When you are driving around today, do you ever wonder what things looked like before humans changed things so much? I do.
I think about it mostly in the context of deteriorating water quality and trying to wrap my head around the story of how we got to where we are today.
My mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, recently shared these photos. I think they make a point. Both photos belonged to Stuart’s renowned pioneer Kitching family. The first photo was hand titled “Lover’s Lane,” by Josephine Kitching and is marked 1907. That same photo was used by Mr Stanley Kitching to made into a beautiful color postcard to market our area. According to my mother, the quality color printing was only offered in Germany pre World War 1, (1914-1918).
Compare the images. You can see that the second post card is the same image as the first, but now colorized and professionally entitled: “Tall Trees through the Pines, Stuart, Fla.”
My mother wrote of this photo: “Jacqui, This postcard was printed in Germany so it was before WWI. I think it was printed around 1907. It was one of a series ordered by Stanley Kitching and is very early. I think this is the trail that became U. S. 1 (Avenue E.) Mom”
In any case, if indeed this is the old Avenue E that became Stuart’s US1 look what it used to be – a Sand Pine Community, now one of the the rarest in the world. A community whose white sands used to clean and purify the water…There were thousands of acres in today’s Stuart, Martin County, and along all of Florida’s east coast and central high ridges. (https://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00000505/00001/1x)
I am thankful for those who saved these habitats so we can see how rain water was once cleansed, naturally.
Sand Pine Habitat has a fascinating ecological history. Our history. You can read more here:
“Scrubs dominated by a canopy of sand pine are usually found on the highest sandy ridgelines. The pine canopy may range from widely scattered trees with a short, spreading growth form, to tall thin trees forming a dense canopy of uniform height. The sand pine scrub understory is characterized by either scrub oaks or Florida rosemary.”(https://www.fnai.org/PDF/NC/Scrub_Final_2010.pdf)
“This 1905 photo is of Margaret Andrews and Rudolph Tietig walking through the property that, at the time, belonged the Twichells – located between today’s Hillcrest and Heritage subdivisions.” Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow
Today’s historic photographs, shared by my mother, allow us to imagine what the high west side of Sewall’s Point in Martin County looked like before it was cleared for agriculture and development. Yes, although today a few prize trees remain, once, the peninsula’s entire high west side was covered in a hardwood hammock: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW20600.pdf; https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw206
We still see many Live Oaks, Sabal Palms, and a few Gumbo Limbo, but other names such as Paradise Tree; Mastic; Srangler Fig; Hickory; Satin Leaf; Marlberry, Myrsine, Ironwood, and Pigeon plum are much more rare.
As was the custom of the day, and remains so, these trees were cleared. Perhaps some were used for lumber. But for the most part, there was little thought of saving them, nor of the birds and wildlife that depended on the tangled forest for shelter and food.
I think this is worth thinking about. We walk about today somewhat unaware of what the land previously looked like, forgetting forest’s relationship to water, and how many creatures have been impacted by these human changes.
Could we recreate the forests? This is doubtful, but we could bring some of it back. In order to do this, we need more than photographs, we need a native hardwood hammock -“to see.”
We are very lucky to live in Martin County, a county that has a history of conservation. When researching the Sewall’s Point hammock, I realized I had never visited Maggy’s Hammock Park in Port Salerno. (https://www.martin.fl.us/MaggysHammock). Named after environmentalist and long time county Martin County commissioner, Maggy Hurchalla, this park is a treasure, a walk back into time. This native site, just a few miles south and across the St Lucie River from Sewall’s Point, preserves ancient live oaks, paradise trees, strangler figs, and many, many others as well as the important understory.
It is a true hardwood hammock!
Considering the location, these trees must be similar to native Sewall’s Point’s. This was my first visit and I will be back as I try to rediscover the beauty and the benefits of the “Once Tangled Forest.”
The “Crying Cow Report” was of interest to many readers, so today I continue down that timeline, in fact, a bit before…
After reading the report, my mom, historian Sandra Thurlow, shared the following note and images from one of her many files. The small booklet is entitled, “Palm Beach County Florida,” and was published with a colorful tropical-farm cover around 1920. You’ll see that it was written to entice others. Also, one must remember that until 1925, Martin County did not exist and was part of Palm Beach County!
~For me, it is so interesting to read these old publications within the context of where we are ecologically today: “Nature’s Masterpiece; Man’s Opportunity.” It sure was! Now we have an opportunity to clean up the lands and waters made impaired by our dreams.
Please view below:
“Jacqui, I enjoyed reading about your viewing the Crying Cow booklet. It made me look in my rare booklet box and when I looked through this little 4 1/2 by 6 inch booklet I thought you’d like to see it. I chose these pages to scan. It is undated but it cites 1920 numbers and was published before Martin County was created in 1925. I wonder if Hector Harris Ritta is connected to Ritta Island? Mom”
From my brother Todd, after he read this post. 🙂
“Good Stuff. Yes definitely “Ritta” refers to Hector Harris’ home town, like the others. The town of Ritta can be seen clearly on the map you included – at Ritta Island. Interesting notes about Ritta:”
Incredible? Yes, it is. And what is even more incredible is that decades ago this 2019 bonanza day of sailfishing was put into action by the Stuart Sailfish Club of the 1930s.
Let’s read some history:
“Immediately after the clubs incorporation, Ernie Lyons announced the next immediate goal was the creation of a release button to be given to individuals who consistently release their sailfish”. (Sandra Thurlow, Stuart on the St Lucie)
This was indeed done but not before a carnage ensued motivating the club even more so.
“Ironically right at the heels of the Sailfish Club’s official charter to promote conservation, the largest sailfish run in Florid’s history occurred off the St Lucie Inlet at Stuart. Records show that more than 5000 sailfish were caught in the 90 day period. January through March 1941. Many sportsman let their sailfish go free but thousand were slaughtered only to be dumped into the river, carted off by garbage collectors, or used for shark bait. Stuart’s reputation as the Sailfish Capital of the World was affirmed, but so was the need for conservation of the species if its fame was to endure. Because of the efforts of the Stuart Sailfish Club, anglers soon began to compete for Curt Whiticar’s beautifully designed release button in preference to all the rest.”
Kudos to those before us, who held the line giving the successes we have today!
Maps. They get us where we’re going, and they reference were we’ve been.
This 1910 Florida Standard Guide map, shared from my mother’s archives, is a black and white goldmine for comparison to our “maps” today.
If you are from my neck of the woods, you may notice that there is no Martin County just sprawling Palm Beach County. Across the state, we see a monstrous Lee County. Collier and Hendry counties were created out of Lee County in 1923. As far as roads, one may notice there is no Tamiami Trail. In 1915 construction began on this famous highway that has blocked remaining water flowing south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades ever since. And what about Alligator Alley constructed around 1968?
What do you see? What dont’ you see? What’s different from today? I think it is interesting to wonder how South Florida would function today if we didn’t work so hard to fill in the southern part of the map.
Yes, today we use Google Maps, or GPS instruction from our smart phones to figure out where we’re going and what develops.
Where these electronic maps are taking us is only for the future to know. Hopefully our choices, and the maps we follow are more helpful to the environment and to wildlife too! Florida Wildlife Corridor explore maps: http://floridawildlifecorridor.org
Bathtub Beach has become a preoccupation this week, and its story “teaches us.” I asked my historian mother if she had any historic photos. Of course, she did, along with insights of this special place in Martin County.
The first thing she said was, “I have been fascinated with the giant black mangroves that used to appear when the Bathtub’s sands eroded. I have a bunch of these photos…”
In my childhood days, this sometimes appearing ancient forest was a conundrum, then a lesson, that things are ever-changing, and barrier islands really are moving. “How could there have been a forest there?” I’d ask my mother, “It’s in the sea?”
This part of Hutchinson Island was developed early on as “Seminole Shores” and there is one photo below that clearly shows the water washing out over the road way back then in the 50s (sepia colored aerial.) Interesting.
From the aerials, one can see how developer, James Rand added the marina we know today as part of Sailfish Point. This type of construction was later outlawed in the 70s due to its serious environmental ramifications. Many of our older area marinas were built this way.
Some may remember famous “Rand’s Pier” that withstood the ocean’s occasional violence for many years. It was still there in the photos towards the end of this blog post that I took in 2007. It has since washed away…
The circular, unusual, worm-reef, giving Bathtub Beach its name, is most beautiful. Although people are not supposed to walk on it, they do; and today’s constant/desperate re-nourishment sands washing back into the ocean must certainly have a negative effect.
As a kid I swam over the reef at high tide catching tropical fish with a net my mother made by hand. Once a moray eel put its face on my mask and I learned not to put my hand in a hole!
Look at photos closely and you will notice many details.
In the first photo, you will see there is no Wentworth house falling into the ocean, and then it appears; the ancient forest foreshadowing its fate.
The final aerial is recently dated and from a tourist website, shared by my life-time friend Amy Galante. This photo packages Bathtub Beach as we all envision it. Airbrushed. Restored. Never changing. And “perfect.”
Fortunately, or unfortunately, perfection takes constant change.
This first hand account of a man who is considered Stuart’s most important business leader, river captain, and pioneer, Stanley Kitching, gives rare insight into what it was like to take a drive to see the new St Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades in 1918.
