Stuart, St Lucie River, Sewall’s Point, Indian River Lagoon, and Hutchinson Island, Atlantic Ocean, Martin County, Florida 1971
“I have enjoyed looking at this aerial taken in 1971. Too bad our little house on Edgewood is out of the photo. It shows the location of the future Monterey Road through the Krueger property. The Krueger building to house Merrill Lynch has not been built yet but you can see the little surgery center was already built. I think I can see Mimi and Grampy Tom’s house in Snug Harbor–at least the driveway. So many things yet to be built.” Mom
My mom, local historian, Sandra Thurlow, recently shared this aerial with my brother, sister and me as we grew up here in Martin County. It’s a really great photograph capturing a growing community. Look how Hutchinson Island, Sewall’s Point, and even parts of East Ocean were undeveloped. No Indian River Plantation, later renamed “Marriott Hutchinson Island.” No Cedar Point Plaza. No Benihana! White sands shine through the remaining forest denoting scrub habit, home to threatened and endangered scrub jays and gopher turtles. This sand pine scrub habitat that made up most of Florida’s east coast is now considered one of the most endangered habitats in the world. The East Ocean Mall on the right sits next to a flower farm. At this time flower farms were giving way to roads and development. Already, the freshwater ponds have been directed and drained, and obviously thousands of sand pines have been mowed down for condos, houses, farms, roads, and shopping centers. By 1971 this area was fully on its way to build-out as we see below in 2020. Nonetheless, from air and ground this area of Martin County stands out as one of the most beautiful.
But it would be fun to bring back some of the scrub habitat ~easy to do by just altering our yards. How things could change…
For some stories there are no pictures, only your imagination…Today I will share a story brought to my attention by my mother in line with my recent interest in ponds.
It was September of 1924, Stuart was still part of Palm Beach County, and few people lived here. It was the “boom era” and residents were excited about building the future. But then it started raining, and raining, and raining…
By Edwin A Menninger, reprinted in the 1950 Anniversary of the Stuart News with my location references.
JUST WHAT WAS STUART LIKE 25 YEARS AGO? THE YEAR STUART ALMOST WASHED AWAY…
…We had just had four days of torrential rain. At one time it rained 36 inches in 36 hours. Stuart was flooded. The railroad tracks washed away at Rio. They washed away also just south of Salerno, and two FEC passenger trains carrying about 500 people were marooned in Stuart till the tracks could be rebuilt. The Vanderbuilts just happened to be on the train!…I published a special FLOOD EXTRA and sold 400 copies…the heavy rains made an enormous lake in th heart of Stuart. (It was before 4th Street (East Ocean) was graded and paved) and a huge lake stretched from the court house to the school.(Today’s Stuart Middle School and Ad. Buildings)
A small ditch to drain off the worst was dug from the lake’s edge (where W.V. King’s house now stands) (Across from Willie Gary’s office on Osceola today) to the St Lucie River; in an hour this became a raging torrent. Water ran so fast it dug a ditch 75 feet wide to the river, undermined houses nearby, threatened extensive damage before Curt Schroeder and his crew got things under control again. The ground was s waterlogged that drainage problems were difficult. Water stood across 4th Street (East Ocean) in deep, big ponds for more than a month in front of where John Demich now lives (today’s 5th and Cortez) and at the tennis court. The old hospital building was surrounded by water for weeks and physicians came and went in boats…
A raging torrent that dug a 75 foot ditch from East Ocean Blvd to the St Lucie River! Doctors going to the hospital in boats? Holy cow. That must have been something. How did they put back the land that washed out? Below I have tried to figure out where that area might have been…
In closing, hope you have enjoyed this week’s pond series. The message remains the same, Lake Okeechobee or a little pond on East Ocean Blvd. “Over drainage has consequences….”
Notes of location referred to in the 1924 article, by Sandra Thurlow, help to figure out location:
Mom, where is the King’s house?
The King house was Kay Norris’s parents’ house across from the Pelican Hotel (Willie Gary’s ) The corner of our church property where Mary’s Closet is today used to flood terribly. There was once a rectory there that had to be demolished because it flooded and was ruined. Uncle Dale could tell you all about that. The King house still stands on Osceola I believe. At one time it was Dr. Eckersley’s office.
2. Where was the Dumich house?
Dumich lived on 5th Street about where Cortez intersects it.
3. Mom, remined me about the flooding when I was a kid.
Think of the courthouse. As you probably remember Memorial Park was always flooding. When it was suggested for a site for the library years before, Mary Kanner, (Kanner Highway, Highway 76, is named after her Judge husband) said “I am not going to have the library built in that sometime lake.” The pond that was dug in front of where the Log Cabin was constructed, later became the Middle School Pond. Now, it too, has been made to disappear.
Notes of Edwin Menninger:
~Edwin A Menninger, The South Florida Developer, 1924
(Menninger purchased the weekly paper, South Florida Developer, in 1923, moving its publication headquarters to Stuart from Canal Point. In 1928 he bought the Stuart Daily News. This excerpt was reprinted in the 1950 Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News.) (This excerpt can also be found on page 453 of a History of Martin County.)
