers but rather “patch dynamics” at certain locations of the lagoon. (For Martin County: Boy Scout Island and Willoughby Creek.) I feel this is limited. The best way to see seagrass bed coverage is from the air. I am hoping in the future there will be money in the budget or the District could coordinate with local pilot for aerial seagrass surveys. Another way to approach this is though Google Earth mapping/aerials, and my brother Todd Thurlow and Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic are working on this now.
Hurricanes, discharges, fertilizer from our yards…Seagrasses are as important as property as they are the nurseries of the oceans and keep the lagoon “living.” Look at the aerials below to see the losses, so that we may be inspired to work for and better document a recovery.
When I was kid growing up in Stuart, I remember seeing a lot of cottages. I loved these structures ~so simple, efficient, and adorable too. I remember cottages at Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort just north of Sewall’s Point; I remember cottages in Rio along Dixie Highway; and I recall the cottages along Indian River Drive in Jensen at the old Pitchford Camp. Somehow the more run down they were, the cooler they appeared. A reminder of days long past before Martin County developed and we were all brainwashed of the need to build bigger houses and complicate our lives.
Today, when one hears the name “Pitchford,” one may envision a Martin County Commission embroiled in a decade of controversy, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact in the early 1900s the name “Pitchford” was a family name that defined “good times” of fishing, dancing, and playing shuffle board along the beautiful and healthy Indian River Lagoon.
Recently, I was invited by long time friend of my parents, Boo Lowery, to see his modern-day, old-fashioned, fish camp. Boo, himself, an “old-timer” is related to many of the early families of the Stuart area. Boo’s career as a respected contractor working closely with famed architect, Peter Jefferson, allowed him to become an expert in building, moving, and renovating homes.
In the 1980s when the cottages at Pitchford Camp were going to be demolished, Boo, who along with his wife Soo is a “lover of all things vintage” stepped in and saved five of the Pitchford Camp cottages. Over time, the little structures have been moved alongside land where a “borrow pit” (dug to build part of I-95) was located. This hole in the ground, today, is a serene pond in the middle of a pine forest, and a living museum housing the Pitchford cottages and of a way of life along our waterways that no longer exists.
It was so much fun going to Boo and Soo’s and today I am sharing some of my photos. While eating hush puppies and alligator, I told my husband, Ed, “I could live in one these cottages.” That I wanted to live in one of these cottages! He looked at me like I was out of my mind… Perhaps, he thinks I’m too soft and spoiled by “progress.” Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think I’d love it. I think I’d be as “happy as a clam…”
In any case, enjoy the photos of this very special place and thank you Boo and Soo for holding on to the old ways and for keeping our Indian River Lagoon history alive.
“Robert McClinton, “Doc, ” Pitchford was the only remaining Pitchford brother after Herbert’s death in 1988. When Doc died in December 2001, it was the end of an era. Doc tried to hold on to the old ways and was quite successful. The Pitchford holdings were like a time capsule surrounded by computer-age progress. Although most of the original Pitchford Camp cabins were demolished….”
Boo saved a few!
(Excerpt and photo below from my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book “Historic Eden and Jensen on Florida’s Indian River.”
The blue-green algae, the cyanobacteria–sometimes toxic— that we first saw in aerial photos over Lake Okeechobee weeks ago, is not only here, it is everywhere…our river has been made completely fresh by our government. Now the algae is blooming fluorescent green-blue, dying a putrid brown-green, flowing out of our inlet, and poisoning not only or rivers’ shores but our beaches.
On the widest level, this is a health hazard brought upon us by a “knowing government.” Our state, federal, and local governments have seen this coming for years. The slow and steady destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is well documented.
Now, in 2016, all of Martin County’s beaches and the southern most beach of St Lucie County are closed. Palm City; Stuart; Rio; Sewall’s Point, Jensen. All waters are off limits. “Don’t Touch the Water.” –A health, safety and welfare issue for the people, a nightmare for local government, and a complete environmental and economic disaster for us all.
Included for purposes of documentation– to be added to the thousands of other posts on social media this weekend— I share the following, some that were shared with me…Divided into 8 sections: 1. Algae in the waves at Bathtub Beach, by JTL; 2. algae aerials at C-44, S-80, and S-308, by Dr Scott Kuhns; 3. Lake Okeechobee and St Lucie River’s extensive algae bloom, by jet pilot Dave Stone, and local pilot Ron Rowers; 4. Rio, a residential disaster, Jeff Tucker; 5. Sewall’s Point as seen from the Evan’s Cray Bridge with a river full of algae by walker Tracy Barnes; 6. Rebecca Fatzinger’s duck eating algae; 7. my Uncle Dale Hudson’s lead to Snug Harbor’s Marina “a multimillion dollar disaster,” and 8. Really blue-algae at Central Marina, Stuart/Rio.
The outpouring of the public is immense, and the powers that be, must look our way. Document, call, write, demand, and VOTE.