My mother sent her transcribed work first published in the Stuart Messenger, entitled “A Stuart Pioneer Away From Home,” stating: “Jacqui, You might find this interesting. It’s about the Custard Apples.” The custard apple forest was 32,000 acres along the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee that like a giant sieve strained the southern flowing waters of Lake Okeechobee before entering the sawgrass river of the Everglades. That forgotten forest was demolished to access the very richest of the Everglades Agricultural Area’s famous “black gold.” There are very few first hand accounts of this forest so this article is special. Many other parts of the story will captivate you as well.
Enjoy! And “thanks mom!”
P.S. The digging of the St Lucie Canal, (C-44,) from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, was started in 1915, but not opened until 1923.
July 25, 1918
Transcribed by Sandra Thurlow, Sept. 22, 2017
A STUART PIONEER AWAY FROM HOME
TAKES TWO WEEKS VACATION NEAR HIS OWN BACK DOOR
CAMP ON OKEECHOBBE-ST. LUCIE
Party Included Mr. and Mrs. Charles Christensen, Mrs. Smart, Mrs. Robinson and Stanley Kitching.
Like a great many Stuart people, we had heard stories about the wonderful Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the rich soil, bumper crops, and the great Stuart-St. Lucie canal, so on July the Fourth our party consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Christensen, Mrs. Smart, Mrs. Robinson and myself started out to see the wonderful country lying to the west of Stuart.
We left Stuart at 9 a.m., with two cars, a Ford and a Dart, the Ford in the lead, of course. Each car was loaded to the limit. We estimated the weight in each car to be about 800 pounds. Consisting of tents, cots, cot pads, suit cases, fishing tackle, guns, axes, spade, rope, tent poles, nails, extra tires, gas, oil, spiers, mosquito bar, and enough groceries to last our party three weeks, also a lantern and flashlights and five heavy army blankets.
Just before starting we discovered a leak in the radiator of the Dart, but as we expected to find plenty of water along the road we didn’t let that bother us. We made our first stop twelve miles from town to fill the radiator as we were in cane slough and the sand on the fill was heavy and pulling hard, we put in water several times between there and the Platt place. After leaving the Platt place we left the main road and followed a cut off through the woods, passed a deserted Indian village and a mile further on came to another Indian village. We were now in the territory known as Indiantown. A squaw came out and told us we were on the right road. One mile on we passed another deserted Indian village. We found the wood’s road much easier to travel as the ground was harder. We arrived at the dam across the St. Lucie-Stuart canal at 12 noon, distance 30 miles. The dredging company were hauling a tug over the dam and we had to lay planks and board around the bow so we could pass. We got over the dam at 1 o’clock with the kindly assistance of some of the men from the big dredge.
Everglades, we ate lunch here, surrounded by a drove of genuine razor back hogs of all sizes. There is a sign on a pine tree at this point which reads 30 miles to Stuart.
Shortly after leaving the dam the road leaves the pine timber and climbs the fill made by the dredges. This fill is composed of rock, marle and shell, and we traveled it in high gear. Six miles from the dam the road enters the cypress timber, on the edge of the canal. It is very rough here for a short distance and everybody gets out of the cars but the drivers. This belt of timber extends nearly all around the shores of the lake, which looked like the Atlantic ocean on a calm day. It started to rain at this time. The road followed the lake shore, winding through the rag weeds which grow between the water’s edge and the timber line to a height of 8 feet. Five miles after leaving the canal the Dart sank in a mud hole and it took about one hour to get on the road again. We arrived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Spiers, Cleve and Reginal Kitching wife and children, about four o’clock. This locality is known as Canal Point and is close to the Palm Beach canal. Our friends came out and greeted us and helped us put up the two tents. Then everybody got busy and we all had supper out in the open under the cypress trees just as the sun was setting in a golden glow on the west shore of Big Lake. After supper we all sat around the camp fire till bed time, which came early as we were tired with the day’s run.
Friday, (6th) morning everyone was up early and the day was spent fixing camp.
Saturday we put up a flag pole on the lake shore and hoisted the American, French and English flags. Rigged up a trot line to catch fish on, cleaned up the ground around the tents, cut wood, carried water from the lake, went in bathing, etc., and found that the time passed very quickly.
Sunday we laid around the camp.
Monday we went to the farm with the boys and helped dig potatoes.
Tuesday we looked over the farm lands, raw acres of fine corn, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and the land was richer than we ever dreamed of. The custard apple land next to the ridge is covered with a growth of custard apples, rubber and maple trees which are pulled up by the roots with tractors, Fords and other kinds. This land extends for about a mile in depth, then comes the saw grass lands. This extends as far as the eye can see and is cleared by burning off the saw grass, then pulverized with a tractor. It cost $100 per acre to clear the custard land and $5.00 per acre to clear saw grass. The tractors start work at daylight, and there is no sleep after they start as they run with the exhaust wide open and can be heard for miles.
Thursday and Wednesday we went fishing and caught some speckled cat fish which were fine eating. Most of the food we used was raised right on the spot, potatoes, onions, Indian pumpkins, butter beans, green corn, tomatoes, okra, rabbits and plenty of fresh milk from Reginald’s fine cow, which grazed along the lake shore and doesn’t cost a cent to keep. There was a pen for branded Berkshire hogs on the place and lots of chickens also a fine pond. Everything on the place was at our disposal and we certainly had a fine time during our stay at Canal Point.
We took down our tents Thursday morning and left at 11 o’clock. We reached the dam about 1:30 and spent about one hour working on the roads. After lunch we left the dam and canal and started south through the pine woods looking for a new place to pitch our tents. After going about four miles through and over palmetto scrub, etc. we stopped and dug for water, couldn’t find any, so went about a mile further dug again, same result. Went about another mile and were in what is called Hungry Land. We decided to camp near a cypress pond put up our tents, got wood and dug for water. Found a damp spot after digging five feet and in about two hours we got a pail full of muddy water. We had enough water to make tea for supper, that was all. About ? p.m. we got two pails of water and boiled it on the camp fire, thinking it would settle by morning but it wouldn’t settle , it was real thick so we decided the place had the right name. We were all hungry for a drink so we went to the dam five miles away and got a pail of water. This took three hours. After breakfast we folded up out tents and drove back to the canal. Met Guyler Baker and he said he had a good pump two miles down the canal at his camp and told us to go there and camp and use anything we found there. We drove down and camped on top the bank of the canal 300 feet from the pump and stayed there until Thursday the 18th. Caught both trout and catfish out of the canal and went in swimming in the clear water drove out to the woods, a distance of five miles and while sitting in the car saw a big deer walk past at a distance of 109 steps, saw wild turkey, quail, rabbits and wild hogs in abundance and I didn’t fire a shot during the whole trip. We saw a few snakes of the harmless kind and quite a number of Indian camps. One family had nine children.
The dredge boat people were very kind to us and furnished us with ice, and offered us anything they had in case we needed it.
The lands along the canal are rich and when it is finished the adjacent farms and all the territory on the eastern shore of the Big Lake will be a feeder to the town of Stuart. If you are doubtful, take a week off and go out into the big back country to the west of Stuart.
We broke up camp Thursday morning and started for home and arrived four hours later. Luck was with us all the way as we didn’t have any tire trouble. In closing will say get a Ford and a tent and go out and see the big wide world west of Stuart.
The population increase of the Goliath Grouper is one of those rare “feel-good” conservation success stories. With the help of a 1990 law of protection, the species has come back from being historically over-hunted.
I was recently contacted by advocate goliath grouper protectionist, Ms. Katie Carlsson, who spurned my interest in the debate to “reopen hunting on the species.” I also knew I could share my mother’s plethora of historic St Lucie River “Jew Fish” photos labeled such during the non-politically correct era that was part of my childhood and before. In today’s blog post the original terminology is used in the photographs as documented.
Now for today’s “Goliath Grouper!”
I wanted to speak up for Katie’s cause, questioning the reopening of the hunt. She has forward much information on FWC meeting dates, etc. Thank you Katie.
Before presenting you with many links to explore and opinions to read, I will say, that according to the Snook Foundation, “vast technological improvements in spear guns and diving equipment in the 1960s and 1970s made no wreck, cave or hole safe for Goliath grouper to hide. They have few natural predators and little fear of divers.They are easy prey.”
Of course anglers have the right to argue that the grouper in some areas, like South Florida, have been perhaps “too successful” and believe hunting should be reopened.
My question is if the giant fish will basically look you in the eye and let you kill it, or if there is a question as to the efficacy of the conservation program, why do it? There are so many other fish in the sea.
These are the locations and dates for future hearings:
Oct. 9: Jacksonville, Pablo Creek Regional Library, 13295 Beach Blvd.
Oct. 10: Titusville, American Police Hall of Fame & Museum, 6350 Horizon Drive.
Oct. 11: Stuart, Flagler Place, 201 SW Flagler Ave.
Oct. 12: Davie, Old Davie School Historical Museum, 6650 Griffin Road.
Oct. 16: Pinellas Park, Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure, 9501 U.S. Highway 19 N.
Oct. 17: Port Charlotte, The Cultural Center of Charlotte County, 2280 Aaron St.
