As a young child, I remember my parents taking me to visit McKee Jungle Gardens near Vero. What a magical place! That visit certainly planted seeds in my head, and a love for all things “Florida.”
I remember towering magnificent palms; a mammoth-sized cypress tree trunk that looked like it came from the age of the dinosaurs; interesting rustic structures that matched the mood of the tropical paradise; beautiful giant lilies floating in shallow ponds reflecting purple and greens like a Monet painting; a gigantic, long, mahogany table; as well as my favorite thing to see at the time, monkeys, parrots, and other animals!
The McKee Jungle Gardens was founded in 1929, when engineer and land developer, Arthur G. McKee teamed up with famed Vero legend and entrepreneur, Waldo Sexton, in the creation of an 80-acre tropical hammock just west of the Indian River Lagoon. Tropical landscape architect William Lyman Phillips was hired to design its beautiful and acclaimed streams, ponds, and trails. The indigenous vegetation was augmented with ornamental plants and seeds from around the world. In 1932, the garden was opened as a tourist attraction. Although very successful for several decades, it shut down in 1976, post Disney and I-95, and most of its land was sold for development. The site remained vacant for twenty years until the Indian River Land Trust rescued the area legacy, purchasing it in 1995. The current Garden, McKee Botanical Gardens, was formally dedicated in 2001 and is now a Florida landmark. On January 7, 1998, the property was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places under its original name, “McKee Jungle Gardens.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McKee_Botanical_Garden)
Perusing page 4 of the 1937 Stuart Daily News, celebrating the opening of the Cross State Canal from Stuart to Ft Meyers, featuring McKee brings back happy memories for me. About three years ago, I visited the new McKee Botanical Gardens and the magic is still there! I find Florida’s old-time famed gardens so much more appealing than today’s focus on boring “floratam lawns and perfectly manicured hedges.” Today or yesterday, showcasing Florida’s tropical beauty is Florida at its best!
Today we explore page three of the historic 1937 Stuart Daily News special edition for the opening of the Stuart to Ft. Meyers Cross-State Canal. Page three shows the first aerial photographs of Mr Lowell Hill featuring celebrated Jupiter Island.
“Jupiter Island is Show Place of Martin County. On the left the Intercostal Waterway between St. Lucie Inlet and Palm Beach pass through Beautiful Hobe Sound with Jupiter Island in the foreground. Hobe Sound Yacht Club has excellent dockage and fine fresh water. “
When I first saw this photograph, it struck me that I did not recognize the area with exposed white sand on the east side of the island. I wondered if that was a remnant fan-like formation from an ancient inlet. Then it struck me that perhaps it was fill dredged from the Indian River lagoon for the golf course – or a combination of both.
I went back and checked my brother Todd’s, Time Capsule Flights, and indeed, seeing the 1800s maps, I do believe it is fill. This is most obvious about 3:24 into the video. Many of our areas marinas and subdivisions are products of dredge and fill that was outlawed in the late 1960s and early 1970s because of its serious environmental ramifications. Ironically, in Florida, dredge and fill as a tool of development was stopped with the help of Jupiter Island’s famed environmentalist Nathaniel Reed whose family developed Jupiter Island. Reed was working for Florida’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Claude Kirk – during the 1960s era. (http://nathanielpreed.blogspot.com)
The opening of the Stuart, Lake Okeechobee, Ft Meyers, Cross-State Canal…
The first sentence of this historic special edition newspaper reads: “Completion of Florida’s one-and-only cross State canal marks the realization of a dream.”
Yes a dream.
Since the other function of the cross-state canal is drainage of Lake Okeechobee, today many of us associate this cross-state canal with a toxic-algae nightmare more than with a “dream come true.” It’s funny how things change over time…
In any case, this rare document gives perspective and insight and is a tremendous history lesson of South Florida development south of Orlando, along the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee, and our sister city, Ft Meyers.
Thank you to family friend, Mr Knight Kiplinger, (https://www.kiplinger.com/fronts/archive/bios/index.html?bylineID=9)
of Washington D.C and Sewall’s Point, who shared this remarkable document with me. It is an incredible read! So rare! Even my mother, local historian, Sandy Thurlow, had never seen it. And in the following weeks, I will be sharing it with you – transcribing and viewing its 37 giant pages of aerials, ads, and writings.
Completion of Florida’s one and only cross state canal marks the realization of dream. The idea of such a channel to link three great natural waterways ~ the St. Lucie River on the East Coast, the vast expanse of Lake Okeechobee (or Myakka, as it was known half a century ago), and the sweeping Caloosahatchee on the Gulf coast ~ goes back to the days when white men first settled the south half of the peninsula. But problems that early thinkers never dreamed of, arose to puzzle the empire builders, and the formal dedication in March 1937 of the waterway from Stuart to Fort Myers signalizes in reality the culmination of achievements stretching over almost fifty years.
It was back in the days of Governor Napoleon B. Broward that first steps were taken to reclaim the Everglades. It was in this years that Isham Randolph was called to make the survey that guided the Glades reclamation project of the next quarter century, and although Broward and Randolph are all but forgotten, their two names stand out as the farsighted leader who started what the rest of us are finishing.