I was recently reminded of train depots while reading a front page “Stuart News” article showing an artist painting a mural of the old Hobe Sound Train Depot….All Aboard Florida being rammed down our throats has the Treasure Coast very unhappy about “trains…” yet our area has a history of trains that we may know a bit better if the rail service and the government hadn’t demolished most of the depots that once peppered the Indian River Lagoon Region from Volusia to Palm Beach counties.
As the daughter of a historian, I was fortunate to hear many stories during my youth that if nothing else “made me think.” One of these stories was about how lonely it was to be pioneer here in Stuart’s early days. My mother would say….
“Jacqui, for the people, for the women especially, this was a very lonely place.”
The daily train used to alleviate that loneliness and give the people a place to meet, gossip, and share. Kind of like today’s Facebook. As my mother Sandra Thurlow notes in her book, “Stuart on the St Lucie,” “Town life centered around the arrivals and departures of passenger trains that also brought the mail.”
Sound familiar? “YOU’VE GOT MAIL!”
From my reading it sounds as if most of the construction and the use of depots and lesser “flag stops,” (a flag was raised if they needed the conductor to stop?)….was between 1894 and 1935. The Hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 coupled with the real estate crash of 1926 was a big part of the railroads’ demise as was the fact that wholesale fishing industries waned from unwise over-fishing, and pineapples had to start competing with Cuba. So basically, in about one generation, the railroads depots and the railroad of Henry Flagler along the Lagoon had seen their “best days.”
In the 1960s and before, the aging, remaining, cute-little, aging stations were demolished by order of F.E.C. Railway officials. As my mother writes about the Stuart Depot: “The depot that was once the center of the community’s activities was demolished without fanfare during the 1960s.”
And so “it goes,” and “so it went”….. THERE GOES THE TRAIN!
The passenger train is gone, along with the depots….today we have too much car traffic, roads are everywhere, All Abroad Florida threats purport a bleak future, Florida’s population is expanding, Panama Canal freight is coming…
Well, at least we have Facebook or we can stay home and text…..
Recently, the 1912 Jensen Congregational Union Church was the fabulous setting for a very special day. –A day of marriage, for Indian Riverkeeper, Marty Baum, and his beautiful bride, River Warrior, Robin Pittman.
The quaint, lagoon, pioneer-church, that saw so much happiness this day, has known many names, and many faces throughout its many years: 1912, Congregation Union Church; 1933, Jensen Community Church; and 1969, Jensen Beach Christian Church.
It has been a sanctuary along the Indian River Lagoon for 102 years…
The 2014 ceremony was a real “tear jerker.” The entire River Warrior community came together to make this union happen for Marty and Robin. –The perfect sanctuary; bright, beautiful flowers; fashionable hair styling; sumptuous food; decorations; a classic wedding dress; river invitations; bubbles to blow; a guest book; a river cake; and at the end of the day, pink rose petals on the bed of a romantic river cottage….
Photographer, Keri West and videographer, Kenny Hinkle Jr. documented the entire event; eloquent organizer, and preacher for the occasion, Jo Neeson, led the ceremony with many, many others giving their support.
At one point, the Reverend Guy Calvert looked upon the congregation stating:
“The church welcomes the River Warriors to this house…”
I sat between my parents and my husband, fighting back every tear. Thankfully, Gayle Ryan had knowingly handed me a Kleenex on the way inside.
I sat there thinking about my own marriage, and about how at the end of our life journey, love is really all we have to take with us.
“To find love along the Indian River Lagoon, I thought….this is wonderful…”
As Marty and Robin said their vows, I felt a deep sense of history, and how the Indian River has always brought people together, in fact for hundreds of years.
—The river is in us; it is us, and we are her…
It was a beautiful ceremony and I am thankful to have been there. Through the love of Marty and Robin, may the “living waters” of the Indian River Lagoon flow, renewed, once again for all of us….
When reading such work form the late 1800s and early 1900s, it mind-boggling to think of how our perceptions have changed and how we as a society are constantly dealing with the decisions of our ancestors, who helped get us here, albeit today, possibly considered “politically incorrect.”
Take for instance the Swamp Land Act of 1885.
Let’s read about its encyclopedic history:
“The Swamp Land Act of 1850 was US federal law and essentially provided a mechanism for transferring title to federally owned swampland to private parties agreeing to drain the land and turn it to productive, presumably agricultural, use. This gave broke states like Florida an opportunity to make money and for people to buy very cheap land and make it “productive…”
This law was primarily aimed at the development of Florida’s Everglades, and transferring some 20 million acres (31,000 sq mi) of land in the Everglades to the State of Florida for this purpose.
The law also had application outside Florida, and spurred drainage and development in many areas of the United States, including areas around Indiana’s Kankakee River, Michigan’s Lake St. Clair’s shores, and elsewhere, and encouraged settlement by immigrants arriving in the United States.
Much later the law was considered to have been ecologically problematic. Many of its provisions were in time reversed by the wetland protection acts in 1972 and later legislation, but its historical effects on U.S. development and settlement patterns remain.”
I was born in 1964, so wet land protection is ingrained in me. Nonetheless my great grandparents were taught to think of wetlands or swamps as useless….