Oct. 18: Naples, Collier County Public Library – South Regional, 8065 Lely Cultural Parkway
Oct. 25: Tallahassee, FWC Bryant Building, Room 272, 600 S. Meridian St. (6-9 p.m. ET)
In the earlier part of the last century, Atlantic goliath groupers were abundant from Florida to Brazil and throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. If you have been lucky enough to be in the water with these creatures, then you appreciate their unflappable personality and awe-inspiring size, which reaches up to 8 feet and 1,000 pounds. The goliath grouper has no natural predators besides large sharks and humans. We are writing with regards to the latter.
Goliath groupers reached commercial extinction in the late 1980s. For this reason, in 1990 a federal and state ban on killing them was implemented for U.S. federal waters and state waters of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, followed by a 1993 ban in the U.S. Caribbean. Twenty-seven years of protection have led to a population increase, although not a recovery to pre-exploitation levels, in the state of Florida alone. Spawning aggregations are forming again off the east coast of Florida. It’s the only place in the world where goliath groupers are now reliably found in significant numbers, as juveniles in mangroves, and as adults in reefs, solitary or forming spawning aggregations. People come from all over the nation and the world to see the goliath grouper spawning aggregations in the late summer, bringing big dollars that boost local economies.
“Diving in the Palm Beaches back in the late 1980s, to see a goliath grouper was the holy grail. Many of us dove year after year, and saw perhaps one, maybe none,” said Deb Castellana of Mission Blue. “To witness the resurgence of the species since protections were enacted has been heartening, a real story of hope.”
Yet, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is currently considering allowing the limited take of goliath groupers in state waters. The proposal would allow the killing of 100 goliath groupers per year for 4 years, for a total of 400 goliath groupers. The sizes targeted are breeding individuals. If implemented, the kill will exterminate most of Florida’s breeding population of goliath groupers, destroying 27 years of conservation management effort. This “limited take” is not supported by scientific evidence. Critics of the goliath grouper say the species is overeating and responsible for declining fish and lobster stocks. Yet, actual scientific data from researchers like Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. show that overfishing, not the goliath groupers, is the reason for declining fish and lobster stocks.
Some say that a “sustainable” take of goliath groupers is possible, but many scientists agree that the current population would not last more than one, or perhaps two years after opening the fishery. And groupers have no nutritional value for humans since they contain levels of mercury that are unsafe for human consumption according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Health.
“I repeatedly asked what scientific evidence the FWC has to support killing the goliath groupers, because all scientific research published to date does not support a fishery for this species and shows the species is highly conservation dependent and highly vulnerable to overfishing,” said Dr. Frias-Torres. “Many don’t realize that goliath groupers actually eat predators of juvenile lobsters, allowing more lobsters to grow to legal size and making more lobsters available to fishers.”
Don DeMaria, a local professional diver, adds, “the annual goliath grouper spawning aggregations that occur off the coast of South Florida are spectacular natural events on a world scale. Efforts by the FWC, and others, to reopen a take of this fish are sure to disrupt, and eventually eliminate this natural wonder.”
If a hunting season is opened on the goliath grouper, the FWC has floated the idea of charging $300 per fish killed. Yet, recreational divers pay around $100 for one goliath grouper sighting. Think of that: a single goliath grouper in the water is supporting local business to the tune of $36,500 per year or more than a million dollars over its lifetime. But one spawning aggregation alone, made by several goliath groupers, generates about half a million dollars a year for one dive business. Financially speaking, that’s a much better investment than collecting a one-time payment of $300 per dead fish.
“Killing goliath groupers will also kill growing economic benefits derived from divers who revel in the opportunity to be in the presence of these iconic animals who are often as curious about us.” – Dr. Sylvia Earle
A Final Message from Katie:
We are aware that the FWC is gathering public input on the possibility of a goliath grouper killing season in Florida. As such, we have called for our supporters to attend one of the many workshops held in the state in August and October, as well as to submit a public comment on FWC’s website. We will also gathering signatures to a petition, which will be delivered to the FWC in anticipation of the goliath grouper decision coming down later this year.
“Although the species has not recovered to pre-exploitation levels, enough goliath groupers are showing up at a few spawning aggregation sites that their presence, and the SCUBA divers that come to visit them, bring a much-needed lifesaver to small businesses in Florida, between late August and early October, just when transition between the summer and winter seasons will leave these businesses in the doldrums,” said Dr. Frias-Torres. “A live goliath grouper is more valuable than a dead one. And living goliaths will keep forming spawning aggregations and contributing to the Florida economy for as long as they live.”
We strongly urge the Commissioners of FWC to maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery. A policy such as this would represent the best interests of the wildlife and humans in Florida, as well as rest on conclusions drawn from the best available science.
HELP US: Ask the FWC to maintain protections for goliath groupers!
You don’t have to live in Florida to help. Please take a moment to tell the FWC to continue protections for the goliaths at this link. Feel free to use the language below as your comment.
“I am disappointed to learn the FWC is considering allowing the taking of goliath groupers. Many countries look up to the United States as a leader in so many fields, including conservation, and here we are about to permit fishermen to take goliaths—a species depleted throughout its range, except Florida—and nursed back to healthy numbers over the course of 27 years of Federal and state protection. We strongly urge you to maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery. A policy such as this would represent the best interests of the wildlife and humans in Florida, as well as rest on conclusions drawn from the best available science.”
I know this is a lot. This is a pretty interesting problem from science, conservation, and politics. The voting in the hearings is by clicker and is shown on the screen so have everyone who goes take a picture and post it. People that are under eighteen can attend and vote. They can also comment online at the FFW link.
Today I share an incredible historic piece about commercial fishing, written by a leading citizen of Stuart’s earliest days, Mr Curt Schroeder. My mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, transcribed his writings. They are typed from a handwritten, unpublished, manuscript. The first time she shared the piece with me I was spellbound and even speechless during parts.
As an animal lover, the story of capturing the manatee, eating loggerhead turtles, or having to tie a line around a cabbage palm tree to hold off a net full of thousands of pounds of fighting mullet was unsettling to me. Nevertheless, those were the times, people were struggling to make ends meet, and the river fed them. They were trying to get everything they could get! In time, it was realized that they were “killing the goose that laid the golden egg…”
Mr Schroeder’s excerpt about the effects of the St Lucie Canal’s (C-44) connection to the river and the destruction that followed, only reinforces my present opinion. He writes: “all self-respecting fish left the river, the silt covered the large feeding places, and the continued fresh water killed the mussels, clams and oysters, and changed the depth of our river….”
It’s all quite a story!🐟
Thank you to my mother for her work and for sharing. As it’s a long narrative, I have highlighted some of the most astounding parts for easy reading. Hope you enjoy!
COMMERCIAL FISHING IN AND AROUND THE ST. LUCIE RIVER
THE MEMORIES, THEORIES AND OPINIONS OF STUART PIONEER CURT SCHROEDER
A manuscript, handwritten by Crut Schroedure during the 1940s, was among the papers of his granddaughter Emily Beach. I have tried to type it as it was written with minimal editing and have not changed the spelling he used for local fishes. Though many of Curt Schroeder’s articles have been published in the Stuart News, I do not believe this piece has ever appeared in print. Sandra Thurlow, July 24, 1994
The crews, two gill net and one seine stayed till mid March, at Palm City, our fish camp. At the beginning of March millions of crabs came into the river and damaged our gill nets, chewing long holes along the lead-line, no sale for crab meat then. One bright moonlit night in February, Capt. John Blakeslee, father of C. D., woke the writer and asked him to get his shotgun and load it with buckshot as there was a black bear across from us, near Noah Parks’ palmetto shack. Slipping into my pants and loading the shotgun with buckshot took a moment. Coming out of our door, I could see across the way near the seine crew shack, something that looked like a bear standing motionless watching. No movement could be detected. From the rear came the encouragement, “Shoot, damn you, shoot!”
Near the line of fire were Noah’s and Sam Young’s bunks. Knowing buckshot to scatter, the watching for movement continued. Finally convinced that there was no animal across from us, we advanced and found Capt. MacCloud’s winter overcoat thrown over a small bush. Part of the overcoat was adorned with black sheepskin. It looked like a bear all right, and if this apparition had been clear of the other shack the writer would have turned loose both barrels.
Speaking of shotguns, my partner that year was a Norwegian, Anderson Stolzwig, who had built our skip jack the “Pompano.” Well Andy owned a single barrel shotgun (maybe some old-timers remember the “Zulu Guns” with the 3 inch firing pins.) This was a 12 gauge. Well in his travel overland and sea, (He had walked from Tampa to Malabar) he had lost the firing pin and used a 20-penny spike in its place. Shooting ducks from the boat, he used to warn anyone with him to stand to the left near him, as the recoil of the shot would throw the 20-penny spike back. Of course, he could not aim this gun as the firing pin would have hit him so he simply pointed the gun. He became a good shot and killed many a duck. But he had no takers when he offered his Zulu to others for a trial shot. Of course the had to carry a pound of 20-penny spikes on his hunting trips, as he never found any of the used ones after firing.
