Tag Archives: old florida

Signs of the Times, SLR, IRL

When I was a kid, many of Stuart’s older restaurants had signs. Some locals may recall Jake’s on US1, or still today, Harry and the Natives in Hobe Sound. There are certainly others, nevertheless, there seem to be fewer restaurants with funny signs hanging on the walls than when I was a kid.

Thus it was awfully refreshing when Ed and I were at Lake Okeechobee this past Monday and I forced him to drive north, close to the rim, on the Old Conners’ Highway to J&S Fish Camp. He was hemming and hawing the whole way, thinking I didn’t know where I was going, but I did. When we finally got there, after driving about four miles north of Port Mayaca, we had a beer in the Tiki Bar, read the collection of signs, listened to an awesome old jukebox playing our favorite songs, and laughed so hard we felt like we were young again.

With all of the development in Florida right now, and 26,000,000 people expected to live here by 2030, places like this become even more wonderful.

That they are “one in a million” is just a sign of the times….

Connors Hwy: http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/land-boom-and-bust-conners-highway

J&S Fish Camp: http://www.jandsfishcamp.net

The following excerpt is from the Visit Florida website and tells the story the wonderful J&S Fish Camp and some of the others.

Camped Out  http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/things-to-do/florida-fishing/circling-lake-okeechobee-fishing-camping-and-history.html

Campgrounds outnumber lodgings along Lake Okeechobee, drawing visitors outdoors. Wayne McSwain, who was raised in Belle Glade, remembers camping along the shoreline of Lake Okeechobee. “You camped along this canal, because there were a lot of trees here,” he said, pointing down from his perch atop the Herbert Hoover Dike, “and you came out here and swam every day, and water-skied… and you didn’t worry about the alligators at all.”

McSwain’s father ran the grocery store on the road to Torry Island, along the way to Slim’s Fish Camp. “It was (started by) the Corbins,” McSwain said. “A lot of people from out of town came over here for fishing.” To get to Slim’s, you cross one of the last remaining manually operated swing bridges in the United States. “I was 14 or 15 when Slim let me turn the rod to make the bridge pivot out of the way,” McSwain said. “It was fun for me, and I bet he got paid for it, too.”

Camping along Lake Okeechobee has changed since McSwain’s youth. With construction of the dike, a key protective barrier given the seasonal threat of water-intensive hurricanes, away went the views and the easy access. Still, the lake draws campers all year. They settle into fish camps, bring RVs for the winter to the campgrounds lining the eastern shore and hike into primitive campsites along the Florida Trail. The one campground with a view of the blue horizon was briefly known as Pahokee State Park. “The land still belongs to the state,” said McSwain, “but they’ve leased it out to campground operators for the past 30 years or so.” It’s now Lake Okeechobee Outpost KOA with a lakefront pool and restaurant.

At J&S Fish Camp, regulars crowd the bar at 10 a.m. “We know we’re the oldest fish camp around the lake,” said manager Ted Miller. “The cabins were built for the people who worked building the dike.” For the price of “a beer and a stay in a cabin,” the murals of alligators and lakeshore came from an artist’s brush, and the 1930s cabins took on tropical hues. Lake levels affect business dramatically. “When the locks are open,” said Miller, “we have fishermen come in for boiled peanuts and a beer and to have a look.”

“Holding on to the Old Ways,” Pitchford Camp~Still Alive Today, SLR/IRL

FullSizeRender 5
Boo Lowery

FullSizeRender_2 4.jpg

FullSizeRender_2 5.jpg
Courtesy of “Historic Jensen and Eden of Florida’s Indian River,” Sandra Henderson Thurlow

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.

FullSizeRender 8.jpgIMG_0609IMG_0583.jpg

IMG_0612.jpg

FullSizeRender_3.jpgIMG_0606 2.JPG

IMG_0632.JPGFullSizeRender_5.jpg

“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!

FullSizeRender_4 2

(Excerpt and photo below from my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book “Historic Eden and Jensen on Florida’s Indian River.”

FullSizeRender 10.jpg
Pitchford Camp, Jensen ca. 1930s