Tag Archives: lake bottom

Pahokee’s Once Prodigious Pelican Lake, Where Did it Go? SLR/IRL

Images from: The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011 by Christopher Davenport and others, PBC.

To archeologists Pelican Lake is regarded to have been the headwaters of what was once Pelican Bay and the Pelican River east of Lake Okeechobee. One of the first to write about this lake was Lawrence E. Will whose family was the first to grow sugarcane in the sawgrass areas rather than the custard apple region south of the lake. Will was an amazing documenter and the Museum of Glades in Belle Glade is named for him today. Although the Will’s have been remembered through the museum the remains of Pelican Lake, Pelican Bay, and the Pelican River are all but forgotten.

For purposes of time, we will first focus on Pelican Lake.

According to the Boyer Survey, other than Will, very few facts were written about Pelican Lake ~named so, obviously, for being the home once to many pelicans. Today, by working backwards, archeologist are finding out more facts, through the study of historic photographs, aerial vegetation and soil patterns, and the use of Google Earth. With these tools, similar to what my brother uses in his Time Capsule Flights (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/todd-thurlows-time-capsule-flights/) the ancient river beds are being revealed. Archeologists study such to find the villages of ancient people who lived along these lakes and these so-called “dead rivers,” that were anything but dead. The data revealed about the dead lakes and rivers, “refutes the South Florida Water Management District’s findings suggesting these rivers were “very short.” (Solar et. al 2001:2-19). They were not short; some were miles long! In the case of the Pelican River, it has revealed itself to be 16.3 miles long,  its waters beginning in Pelican Lake. (Boyer Survey  p. 246)

So poor Pelican Lake. If you view the images from the Boyer Survey below you can see how in the early 1900s the lake was drained for development as reclaimed land.

The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011
The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011
The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011
Google Earth 2018. Larrimore Road is the middle of what once was Pelican Lake in Pahokee.
Ancient river beds, lake and bay revealed: The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011

In 1918 famed Botanist John Kunkle Small wrote that Pelican Lake was “the most beautiful lake during the day or night” and was disheartened upon returning to the area seeing that the beautiful lake had been drained and reduced to either “weeds or agricultural fields.” SEE HIS INCREDIBLE PHOTOS HERE:

(https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/50829?cid=41&pc=John%20K.%20Small%20Collection)

The Boyer Survey notes that Pelican Lake is just one example of how much and how fast the area around  Lake Okeechobee changed as drainage effort progressed. The last major changes occurred when the Herbert Hoover Dike was completed in the 1930s and vast expanses of lakebed were “permanently” made into sugarcane fields.

This is why the lake is smaller by about 30% today and cannot hold as much water. A lot of that water is discharged today destroying the St Lucie and Calloosahatchee Rivers. It is important for us to know our history so we can fix the mess we are in today. There were no dead rivers or lakes. The only dead ones are the ones we killed. The southern edge of Lake Okeechobee was flowing with rivers and life. Life, that we have conveniently forgotten.

The False Edge of Lake Okeechobee, SFWMD

The Boyer Survey: http://www.flarchcouncil.org/reports/BoyerSurveyLakeO.pdf

Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades: https://www.museumoftheglades.org

Botanist John Kunzel Small:http://sciweb.nybg.org/science2/libr/finding_guide/small.asp

https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/50829?cid=41&pc=John%20K.%20Small%20Collection

The False Edge of Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

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Road trip series:

Today we continue our road trip in the Glades atop the Herbert Hoover Dike.

In the short video below you can see my Glades tour-guide, former mayor JP Sasser, driving, –in his hometown of which he knows so much about–Pahokee. On the right lies the city, and on the left is Lake Okeechobee. A precarious position indeed!

Pahokee is actually unusual in that this little town is “high-ground.” According to JP, about 13 feet above ground. This is not the case for most of the Glades.

Interestingly, in the video, JP discusses how the Army Corp recently decided where to strengthen the dike in Pahokee, because if they had extended it out 500 feet as was done along the rest of the eastern shore, the town of Pahokee would have been covered up as it is located right beside the dike.

Video: Driving along dike:https://youtu.be/fQILKYeQbeU

Lake Okeechobee’s dike and its history are fascinating just as is all our area of the Northern Everglades including the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon that in 1923 became the primary exit point for waters that could no longer flow south after the Herbert Hoover Dike was built.

According to historian and Gladesman Lawrence E. Will:

“…following the floods of 1923 and 1924 water stood over farm lands nearly the entire winter. To protect the farms, the state of Florida had then constructed an earthen dike along the whole south shore. It was some five to eight feet above ground level but this dike was never intended to withstand a hurricane.”

Regarding the expansion of the dike, as the “Herbert Hoover,”after the horrific hurricanes of 1926, ’28 and again in again in ’49, Mr. Nathaniel Reed notes in his writing “Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades: “The Corps of Engineers studied the average size of Lake Okeechobee and designed a dike around it…”

Now this is where things get very interesting.

“The average size of the lake….” what’s that?

Now if we look at this slide taken from a 2016, presented by Jeff Sumner, who was at the time Office Chief State and Agricultural Policy, SFWMD, it shows the size of the lake pre-development. One can see it was about once about 1000 square miles in size and today it is 750.

screenshot The False Edge of Lake Okeechobee IFAS NARLI
The False Edge of Lake Okeechobee, SFWMD
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The checkered fields were once lake bottom. L. E. Will, “Okeechobee Hurricane”
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L.E. Will Swamp to Sugar Bowl. The Glades area, today’s Everglades Agricultural Area has  become one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world…

Of course the size expanded and contracted based on rainfall, but one still gets the point…this lower area was nature’s shoreline, a boggy marsh with rivers leading into a sawgrass “river of grass” bordered by a forest of over 30,000 acres of Custard Apple trees that functioned like mangroves extending up to five miles or more south into what is today’s Belle Glade. As Mr Lawrence Will would have said: “Who wudda thought!” (http://museumoftheglades.org)

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Pahokee is in upper right. Map Laurence E Will
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The lake once went further south here and there following the rivers to  Hwy. 80
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Land ownership today
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Sen. Joe Negron’s map for land purchase

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