We had lots of visitors at Palm City. Our palmetto shacks stood in a fine palmetto and oak hammock. One evening Noah’s father, Uncle Ben Parks, came to see us about dusk. Standing near the writer, he asked ,”Did you hear him?.”
Of course a head shake was the answer. “Well,” he said, “a big gobbler flew up to roost within 300 yards of us.” He went off located his gobbler and next morning at daybreak, armed with his 10 gauge double-barreled shotgun, he went to the roost and killed the big gobbler.
The first seine fished in our section was manned by Brice Loveless and Noah Parks. In those days, seines ordered were hung at the factory in New York. As the crew lived at Waveland, most fishing was done in the Indian River.
In September 1895, R. D. Hoke, Harry Schultz and George Keller entered into a partnership ordered one 800-yard seine, wings of 9-thread near mid 12-thread and ________15 thread net. A very heavy seine. Their end cables were 3/4 inch rope The steamboat “Lillian” furnished the power to lay out the net, and with trip lines and pulleys hauled it ashore.
Keller was an experienced fisherman and also owned the seine boat. Their first remarkable haul was on Rocky Point in early November, they caught over 50 tons of fish, 20 tons salable, balance foul.
In this haul they had over 10,000 pounds of stingrays some weighing up to 200 pounds. As stated earlier one of the crews fishing out of Palm City was a seine crew, Noah Parks, Captain Sam Young, A. C. MacCloud and Sam Martin the crew. Noah had an accident and hurt his knees badly so to fill his crew he asked the writer to take over and captain his rig. Going towards the inlet after clearing Rocky Point, a large school of mullet was spotted, preparations made for the half circle to enclose the school of fish. Two men were set overboard in knee-deep water, at that time our shorelines were about 50 yards, as soon as the crail or end staff dropped off the boat, these men began to pull for shore. Seining the school of mullet near the shore, the writer used only 2/3 of the net, which was a 500 yard seine and got criticized for not using all the net. Seining the thick school of mullet only a crazy man would have tried to use the entire net, when our boat came near shore we pulled net off to reach shore and tied it securely to a tree. As a strong flood was running, we hauled the end first put over, to keep the net in shape, then next to the end put over last, got same in shape, returned to the first put over end, by this time there were about 250 yards of net out, after pulling a few feet, the school of fish decided it was time for their turn, the fish massed, hit the net and pulled us four men into the river, seeing this, the writer went back and tied the cork line around a cabbage palm standing on the river bank, for a few minutes the crew gained, as this was a slack, a new onset by the mullet, we dug in our heels and it seemed were holding our own, then everyone sat down or fell on the other one behind, the terrific strain was over, we hauled the net in fast, formed about 20 feet of number-9-thread webbing gone between cork and let-line. Picking up we had a 40 dollar haul, but lost about 100.000 pounds of mullet. It was the same day the “Lillian” made her big haul.
About February 1897 Noah and his crew caught a bull sea cow, manatee that weighed a ton. There was demand for sea cow in our northern zoos. The boys put an inch cable around the narrow part in front of the broad tail and fastened the other end of the cable to a cabbage palm. Delivering their catch of fish they went to Juno, the county seat, for permission to sell the manatee, same was granted. Noah came to the writer and asked him if he could load this big bulk. Having studied this beforehand, he was assured, “yes.” As the sale was confirmed on a Sunday, Noah with the crew and the writer, with two large boats went to the scene of capture. The water at the end of the cable, where the manatee rested, was 4 1/2 feet. We sank the large bateaux which could carry 3000 pounds, slipped it under the sea cow, till same rested in the center and bailed the boat dry. For some reason the old bull did not like the planking under him, he rolled over to the side and upset the boat, anticipating some trouble the manatee had not been untied. Well, the same procedure had to be gone through again. The writer dispatched one of the crew to the camp to bring an additional boat. When this boat arrived a boat was lashed to each side holding the middle one with the bull safe. The buyer had a tank built at West Palm Beach, loaded on a flatcar and brought to north Stuart where the manatee was loaded over a ramp with help of block and tackle. About two weeks later one of the New York Sunday papers told how the brave buyer had captured the monster of the deep at peril of his life. Of course our manatees are very timid, the only danger lies in coming too close to the broad tail. In deep water, a blow with that tail will knock a man senseless.
In summer 1894, Cousin Henry Stypmann and the writer had rowed down to Sewall’s Point, while there about one hundred yards off shore, the rear of the row boat went up about 2 feet above water, throwing the writer, who handled the oars, backward, all his hair standing on end. Well Henry set in the back seat laughing, asking for an explanation, he told me that the s—— of the rowboat had hit a sleeping sea cow. I had the same pleasure in the summer of 1918, sailing up river in a light skiff the center board hit a sleeping sea cow knocking the boat about a foot out of the water. The old sea cow got scared and made for the deep. Manatee Creek and Manatee Pocket also called Scobee’s Pocket, seemed to be the favored spots for sea cows to come ashore on high tides and take their sun baths. As many as 7 have been seen there at one time, sunbathing.
During the summer they came up the river and were often seen in the North and South Forks. In the early days when game was plentiful, no one though of eating manatee, but around 1916 young manatees were butchered, pickled and smoked, the meat tasting like pork. In April 1897, C. D. Blakeslee and self decided to take up seining. Charles had ordered a 350 yard specified cotton net. When this net arrived, we went up to his homestead to tar and hang this net. Having given lots of thought to this new undertaking — this was the first seine hung in South Florida. — We hung our cork-line reasonably tight, the lead-line was pulled tight by two men and securely tied, making same 20 feet shorter than the cork line. In hanging the net, each cork and lead were tied separately. Captain John kept our hanging needles filed and Robert, better known as “Pete,” by his friends was the chef, conscientiously cooking three pots of Lima beans each day, the fourth day Pete struck as cook. Our first one-man strike in upper Dade. Pete by inclination and training was a horse trainer, also a good man with cattle. Pete trained trotting horses, owned a rig of his own and won many a race in Yankee land. From 1912 till 1918 he was a teamster and always had fine horses. He passed away in 1926, while this writer was North.
Coming to the fish house with our small seine, Uncle Ernest Stypmann, then part owner of the fish house said, “Once already that seine will never glut our marked.” The 350 yards of light twine 4-inch mesh on wings. Three and one half-inch bunt–looked a very small pile. We ran 100 yard end lines which gave us a 550 yard half-circle. After handling it a few days making paying catches, the two of us made 8 hauls a day. Three weeks after our first landing at the fish house we came in with 1200 pounds of large pompano and about 400 pounds of bottom fish. Well, Uncle Ernest scratched his beard. Ogletree said he’d take 600 pounds of pompano at 6 cents and ship 600 pounds or three barrels on commission, bottom fish 1 cent per pound. It seemed the little seine had glutted the market. Each barrel and packing the fish was $2.00. The commission 10 percent. About six days after our catch, Ogletree made the proposition to give us 6 cents per pound for the fish sent out on commission. Our attitude was that we take what the commission sale would bring, win or loose. These pompano had been sent to Washington D. C. and returned eighty bucks for the 3 barrels, $8.00 for commission and $6.00 for the 3 barrels ice and packing, left $64.00 for the fish. About 10 1/2 cents per pound. No wonder Ogletree wanted to take them at 6 cents. The pompano market became glutted that late spring. To keep on making grits we caught 500 pounds of pompano for M. R. Johns, who paid us $10.00 as we caught the fish in two hauls in less than 3 hours, we were making many.
By 1901 seining was in full swing. There were 3 fish house on the river. In February 1901, a big run of sheepshead had come up the river, the writer was fishing gill nets, Gus Griffin, was our helper, that night the gill nets picked up 50,000 pounds of sheepshead, our boat had 5000 pounds. Charles Blakeslee and hid dad caught 48,000 in their seine haul at Rocky Point. Russian Ed got over 90,000 pounds at Sewall’s Point. The sheepshead were so thick and massed, that a man could have walked on them for a long distance. The sheepsheads will fight a net for a short while, but not as savage and massed as mullet. Two days after these catches the market broke. You could not sell sheepshead for anything.
In 1904 we had three fish houses on the River, and 15 seines running, fishing North and South Fork our main bay, Hogg’s Cove, the sandsprit and the Indian River at Bessey’s Cove. Fishing was good. In February, March and April, big schools of blues came up river to spawn and feed. The seines made big catches of blues. Our first Palmer-powered launches turned out for trawling caught big catches with two lines running. One hundred pound per hour trolling catch was common that spring per boat with one man.