Actually, neither Broward nor Randolph ever gave much thought to the possibilities of cross-state navigation. They were interested in controlling a gigantic lake that has no natural outlet to the sea, and by exercising such control through a series of great canals, they hoped to throw open to cultivation the richest farming land in the United States – the muck lands of the Everglades. The dream of those pioneers was rudely shattered by circumstances far beyond their conception or control, and but for the terrible hurricane of 1928 that drowned 3000 hapless residents of the Glades by literally dumping Lake Okeechobee in their laps the Everglades might conceivably have gone back to the Indians.
But it was this same great misfortune of danger and death, that focused national attention of the Everglades, put $20,000,000 of federal government funds into the picture to prevent future disasters, and opened the navigable waterways from Stuart to Fort Myers that is to be formally declared in March. With a flourish, Uncle Sam has completed an 8-foot channel, from 80 to 200 feet wide, across Florida from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Dyke protection of the Everglades, plus water control by new methods, may make possible the solution of the State’s reclamation problem, but that is another story. Certainly the Glades have staged a marvelous comeback since Uncle Sam’s intervention, and new leaders are arriving to carry on the traditions of Conners, Bryant & Greenwood, Dahlberg, Sherman and a thousand others who have dreamed of empire.
Construction of the St Lucie Canal began in 1921 when the fact dawned on the Everglades pioneers that canals through muck lands were useless – they refused to carry water out of the lake. Four of them had been dug, and were utterly worthless. The St Lucie was completed in 1924 and for 13 years has been the only functioning outlet from Lake Okeechobee to the sea.
The Caloosahatchee River was connected to Lake Okeechobee by two linking canals fifteen years ago, but these proved inadequate to discharge water, and the Caloosahatchee itself was so crooked that it held the water back instead of discharging it. Tedious progress was made in boom days by the Everglades Drainage District, tying to open some tiny ghost of a channel into the Gulf outlet, but when taxes ceased to be paid in the first depression years, the efforts collapsed.
In 1930 Congress was induced to cooperate in a flood control program, and it was contemplated that $3,000,000 of federal funds would be spent. Before folks really understood what was happening, the government had tackled the problem, had achieved as much for the cause of navigation as for the cause of flood control, and had spent more than six times the originally contemplated budget.
The end is not yet. Improvement of the harbor facilities at both ends of this gigantic waterway are inevitable corollaries of the farsighted improvement program that has been car-
ried forward to today. Tomorrow’s projects will include the St Lucie inlet (at Stuart) and Fort Myers harbor improvement on far-reaching-scales. This great cross-state waterway that is a reality, not a dream or a blueprint, crosses the East Coast canal at the St Lucie inlet, and this cross-roads is destined to be a focal point in the future development of Florida’s East Coast.
A thousand men have had a part in the promotion of the canal project between Stuart and Fort Myers, over a period of many years. Thousands will cheer next month as this waterway is opened to craft of all kinds drawing up to 6 feet, with a two-day celebration that will carry a watercade from Stuart to Clewiston and then on to Fort Myers.
Yer standing out, head and shoulders above all the others who have given part of their lives to the realization of this waterway dream, stand two great figures in the daily life of South Florida. The “Stuart Daily News” pays tribute of admiration and respect to these two pioneers-
Commodore Stanley Kitching of Stuart.
Honorable W. P. Franklin of Fort Myers.
Those two men symbolize the cross-Florida canal achievement, and today’s special issue of this newspaper is dedicated to them, in recognition of loyal and untiring service to the terminal cities they call home. Hats off to both of you!
Today’s issue of the “Stuart Daily News” presents a panorama of this magnificent waterway, following a geographical sequence from the Atlantic to the Gulf. An airplane photographer has captured for you a series of pictures that starts at Stuart, carries you 150 miles through the Everglades communities, and on to Fort Myers. Such a graphic portrayal to the canal permits the reader to understand what this waterway is, what it means, what it does. Copies of this book go to every member of Congress, to yachtsman everywhere who are interested in this aid to navigation, and to others who see in this canal another great forward step for Florida. And if this book carries to these readers a message of progress, it has served its purpose.
I am particularly indebted to my faithful assistant, Ernest Lyons, and to an understanding photographer, Lowell Hill, for the effectiveness of the edition.
This remarkable 1952 historic aerial photograph shows Poppleton Creek and what were once pioneer Hubert Bessey’s lands near Downtown Stuart. Within the bucolic photograph early stages of C-23’s white sands, as seen piled on the land in the upper right hand corner of the photograph, foreshadow the river’s future. This canal divides Martin and St Lucie County and is considered the “most polluting,” excluding C-44 when open for Lake Okeechobee.
Looking across the beautiful St Lucie River we see in the distance the virgin pinelands and wetlands of parts of today’s Palm City. Interestingly, if one continues west one will stumble upon the proposed lands to be developed by the Kiplinger Family, Pineland Prairie.
Go west young man, go west?
Time shall tell…
If we do, we may have more regard for the land than we did in 1952 and bring relief to the river that brought development and love of our area here in the first place.
I am adding additional photos to this blog post for reference to questions posed. The Fairchild photos below are dated 1925 and in them you can see the white sands of the C-44 piled on the land connecting to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. The C-44 canal was built between 1915 and is documented to have opened in 1923. Dates vary by a few years depending on sources and it too was enlarged/deepened in the 40s and thereafter.
“What is that huge white stripe on the horizon??” I said. It’s looks like a giant 20-mile-long spaceship runway.
Well, it’s the spoil from the freshly-dug Okeechobee waterway. See it in the attached comparison from Google Earth.” Todd Thurlow