Thank you to my awesome brother Todd Thurlow who created this image after reading today’s blog post. He writes: “Hi Jacqui – If you want to see the 1924 lake, the FEMA flood maps show the low spot pretty well. Check thiis out:” ~Todd
This week, with a short reprieve from politics, I have been sharing historic photos and videos of the once wetlands and ponds of East Ocean Boulevard. Land use changes interest me as land use is of course directly connected to the water quality and health of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
After reading yesterday’s blog, historian and family friend Alice Luckhardt, shared the remarkable 1947 photo above. I wanted to make sure everyone saw it as well! Look at the size of that pond that once was at Stuart Middle School! I remember it; do you? Now it’s gone.
The question posed to Alice in a conversation thread on Facebook was “why was the school board allowed to drain and build over the pond?”
It appears “the powers that be” had been eyeing the land under the pond for some time…
Alice has included two old news articles, featured below, explaining how students, two different times, did save the pond from destruction in both 1964 and 1971, but no one spoke up during the real estate boom era of the 2000s when the “new Stuart Middle School” was built. Why didn’t the adults save it?
Now I must state that I love Stuart Middle School as I attended there as a student and taught there as a teacher, but this disappearing pond act is incredible and should be noted. At the time I saw it happening, I did write a personal note of concern and disbelief to the current principal who did not write me back. Now that I am a “politico” person, I understand the principal does not make these decisions.
Many locals who grew up here still have memories of the pond. My Dad does as he went to hight school here in the 50s. Generational Stuart resident Boo Lowery says:”Jay Davey and I fished in that pond a lot 1949-53, we caught a lot of bream.. there were two islands then, –they later connected them to shore; I guess to make mowing easier.”
Yes, the goal is always to make it “easier,” for we humans, unfortunately over time this adds to the desolation of our St Lucie River…Easier is not the answer.
Well enjoy Alice’s articles below! Thanks, everyone; see you at the fishin’ pond.
JULY 16, 1964, THE STUART NEWS, SCHOOL POND IS TO BE ‘SAVED’ BY CONSERVATIONIST GROUPS The pond at Stuart Junior High School will not be filled. Instead, its water level will be restored, its banks will be graded to stop erosion and it will again be the habitat of water lilies and fresh water fish. Martin County School Board Monday night approved a plan advanced by six local conservation groups: Garden Club of Stuart, Izaak Walton League, St. Lucie-Indian Rivers Restoration League, the Historical Society, Junior Conservation Club and U. S. Soil Conservation Service. Charles Kindred, president of the Isaak Walton League, detailed the plan, which involves grading of the banks with county equipment, stabilizing them with Bahia grass and other plantings, installation of a well and one and a quarter-inch pump, operated by the city, to maintain the water level at three or four feet during drought periods and the planting of bream and bass.
JAN 10, 1971, THE STUART NEWS JUNIOR HIGH POND IS DUG OUT
The pond on the campus of the Stuart Seventh and Eighth School is in the final stages of renovation. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jack Smouse said that the pond is somewhat of a landmark in the community and that it has been here “as long as I can remember.” School officials have intended to update the pond for some time, Smouse said and with the cooperation of the city and the county the work has been done. The county donated a dragline and the city provided fill for the project. The pond was originally designed with two separate islands in the center. Smouse said the design made maintenance difficult. Transporting mowers and other equipment from one island to the other was virtually impossible without a boat. With the fill which the city provided, the two islands have been connected. Smouse said the pond was originally dug to provide fill for other areas and that the spoil taken from the recent work will be used on the campus. Moves to fill in the pond in the past were blocked by local conservationists, Smouse said. They felt that if the pond is eliminated the city will lose one of its areas of beauty. The digging is now completed and the next step is to clear the area of cattails and other debris. When this work is complete the area will be planted and stocked with fish. Smouse said it will provide a fresh water pond for the area and will be used primarily as a “classroom” by the science department at the school. The pond is filled by surface water from the campus. In the past, storm sewer drainage went into the pond, but with the present drainage system this is impossible, Smouse explained. With the present low water table the surface water will be the only method of fill in the pond. Smouse said that eventually the school hopes to erect a flagpole at either end of the island with a school sign.
Today’s blog post, created by my brother, Todd Thurlow, just totally blows my mind. His time-capsule flight through images of Google Earth, historic maps from 1850 and 1940, and an aerial from 1958, takes us on a journey through the extensive pond-land/wetland that used to be the area of Downtown Stuart and beyond. Today we all live here, most of us not even realizing what the land once was…this wetland now “magically” drains into the St Lucie River.
In Todd’s video you can see that Stuart Middle School actually is now sitting where an old pond used to be; there were ponds expanding and contracting with the rains in today’s Memorial Park; there were ponds in the areas of today’s County Courthouse; there were ponds scattered over today’s airport, Witham Field; there were extensive ponds along East Ocean Boulevard and Dolphin as featured in last Friday’s popular blog post. Yes, there little ponds just about everywhere!