Fall 1902 instead of fishing, a garden was started. Beans, tomatoes, squash were planted on about three acres, located from the east side of the Stuart Department Store to the east end of the Pressel Building, including Osceola Avenue, to near the Post Office, also Seminole Street. As the strong northers were hurting the growth of plants we had to put up a 10 foot high wind brake, getting edgings for same from the Dupont and Middleton Sawmill on the north side of the River, location was South of the Wiley Garage, this mill cut 25,000 square feet each day. The first vegetables planting paid expenses and some profit. Our pineapples were making money and carpenter work during winter months helped out. Prospects were grand. Everyone here was making money. One met none but smiling faces. Our banner crop of 1908 promised great returns, till the F. E. C. turned loose their Cuban Fruit Express. The operation of same has been explained in a former article. Christmas Eve 1909 brought a slight freeze and February 1910 brought a white frost. The writer with John Michelis as a partner and Jack Spiers had farmed at Cane Slough fall 1909 till mid June 1910. The Christmas cold killed our beans, four acres between the three February white frosts killed another four acres. In March, Johns and self had 1 1/4 acre of fine Irish potatoes ready to dry when a heavy rainfall flooded same, loss about $500.00. The three of us had 5, more acres of potatoes on the west side of Big Cane Slough, but same so planted later were badly damaged by the flood and brought only a few bushel large enough to sell locally. That season’s farming will never be forgotten. The writer had never handled teams or plows. Jack and John did our plowing, the three of us had bought a good big horse, “Jim.” as they did the plowing. Well they wished a bull and three oxen on me to do the disking. Oh boy, what a life! The two yokes pulling the disks moved about 1 1/2 miles per hour. As a short handled 10-foot whip went along, it took a very short time to learn how to flick a small piece of hide from the oxen. The bull when whipped, would stop, and the three oxen had to haul the disk and the bull. No more whipping the bull, but speed went down to about 1 mile per hour. On a Saturday night coming to town, saw my friend Pete Blakeslee and asked his advise about the bull — how to accelerate his movements. Well Pete laughed, said believe it or not, but try it, takes a small piece of board put it under the bulls tail take a piece of wood about 2 inches wide 4 to 6 inches long, use the edge of same and scrape the bull’s tail, but be sure you are free of whatever the bull is hitched too. Will next Monday while disking with the ox and bull team, when the bull — he belonged to Hans Olsen –got lazy, the board and scraper was tried. I am glad that Pete had advised to stand clear, as after about four scrapes, the bull tried to run away with the disk and oxen. Only one more scrape treatment was given after that, banging the two pieces of wood was enough to convince the bull it was time to work. Well, the best this ox and bull team would do was one-half acre in 10 hours. Rental for the ox and bull team was 40 quarts of sweet feed per day, also the rounding up of same every morning as these cattle were turned loose to graze. Well on the 8th day the writer went on a strike. No more oxen or bulls– too pay for work returned. We hired Byron Ball’s “Nellie,” a large black mare and with our “Jim” had a fine span of houses, turned out 1 1/2 acres and better per day of well disked land. Growing that year was jinxed: freeze out, frost out, drown out — after the water had run off, John agreed to go in with two acres of tomatoes. Picking out a piece of good prairie land, the writer did his first plowing and turned up two acres in two days. Luckily, Will Crews, had a very large seed bed of tomatoes, ready to plant. Well, we planted our tomatoes in the damp soil and with plenty of fertilizer they grew rapidly and in early May plenty of fruit had set. There was hope that we might retrieve some of our losses. Well you know, “Hope is eternal,” as May sped into June, hope was lost, as we did not have a drop of rain till near the end of June. Our tomatoes were looking fine and had plenty of fruit, but on account of the drought were too small to ship. We sold plenty of tomatoes locally at 10 cents per basket, shipped about 10 crates North.
Our pineapple crop that year was very small, no prospects of any work. Well, when we went out to Cane Slough in early November 1909, we had no debts, some cash money. Coming back we owed the Trueman Fertilizer Company 457 bucks. The feed fill at Parks’ $100.00, our grocery bill nearly $200.00 and we had done seven months of hard work, hours from daylight to dark. As we sold our team, the feed bill was paid, the pineapple crop helped to pay for some of the groceries. Well, things did not look rosy. Talking things over with the boys here, seine fishing was thought of the sinecure.
Well in 1910 it was against the law to seine as matters were grave, the writer went to West Palm Beach, to ask for help from the County Commissioners while in session. The help asked was to allow seining. As the County Commissioners had not made the law, they could not set same aside. Well, Capt. Baker, our first sheriff of Palm Beach County, was tackled, he was told that matters were really desperate. It was a matter of robbing a bank or breaking the law seining. Old Capt. shook his head, “Curt, if you rob a bank, I will put you in the pen, if you seine, well if I don’t see you, I can’t catch you.” Well this oracle was good enough.
With the exception of about 10 elderly men every male went a-seining. John Michaelis and self got an 800 yard used seine weak in spots, a round bottom seine boat with a 5 horse power Palmer and a large bateaux. Seining method had advanced, using 200 yards of 3/8 end-lines on each end of the net, the net was hauled ashore by one man windlass power and about 200 yards of each side of the half circle was hauled in by windlass, balance of 400 yards was hauled in by hand. Six months of fishing paid up the farming debt my share about $600. In the summer of 1910, the river was full of pompano, one thousand pound per single haul occurred often. One day in August, while laying out, our seine got around a school of pompano over on the sandsprit in front of Rio, as we reeled the net to shore the cork line in about the center broke in two and the web tore half way down. We tied the net back together — when the haul was finished we had 853 pounds of pompano. How many got away? Who knows? In September John and self ordered a new net and new lines, our lead lines now were double lines, to avoid the rolling of the seine when hauled in. We tarred one net and hung it. As part of the net was hauled by hand the lead line in an eight hundred yard seine was at least 60 feet shorter than the cork-line, object to form a slack in the web to kind of pocket the fish when pulled ashore — later regular pockets were knit into the bunt. About October John decided to go to West Palm Beach leaving me to look for a new partner. Well, my good friend Bill Baker wanted to try, we fished for two weeks, made about $15.00 between us in that time, one day in the second week we caught an eight pound loggerhead turtle, Bill said, “There is some fine meat. Let’s kill it, when we get home.” Well we got home, sometime, in 1909, while horse trading, the legislature enacted a law, declaring it illegal to kill loggerheads, or have their meat in possession. Knowing the law and also knowing that Bill Baker was our Justice of Peace, Bill was told if his kids needed meat, he was elected to decapitate said Loggerhead. The writer was willing to do the butchering. Well, we ate turtle meat for supper. Bill quit on Saturday night. Pete Blakeslee who had just returned from the nutmeg state was elected to jump in. In our first haul next Monday night we caught about 3000 pounds of mutton fish, snooks and some pompano at total of $35.00. We had made the bill haul, and after making same steady each day took out over $1000.00 in 6 weeks time. Who was jinxed in Bill’s time?
Through the years all obstructions: logs, brush, tree trunks had been hauled ashore. The river bed was cleared, there were a few places up the North Fork and in Hogg’s Cove where the bottom was muck which would foul the lead-line and pull the seine under. These spots were avoided.
When we started seining in July 1910 we started fishing at night, on account of the “no seine law” which Capt. Baker’s dictum had eased considerably. One night, going up the South Fork to make a haul, we came close to the shore near the junction of the North and Sough Forks, someone was hauling a seine there. The Next day we learned that Capt. Hansen with Jack Spiers and Cleve had been nearly caught fishing, when they saw our boat they had taken to the Palmettos believing the law had come for them. Talk about poetic justice, about three weeks later, the same thing happened, only this time John and the writer who melted soundlessly into the saw palmettos, and Jack, Cleve and Hansen had the laugh. After an hour of hiding we came out finished our haul, most the fish got away, we sold about $3.00 worth that night. The opening of the St. Lucie Canal brought great changes. The roiled water ran out all self respecting fish, the silt covered the large feeding places, and the continued fresh water killed the mussels, clams and oysters. During the years it changed the depth of our river. The North and South had an average depth of about 14 feet, our main bay 16 feet and better — figures set up by the 1895 Geodetic Survey of our Government. All these bodies have shallowed more than 4 feet. Most of the clear sand bottom is gone, now filled over with silt and muck. Fishing methods changed in former years it took two boats, power and bateaux, two good men could make two hauls a day an eight hundred yard seine using elbow grease and hand windlass. Now a different style of net is used, hung in reverse to the old customs, the lead line being about 100 foot longer than the cork line. Each crew has two heaving engines, hauling shorelines and net in by power, a seine crew now used 4 boats. The silt bottom changed the method of hauling. In former years the lead line at all times was ahead of the cork line. Now the lead line, weighted down with about 4 times the amount of lead used in former years, drags many feet behind the cork line. This kind of fishing today seems to be all fun and no work.
Seining laws have been enacted several time in the past 40 years. Many theories have been advanced pro and con. The earliest theory advanced was that seining would catch up all the fish and there would be none left to catch. I twice overheard conversations, when a big seine catch was brought in, a gill-net crew said, “It was no use to set the net that night as the damn seiner had caught all the fish in the river.” Another a few days later where a tourist made nearly the same remark. What a nonsense, what folly!
If our river was a closed body of water without ingress or egress to sea, these remarks would have been well founded, but with an inlet at the mouth of our river and more inlets within 20 miles each way, such remarks are more than foolish. Most of our fish varieties are migrating. Our pompano during a part of the year go as far as Africa, coming in from the sea in small schools on the November quarter moon, followed in December and January. When coming in from the sea, they are lean and silver white in color, within four weeks their bellies show a slight golden hue and in three months the fat set only the rich river-fed pompano shows golden color in two-thirds of their body. Pompano feed on small white-shelled clams. Far back in their mouth they have a “kind of nutcracker” with which they crack the clam shell. By the beginning of June the Pompano show roe. By August they have finished spawning. Blues, mackerel, trout and sheephead go north. Mutton fish and snooks, just as the mullets, go and come, many of them stay the year around. The Jew fish–large kind of bass– seems native, same as flounders. Sailor’s choice used to come in large schools and were regular on the first North Easters in September each year. The Gaff-top sail cat migrates and comes back in January and February. Tarpon come up in June to spawn. The young tarpon stay up river and can be found there in considerable schools. All kinds of fish return from October till March to spawn in our shallows. Seining is bringing in considerable amounts of “new” money from out of State. Seines seem to deplete, but at the same time destroys, thousand of game fish that would have devoured near the amounts caught in years to come.
