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. ___________________________________________________________________
University of Florida/Florida Wildfires/Forest Service: (http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fire-considering.pdf)
Alice and Greg Luckhardt’s historical vignette of the Jensen Fire: Google “Jensen Fire Luckhardt” for a great story I cannot get to link to this page.
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!
Venomous snakes of Florida: (http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/fl-guide/venomsnk.htm)
Savannas State Park: (http://www.floridastateparks.org/resources/doc/individualparks/brochures/sav-brochure.pdf)
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 1898 the beautiful All Saint’s Episcopal Church and Cemetery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Saints_Episcopal_Church,_Waveland_(Jensen_Beach,_Florida) was built, still stands today, and is the oldest longstanding church in the area according to its Wikipedia write up; this is the church that can be seen on the west hill just north of Rio when traveling on Indian River Drive.
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!