Sometimes we think the wetlands are “out west” and they are, but years ago they were also here. I have to say am guilty of this too. When I came home after university in 1986 and just about everything was developed, once again, amnesia! Look, after you watch Todd’s video, and notice the drainage canals around Monterey Blvd., St Lucie Blvd, back by Kingswoods Condo, and on the edges of Witham Field and there are many more. Of course like the grates and drains in every parking lot, these canals drain into our ailing St Lucie River. Lake Okeechobee is the big toxic hammer but there is local destruction too…
She describes a 1958 aerial photograph that hangs in my law office. The photo is from my parent’s “Thurlow/Ruhnke” collection. I had used the photo for a Google Earth presentation for Stuart Heritage on May 8, 2012. http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com/
This is a recording of maps and photographs used for part of that presentation: 1850s Government Land Office Plats, 1940 USDA aerials and the 1958 Thurlow/Ruhnke photo.
There is no sound or text overlays but here are a few features to note:
0:50 –What was called the “Stuart Middle School Pond”. We jumped in that pond on the last day of school to celebrate graduating from 8th grade. A few years ago the pond was filled in to make room for a new building.
1:00 – The end of Fourth Street (what is now called East Ocean Blvd). East Ocean Blvd. ended at the intersection of St. Lucie Blvd/ Oriole Ave. on the left (north) side and Dolphin Drive on the right (south) before it was extended to the “Bridges to the Sea”.
1:14 – The oblique aerial described in Jacqui’s blog. Note the building in the bottom right corner. That is the Broadway Service Center which still stands today. See https://goo.gl/iODQwU
1:47 –The Evan’s Crary Bridge (aka the Ten Cent Bridge) under construction in the background
2:24 – 1940 flyover of Dolphin Drive. Note the single building in the middle of nowhere. That residence is still standing on the corner of SE 6th Street and Flamingo Ave. According to the Martin County Property Appraiser, it was built in 1925, years before the photo was taken.
2:30 –The 1940 view before our current airport. The previous Krueger Airport was off of East Ocean Blvd. Dolphin Drive continued all the way from East Ocean Blvd. to St. Lucie Blvd. by the river. If you have ever taken the “back exit” from the Stuart Air Show onto St. Lucie Blvd, that still existing right-of-way is what used to be the other end of Dolphin Drive.
“Time Capsule Flights,” created by my brother, Todd Thurlow, has been a shared favorite on my blog since 2014. In these remarkable videos, Todd uses his legal and historical knowledge to create a living collage juxtaposing historic and modern-day images to achieve dramatic insights into watershed and land use changes in Florida over the past hundred years. These videos are a must for anyone wishing to understand our state’s history or working to restore its waters and lands in the future. You can access all of Todd’s videos here: http://maps.thethurlows.com.
From the time I was a baby until growing up, I remember lots of ponds here in the region of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Hundreds of ponds intertwined with scrub lands…
Some of these boggy ponds were right outside my neighborhood in St Lucie Estates, just off of East Ocean Boulevard. It was the 1960s and 70s. Over time, especially in the 80s and 90s, when I had grown up and was off to University of Florida and beyond, these ponds simply dried up and “disappeared.” These lands became shopping centers, an expanded Witham Field, gas stations, schools, golf courses, and more neighborhoods. The same thing happened to the lands out west of town, but they became expanded agricultural lands. At a kid, I didn’t think too much about it. Today it blows my mind.
The aerial at the top of this blog post is from 1940. I was born in 1964. The small dark areas are ponds. When I asked my brother Todd, who is very knowledgeable on these old photos and land use, where all the ponds went, he noted that when our area canals were constructed by the water districts and Army Corp of Engineers, from about 1920 to the 1960s, the canals not only drained the lands, but over time, the water table dropped, (the water below the surface of the soil that you don’t see) drying out the many of little ponds, so that these lands could be developed.
So most of the 1940 wetlands you see in the aerials throughout this blog are now gone, and “we are here.” This happened all over Martin, St Lucie and almost all counties of south Florida. This on top of the shrinkage and drainage of giant Lake Okeechobee!
There is something is really odd about this. Millions of people living in former wetlands. Like sitting atop a dry sponge. No wonder all the wildlife is gone and the rivers are polluted. I’ve heard people talk about this change forever, and I have lived it myself, but seeing my brother’s video below, really bring the whole thing “home.” Watch and wonder where we should go from here…
Click here to see Martin County’s land use change over time, and watch the little ponds/wetlands “disappear. ” Time flight video by Todd Thurlow:
The flight starts in the area around Pratt & Whitney in northern Palm Beach County / southern Martin County where the land still looks like much of Martin County used to look. We then fly to the area around Bridge Road where the headwaters of the South Fork used to be nice and wet in the 1940s. Hundreds of interconnected ponds and bogs eventually coalesced into the tributaries of the South Fork. Today the ponds have been drained for farming and a few neighborhoods. The smallest tributaries are now drainage ditches. Next we fly over the area around the City of Stuart and Witham Field. You can see how the old ponds and bogs lined up between low ridges that run parallel to the ocean. Many of the bogs are now low-lying dry nature preserves in the neighborhoods and golf courses. –Todd Thurlow