Before the war, fish was a staple food for the poor. Now it seems only rich people can eat fish. Two years ago a three pound flounder was brought home cost, cleaned and dressed, ninety-five cents. Well, well, we used to get three cents for a three pound flounder. Have not had anymore flounders at my house since.
Seining keeps the river bottom clean and free of snags and stranded trees. It helps to mix the spawn dropped by the different varieties of fish. You may know that when fish spawn they go into shallow waters drop their spawn and roil the sand and water, that the commotion will mix the white milky spawn with the yellow roe–fish eggs. The seines hauling over the spawning grounds again stir water and sand and help to fruition much of the spawn that laid there sterile. Of course the haul has to be made within a few hours after the spawning. Mullet and Jack fish could be heard for miles over the river in calm nights while spawning.
Our first outrage against seining was the custom of the seine crew to ‘bail” the foul fish ashore, in the very early days there were few homes on the river but with the influx of people, more and more homes were built along our shores. Well you have heard of tourists. Have you heard of tourist buzzards? I mean the bird. Well, from 1901, for years, there were thousands of buzzards on our and the Indian River. They came in November and left in April. Tons of foul fish were dumped ashore daily. After the seine law in 1909, the buzzards stopped coming. It was common sight to see 100 to 200 buzzards run along the shore in one flock. In September 1917, Russian Ed caught a school of sailor’s choice on the Indian River, sold 50,000 pounds and let more than 100,000 pounds rot there, creating a stench that stayed there for many weeks.
Some of our masons belonging to the Chapter and Commadery at Fort Pierce, used to make weekly runs via Dixie to For Pierce and were near choked traversing that stench zone on the Indian River. We voted seining out that year. The fault that seining has been voted out time and again lies with the fisherman. In the years long ago, it was the dumping of foul fish that raised opposition, later there was “greediness.” by using smaller and smaller mesh in their bunts and pockets.
When we started seining, we used four-inch mesh on wings and three and one-half inch mesh in center. Two pound blues, trout and large mullet would gill, or rather “jam” and were caught. One and a half-pound fish would easily go through the mesh, occasionally we had a one and one-half pound trout or blue, bundled up with other fish but these were exceptions. Today with the small mesh, trout, blues mackerel, mullet and other fish are caught that weigh less than one pound. A two pound fish spawns and reproduces, a one pound fish is not developed for spawning and when caught cannot reproduce. Continued practice of this will help to lower reproduction. A sensible seine law should be passed allowing 800 yard seines, prescribing four-inch mesh wings and the bunt of 150 yards to be three and one-half inch mesh. The web hung four inches and three and one-half inches to each two meshes. This would give half grown fish a chance to find its way through the mesh. Any net with smaller mesh should be confiscated for good, burned or destroyed by rock line, so later legal tricks could not restore such net to some mysterious owner.
Laws of protection for spawning fish should be set out for each species. Fish are spawning the year around when one species finished another starts, etc. These laws would protect the fishermen and assure him and posterity of plenty of fish. Catching pompano of under one pound (in bygone years they brought one cent per pound) a wise fisherman should return these small pompano to the river as the hauling ashore does little harm to them.
But with the seine law, restrictions should be more stringent about gill nets in the forbidden zone of the inlet. Up to 1901 there were no restrictions about fishing in the or near the Inlet. John Michaelis and self fished partner boats with Captain John Houston and his brother, making our circles just outside the mouth of the inlet. Later when the Houstons returned to Eau Galie we fished with Phil O’Brien, and old Bank fisherman from Glouchester, Massachusetts. We saw after 1901 many a net drift end ways out of the Inlets, forbidden waters, then as today. In the old time we used two sets of ten-foot oars. Now power boats capable of making 20 m. p. h. fish these waters, use their bright spotlights to dazzle the fish and catch them easier than the old-timer ever dreamed of. It is not a common practice to fish the forbidden zone, but believe it is fished. This new power method turns many a fish back into sea, that would have come into the river.
Many of the fish here have different methods to evade capture, mullet and pompano will jump the cork line. A trout, watching the encroachment of the net, will back off, get his underfins busy, fan a hole into the sand, stick his snout into the hole and let the lead-line slip over his head and body. We never made big trout catches in the old days. The good old snook will stick his snout into a mesh open his jaws, get his two razor blades, located in front of the gills, busy and cut himself out. A mullet will jump to a light. In the old days it was easy to catch a mess of mullet at night. A lantern sat on the thwart would do the trick, but you sure had to douse the light quickly, as there were more than enough mullet around to sink the boat.
Neither seine nor gill nets have diminished our food-fish supply. The disregard, legal or illegal, of catching fish during spawning periods will make our returning schools of fish ever smaller.
As stated, the different times, each species of food fish should be protected by stringent Federal laws. We had a state mullet law, trying to protect that fine food fish for about 15 days each year. (Who laughed?) Well, our fine Indian River mullet are few and far between, in the 1890s they came in schools of millions.
Seine and gill net fishermen and their dealers should ask for decent laws, including closed seasons of at least 4 weeks for all salt-water food-fish, to protect this great industry that has brought many millions to our state. Get together, there is no use of the pot calling the kettle black.
Like hard resin, stories of long-leaf pine and towering Florida forests are in me. Since my earliest days, I remember visiting my mother’s family and hearing tales around the dinner table:
“In the 1930s your Granddady and Uncle Gordy dove down to the bottom of the Swanee River, chained those sunken water-logged giant trees, pulled them out with mules, put them on a train to Gainesville, milled them, and built this house by hand. Virgin long-leaf pine that had been on the bottom of that river for 90 years became our home. This house is history.”
At the time, the stories were just part of a lifestyle I did not lead living “down” in Stuart, Florida with the Yankees. In Gainesville we ate boiled peanuts, okra, gigantic breakfasts of bacon, eggs, toast, and homemade jelly. In Stuart, I ate Lucky Charms.
Now that I am becoming an old-pine myself, the story of the long-lost, long-leaf pine is more interesting to me. And “lo and behold,” although public records show the famous long-leaf forest stopping just north of Lake Okeechobee, recently my mother and I learned that they were, indeed, further south, right here in what today is Martin County!
This observation is bases on a 1st hand account of 1910 by J.H. Vaughn in an Abstract of Title for Indiantown, Florida.
In the early days of our country, long-leaf pine forests covered approximately 90 million acres and stretched across the entire southeastern United States. These trees are documented to have stood from 80 to 175 feet tall and many were up to 400 years in age. Of course multiple animals were dependent on the forest for shelter and food and there were massive benefits to the watersheds. The cleanest waters in the world run off of forests. These amazing trees evolved to completely withstand forest fires, actually thriving in such conditions. Imagine if you would these remarkable trees of our Creator, cut to the ground with the same state of mind as today when mowing one’s lawn….By the 1920s only 3% of the forests remained.
So where were these trees in Martin County? Where do we fit into the incredible history of these magnificent conifers? J. H. Vaughn, a lumber man of the 1800s, negotiating a sale states in the abstract of title below:
“…there is an average of 2000 feet of Long Leaf Yellow Virgin pine per acre.. being on the eastern side of Lake Okeechobee…”.
(The Townships and Ranges listed are today’s Indiantown.)
I think it is incredible that we are part of the long-leaf pine odyssey. As today, the Nature Conservancy and people like M.C. Davies have dedicated their fortunes and lives to bringing back this magnificent species and the animal life that comes along with it. The situation is a lot like St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee restoration. It’s a generational goal done so that our stories and our lives are remembered, and not “long-lost.”
“Eden,” the name says it all. Wouldn’t it be cool to say you lived in Eden?
Today there is a historic sign, but there is no longer a town. In 1879 “Eden” was named by Captain Thomas E. Richards who decided this spot along the high ridge of the Indian River would be a good place to grow pineapples. According to historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, “Richards felt he had arrived in a tropical paradise, and named his new home Eden.”
In Sandra’s book, “Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River,” she talks about how today’s Jensen Beach evolved from both the historic communities of Eden and Jensen, but over time, while Jensen had room to grow, Eden faded, as it was hemmed in by the wet, fragile ecosystem of the savannas. This marshy savannas system once stretched along the lagoon for over a hundred miles, but today, the only remnant lies right behind the lost town of Eden, and to the north and south of close-by extending lands.
These rare lands known today as Savannas Preserve State Park, “encompass more than 5,400 acres and stretch more the ten miles from Jensen Beach to Ft Pierce containing the largest, most ecologically intact stretch of freshwater marsh in southeast Florida.” Remarkable!