When reading through the piece by A.B Clark, he lists the counties as Lee, Desoto, Dade and St Lucie as the primary ones to be drained. One must note of course that the county lines were different then. For instance my parents live in Indialucie in Sewall’s Point and my mother created a sign and nailed it to a cabbage palm. The sign reads: “Brevard-Dade”
“St. Lucie-Palm Beach.” The sign represents the county line between the counties. St. Lucie was created in 1905 and Palm Beach in 1909.
We have gotten quite a kick out showing guests this sign over the years!
Old stuff is cool.
Here are some old public Florida county line maps. They are fascinating to look at too. The lines have gone back and forth and changed over the years.
Wonder what they will read in the future with rising seas, higher populations, and wetlands now known for their importance to water supply and water quality?
They say “the only constant is change.” How true this is….
As bad as things are today for the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon, in the past we did things that today would be inconceivable, like having sewer lines drain directly into the river, or draining oil into the lagoon from a car…. For centuries people have put waste into the water so it could just “flush away.” Things like this were done when very few people lived along the river and the waterways could actually handle this misuse. Today with over a million people living along the 156 mile lagoon such ignorance is not an option; we know better now. It is interesting to wonder what photos from today will look so atrocious as these above in the future? Lake Okeechobee and canal releases full of filth? Fertilizing one’s yard? Herbicide and pesticide use by the water? Septic tanks? Only time will tell… and it always does.
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. ___________________________________________________________________
Growing up in Stuart, my parents taught me to respect nature and not to fear it; this included snakes. I remember coming home from school and my mother having a captured or rescued non venomous snakes, opossums, raccoons, birds, turtles, squirrels, and other wildlife for my brother, sister and I to look at, learn about, and sometimes nurse, before releasing the animal. We got out our pocket sized, $1.00, Golden Nature Guides and pretend we were Jr. Scientist. It was fun and in fact these experiences remain some of my favorite memories of growing up along the Treasure Coast. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Guide)
My brother, sister and I were taught that snakes were God’s creatures, as all animals were, however frightening, dangerous or strange; that all animals held a miraculous and important place in the web of life and food chain that made the world work.
Truly, I don’t remember seeing many venomous snakes growing up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, just indigo, black racers, and orange and black rat snakes. Although there was one incident on Arbor Day in fifth grade at Jensen Beach Elementary School, when we were planting a class tree and a diamond back rattlesnake was warning us of its presence in nearby palmettos. The teacher fearfully huddled all the kids, and a maintenance man was called to behead the reptile. No explanation. No thought. Typical.
Now for the picture…
The above photo is one that my parents acquired in the early 2000s when looking at a piece of property on Indian River Drive in the 12,000 section. Properties in this area were once known as the historic Indian River Lagoon town of “Eden.”
My mother, a historian, often talks about how Eden could never fully develop, as Jensen did, as Eden backed up to the easterly savannas which are underwater a good portion of the year.
The gentleman who gave my parents the above photo, saw them walking around in the savannas behind the house, shared the photo, and warned them “to be careful.”
When I recently asked my mother to share this photo, she said “although she usually I likes to have more than one person’s story in regard to such matters, she did not think the photo was a hoax.” She also mentioned, she believes there is a photograph of a large rattlesnake killed by John Miller, who owned the property where the photo came from, at the St. Lucie County Historical Museum.
True or untrue, with all the development, and mankind’s propensity to kill snakes, there are probably very few of these giant rattlesnakes remaining anywhere in Florida. So a photo like this one is worth “remembering.”
One thing no one would question is that both the savannas and the Indian River Lagoon, are just shadows of what they used to be!
According to my mother’s book, Historic Eden and Jensen on Florida’s Indian River, there were a number of pioneer churches along the Indian River Lagoon.
One that strikes a special cord for me is St Paul’s that was built in 1898 but destroyed in the hurricane of 1949 as pictured below. (Photo courtesy archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Thankfully the stained glass windows were saved, and today they are the backdrop for the altar at St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Stuart that was built in 1949, the year of the storm.
According to My mother’s Jensen/Eden book,”there were no churches for the earliest settlers of Jensen and Eden to attend,” but it was the African American community of Tick Ridge, along Savannah Road, that built the first in 1890. This church eventually took on the name “St Peter’s African Methodist Episcopal Chapel,” and is located between the Savannas and the Indian River Lagoon. A newer church, a CME, or Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, stands on the same location today.
A second church rose in 1899, also in Tick Ridge; it was baptist in denomination.
In 1903 the Eden Union Congregational Church was built and is still standing in old downtown Jensen; it the one with the really cool concrete blocks and once was painted bright yellow; and finally, the Community Church of Jensen was organized in 1938, eventually moving to its stunning and “heavenly” location on one of the highest sites in the county, Skyline Drive, Jensen Beach.
In the hard times of Eden/Jensen pioneers, people set priorities and organized to worship. In one form or another, most of these churches are still standing today. What an accomplishment to the spirit of the men and women who built and loved our area and have passed on.
I believe with out a doubt, they’re all still praying, and and thank God they are, because we all know, the Indian River Lagoon needs nothing short of a miracle!