If you haven’t ever seen it, I can promise, “Eden awaits you…”
This past weekend, my husband Ed and I put on our wet weather gear, and walked from Jensen Beach Blvd to “west of Eden. ” It is amazing to have this treasure right in our own backyards, a study in plant and animal life that “used to be.” ~A study in what we can bring back, if we want to…
In this historic postcard we see many things that today we often do not see: a well dressed man in a hat; women also with lavish hats and donning long dresses; tall grasses along the shoreline; and an extensive pine forest across the St Lucie River…
Martin County, like most of Florida was once a giant forest. Logging companies harvested much of the area starting in the mid 1800s. We can only really guess what it looked like, and only imagine what the world was like for the animals and native peoples that lived under its cover.
The famous Harshberger vegetation map of 1913 gives us an idea of what Martin County would have looked like, noting mostly pine forests, of Caribbean, sand and longleaf pine, but other plant communities near the St Lucie River would have included: beach; strand; tropical hammock; mangroves; low hammock; scrub; dry prairie; wet prairie; pine flat woods; swamp and marsh. The United States woodland density map of 1873 shows Florida to be one of the greenest areas of the continent having had the most trees. Wouldn’t that have been something to see!
We cannot return the forests, but we can choose what plants and trees to put in our yards. The business of landscaping has us in a cycle of turf, fertilizing, pesticides, and often bushes and trees that don’t really “go” here.
One way to help the St Lucie River is to take into our own hands what we plant in our yards. This can take time and that’s part of the fun of it. Creating a Florida Friendly yard using a mixture of native and Florida tolerant plants, less turf, requiring fewer chemicals and maintenance really does help. What if everyone did it?
When you drive across the bridge, or look across the river, or look at your yard, just for fun, ask yourself: “What would have been here, what would have been naturally beautiful, what would have attracted wildlife one hundred years ago?”….and then if you feel like it–recreate!
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 I am sharing a very moving and disturbing historic letter written in the days following the hurricane that killed thousands of migrant workers and pioneer farmers south of Lake Okeechobee on September 16th, 1928. It is not an easy letter to read; please be warned. I do not believe it has ever been shared publicly before…
So how did I come upon this remarkable letter?
In January of 2017 I made it my goal to learn more about the communities south and around Lake Okeechobee. At this time, after a discussion with my historian mother, I offered my services as a volunteer at the Laurence E. Will Museum of the Glades in Belle Glade. This made sense as my mother’s friend, and Stuart local, Linda Geary, had opened the museum. Thankfully, present Museum Director Dorothy Block accepted my offer.
For weeks I went through old files and later, myself and a young Pahokee student from Palm Beach Community College scanned hundreds of photographs of the 1928 Hurricane for archival purposes. This was quite the education.
After one of my “museum days,” while having dinner at my parents, my mother, noting my interests in the 1928 Hurricane subject gets up from the table saying: “I do think I have a letter written after the 1928 Hurricane. It was given to me by Iris Wall.” (Some of you know, Iris Wall is a legend of Indiantown and the state of Florida.)
When my mother brought the hand written letter down, I read it out loud at the table, struggling with some of the cursive handwriting of the era. In spite of not getting every word, at one point tears streamed down my face. To think of what Floridians lived through, and reading it first hand almost a century later really puts things in perspective. I have read and listened to many first hand accounts of the storm, but this may top them all…
Letter About the Aftermath of the 1928 Hurricane, transcribed by historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow. Letter was given to Sandra by Mrs Iris Wall of Indiantown in 2003.
We arrived here at four A.M. this morning and tried to sleep for an hour and a half then started to work. This is undoubtedly as bad a mess as I ever care to see. They are bringing in dead people all the time and they are swollen up about as big as cows and stink something awful. The old Dog Fennels are where they are lodged up. The water is about three feet over the farms and deeper in other places. The town is about two feet deep all over. Everything is ruined. Houses look like trash heaps—lot of them are scattered for a mile, just a piece here and there. Dead cows and hogs everywhere. The place smells like a corpse. It is awful but I am about used to smelling it now. Don’t know what I will do when I smell fresh air again. The water in the lake is awful on account of the dead things in it. They will not allow us to even bathe as all the water we get comes in on boats and is used to drink and cook with. We cannot even shave on account of the danger of cutting ourselves and getting it infected and we have to [be] looked over ever so often and any scratch doctored.
Awful does not describe it at all. I saw one man identify his father, mother, and brother and wife in a batch of bodies brought in. Now that was a pitiful sight. He had not closed his eyes since Friday looking and waiting for them and then to find them all downed and they were in awful shape. Hardly any clothes left on them, just rags. One man identified his fifth child this afternoon and his wife is still missing. One old man about eighty identified his wife this morning when they brought her in with hardly a rag on her, that was awful to see the old fellow. Some bodies come in with all the skin and hair gone and their eyes swollen until they have busted and their tongues sticking out and swollen larger than your hand and their faces all out of shape. One man brought in here looked as tho he would weigh about 250 pounds they said only weighed about 110.
They do not embalm them any more, just put them in a box and haul them to Cities Center and bury them. Two trucks have been busy now two days hauling bodies out to the solid ground and two hauling in coffins. I guess they built about 20 coffins out of rough lumber today and they have to wait for boxes –some bodies have to lay on the ground for several hours before they have any thing to put them in.
The State is sending in a bunch of antitoxin to inoculate us with tomorrow to prevent us from getting sick. I saw a paper today but they don’t describe it near as bad as it is.
The town is under Martial Law and they are sending people out of here as fast as they can get a means of getting them out. They have to get them out because there is no place for them to sleep and nothing for them to eat.
I took a second lieutenant in tow this afternoon. He was drunk and just raising sand and Chesterfield told him to quiet down and he was in for getting his gun and he was standing right in front of me. I grabbed his arm and got a “Hammer Lock” on him and believe me he hit the ground like a sack of sand and…I held my holt until a deputy took him over. That is the only fun I have had since I left Arcadia.
I am on guard duty now and have been on for eight straight hours. Got up at 5:30 and it is nearly two A. M. now. How is that for a day. All I have to do is sit here and see that there is no stealing. My orders are to stop them and if they did not stop use my own judgement. Things are pretty quiet so don’t guess I will have any trouble. Most of the people are gone and no one is allowed in here.
There are houses or rather what is left of them, with lily pads on top of them the water was so high. The people say that when the dykes broke the water came in a wall and a lot of people were drowned before they could get out of it. Cars are left in the road right where the water caught them. There is a steel coal care one mile from the track and two big Gul Ref. Co tanks about four miles from town where they were washed. The water just picked up about a mile of the railroad track and just turned it bottom upwards. Now that was some force. The embankment was not washed away either.
Well, Papa, it is time for my relief so will close and try to mail this tomorrow.
Love to you all
No need to write as no mail comes in and I will have to meet a train or find someone who will to mail this as the train does not come closer that 12 miles. DBJ
If we look into the mirror of history, we begin to see…
We begin to see how we destroyed one of the most famous and beloved inland fishing waters in North America and how we learned to do better. And if we are able, in time, not only to do better, but to return “health and glory” to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, it should be the tarpon, not the sailfish, that becomes our symbol, our king.
The first formal fishing club documented in Stuart was the 1916 St Lucie River Tarpon Club. The late 1800s and early 1900s were an era of great fame for the St Lucie River, build upon President Grover Cleveland and other presidents fishing trips to the area. Yes, the St Lucie was known as the “Fishing Grounds of Presidents.”
Ironically, at this same time, the Commercial Club, that evolved into today’s Chamber of Commerce, was promoting not just Stuart’s remarkable fishing, but also enthusiastically encouraging and awaiting the completion of the St Lucie Canal.
“Once the muddy water flowed into the St Lucie River, they began to realize that the canal was not the blessing they envisioned,” writes Sandra Henderson Thurlow. Historian Alice Luckhardt more directly notes, “at one time tarpon were often caught in the St. Lucie River, but “disappeared” from those waters soon after the opening of the canal system to Lake Okeechobee in 1923.”
Ingeniously, and with more insight, in the years following the loss of tarpon and other river fish as seen in the McCoy map above, the ocean-going sailfish was marketed to replace the tarpon and become “the most prized fish of all…” as well as in time the symbol for both the city and county governments.
The magnificent Silver King? Just a dying memory, or no memory at all…
By the mid 1930s the Chamber of Commerce began publishing the “Stuart Fishing Guide.” In 1941 the largest sailfish run in Florida’s history occurred off the St Lucie Inlet. Remarkable! More than 5000 sailfish were caught in a 90 day period. “Thousands were slaughtered only to be dumped in the river, carted off by garbage collectors, and used for shark bait.” Stuart as the Sailfish Capital of the world was affirmed, but as my mother states, if “Stuart’s fame was to endure, so was the need for conservation of the species.”
The idea for conservation/protecting the industry had been in the works, the Sailfish Club had been talking about it and a few sailfish were returned to the ocean…. But after the sailfish run of “41, the idea of an organized conservation effort was solidified, and Sailfish Club of ’31 updated their charter in “41 “to further and promote sports fishing and conservation in the waters of the City of Stuart and Martin County.” Visiting sportsmen were awarded and inspired to work for the most coveted bronze, silver, and gold lapel pins based on the size of the sail they caught and released, not killed.
This is a great story, but what of the tarpon?
I can see his giant, ancient, dorsal fin rising from the waters of a healthier St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. For me, no fish will ever compare. As we restore our rivers, it is he who shall be KING! 🙂
Advocacy has many faces, but none perhaps more powerful than a handwritten note or letter. Why? Because it takes effort; because it is thoughtful; and because it is old-fashioned, rare, and special. My mother taught me this…
In a world where furious Tweets and Facebook posts, or better yet, a Snapchat allows one to “live in the moment and then erase it,” we are surrounded by communication that holds impermanence. The hand written note leaves a lasting impression… especially in the “rough and tumble,” yet traditionally based world of politics.
Mind you, your note or letter need not be long; it must just be sincere.
I am asking you to please get out your stationery and write Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, and ask for support of House Bill 761 in matching format to updated Senate Bill 10. Right now this bill is being held; should finally be heard in committee soon; and of course, is certainly being negotiated with the Senate President Joe Negron.
Remember that Representative Corcoran is one of the authors of “Blueprint Florida” whose goal it to “leave a legacy for future generations and overcome the corruption and influence of special interests”. I wrote about this the day before yesterday.
Over the past hundred years, agricultural special interests, with little or no thought of the long-term consequences, have absolutely decimated one of the greatest wetlands of the world and thus its wildlife… our Florida Everglades.
House Bill 761 and Senate Bill 10’s goal of reducing the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, Caloosahatchee, and sending clean water south to Florida Bay and the Everglades is a legacy not only of a lifetime but, for a millennium.
Please write Speaker Corcoran today and ask for support:
Today I am sharing two creations of my brother, Todd Thurlow. Entitled “Ft Lauderdale House of Refuge/Life Saving Station,” and “Short Version,”they were originally for my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Timothy Dring’s “Image of America, U.S. Life Savings Service” book presentation at the Elliott Museum.
For me, Todd’s videos are mind-boggling as they bear witness to how much and how fast we humans can change the environment. Like an army of ants, we organize; we build; we destroy; we create…
By comparing and contrasting Google Earth maps of today with historic maps from 1883, 1887, and 1935, Todd’s “time capsule flight,” takes us through time and space to see the shifting sands of the multiple New River Inlets; Lake Mabel that morphed into Port Everglades; remnants of the forgotten Middle River that spread and contracted into new canals and developments; and of course, for mom, House of Refuge #4, that once rested north of a New River Inlet that today we can see is completely filled in, while beach-goers relax in reclining chairs like nothing ever happened!
Maybe one day we humans can use all this energy and ability to really fix our waters that have been destroyed during all this construction? Wouldn’t that be a dramatic video?
In closing, in the early 1900s, the New River… that was believed by the Seminoles to once be an underground river that collapsed and the Great Spirit revealed during an earthquake… was selected by modern-day humans as the “natural channel” to connect two of the largest drainage canals from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Coast, the North New River/South New River, and the Miami.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I completed a book entitled “Okeechobee Hurricane,” by Lawrence E. Will. The book contains old photographs and provides eyewitness accounts of the great storms of both 1926 and 1928. As we have leaned somewhere between 1500 and 3000 people were killed in the 1928 storm alone. A majority are buried in a mass grave that created a graveyard here in Martin County, at Port Mayaca. There were many farming families, but most of the dead were black migrant workers who had no warning of the storm. Mr. Will relays the horrific stories of these pioneer farming families surviving from Kreamer Island, Torry Islands, Chosen, Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay, Bean City, Sebring Farm, Ritta, and Okeechobee.
Pahokee does not have its own chapter but is included in Lawrence Will’s rebuttal of a Palm Beach Times article entitled “The Lost Settlement of Pelican Bay, “a settlement lying between Pahokee and Belle Glade where it had been reported 400 people “must be dead, and 250 of them are now unreachable…”among other things, Mr Will argues that many floated in from miles away and were not from the ‘Pelican Bay’ sugar company camp…
I have to say, although I learned a ton, I am glad I am finished with the book. It was difficult to read so many stories of death. That no one has made a full length feature film of this surprises me: the breaking of the state dike; 7-11 foot rising waters; people fearfully clinging to rooftops with children in hand in 150 mile an hour winds; falling over and gasping for breath while trees and houses floated by or pushed one under. Hair caught in the gates of the locks…More than once, Will refers to the breaking of the dike causing a “tidal wave” coming all at once and travelling from Chosen outward to Belle Glade, like a tsunami.
On page 35 he writes:
“The levee, extending along the southern and part way up the eastern shores of the lake, had been constructed between 1923 and 1925 and had been rebuilt where damaged in the blow of 1926. The dike was built to prevent farm lands from being flooded by high lake levels, it was never intended as a protection from hurricanes. Had there been no levee to pile up the water, there would have been no loss of life in either the hurricane on 1926 or 1928. On the other hand, without the protection against flooding of crops it is extremely doubtful that the Glades could have attained its high state of productivity.”
When looking through old ones you can find clues to Martin County’s historical ties with The Glades. Finding things in common is important as we work to improve relations, communications, and our waters.
My mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, came across this ad, when looking in a 1921 Stuart City Directory. She writes: “The McCoy Brothers became rum-runners and owned what is now Sailfish Point. What is interesting to me is that in the 1920s, they were taking passengers and freight across the state through Lake Okeechobee via the West Palm Beach Canal.”
As we are learning from our Road Trip series, the West Palm Beach Canal was built in 1917 and intersects with Lake Okeechobee at Canal Point. What we might not know is that the McCoy’s Hutchinson Island land then known as “Coral Strand” became today’s Sailfish Point.
The brothers knew and loved the St Lucie Inlet area well enough to buy this land and establish their business there. The “Everglades Line” was probably one of many. Perhaps the brothers drank ice tea on their way from Sailfish Point down the Indian River Lagoon to Lake Worth’s entrance to the West Palm Beach Canal and through Lake Okeechobee? Although they were famous rum-runners, the most well-known brother, Bill, did not drink!
His obituary notes:
William Frederick McCoy (1877 – December 30, 1948): Bill McCoy was an American sea-captain and rum runner smuggler during the Prohibition in the United States. In running alcohol from the Bahamas to the Eastern Seaboard, he became world-famous as his merchandise was uncut and clean. Thus the saying the “Real McCoy.” McCoy himself never touched liquor and was considered an “honest law-breaker.” He also took pride in the fact that he never paid organized crime, politicians, or law enforcement for protection.
I think we can consider Bill McCoy a Glades/Martin County honest law-breaker common ancestor. “The Real McCoy” a symbol and foundation for building better relations from the Coast to the Glades?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better place to start. 🙂
I like to believe that I receive messages from Nature. You know, like Florida’s Native Americans did? They paid attention to their natural environment. They were an extension of it. This helped them survive and adapt, giving them an edge when it came to Mother Nature and Humankind’s periodic wrath.
I remember reading a chapter in Patrick Smith’s “A Land Remembered;” it only dawned on the pioneers that a hurricane was coming when they noticed the Indians moving to higher ground.
I feel that this week, I too, was given a sign.
Last week, on August 20th, the first day of “early voting,” I visited my parents at my childhood home in beautiful Sewall’s Point. My mom, being mom, recommended I go outside and lie under her favorite ancient oak tree and just soak in the beauty of it all.
She knew I had been stressed lately running my campaign for the river and for Martin County’s quality of life.
She handed me a banana and I went outside on the deck under our giant oak tree.
—The deck of all the family outings, the deck that used to be a swimming pool before my mother filled it in, the deck of running grandchildren, the deck of Thanksgiving and of Easter. The deck of memories.
It was a gorgeous day so I took some pictures and rested in a reclining chair right under the amazing tree. It’s branches reached the ground enclosing me an a giant embrace. Sunlight danced from leaf to leaf and reflected in the wings of dragonflies. Woodpeckers and squirrels darted from branch to branch tending to their babies. I noticed how the old tree was intertwined with numerous equally old stick-like cabbage palms. I thought about how many had walked under the oak’s branches: the Native People, the Pirates, the Spanish, the Pioneers –different animals–and now me.
How long had it been alive? Maybe 250 years?
Seven days later, I received a text from my sister, Jenny, who lives next door to my parents. “I have some bad news. Mom and Dad’s giant oak tree split in half….everyone is OK, but the back yard is a mess. One side is still standing.”
So the following day I went to look at the damage. It was dramatic but it looked so strong we thought the other half might endure. An arborist said it was possible.
And then, on August 31st, the day after losing the election, its remains came crashing down…
Yesterday, I visited walking around taking pictures.
No one was home. Just me and the tree. The tree I watched grow from my bedroom window and saw reflected in the mirror every time I assessed myself. I was assessing myself now, but there was no reflection.
I moved about with care and disbelief. Finally, not knowing what else to do, I put my hand on the tree’s gigantic fallen limb. No birds chirped. No crickets called. All I could muster to say was “thank you.”
I walked away, saddened and empty.
Then it dawned on me, I’d missed something. A message. I turned around; I looked over the pile of destruction. And then I saw it, green and full of life, the resurrection fern.
I moved against the tree’s wet branches: “Yes, I said….”Through water, we are reborn.”