Today I share yet another remarkable historic article from my mother Sandra Thurlow’s archives. This time from the Miami Herald, 1923. The significance of this article, that I have transcribed and broken down into two parts, is that it tells the story of Palm City, Florida, as part of the “Empire of the Everglades;” this a past of Palm City that most of us don’t know.
Indeed, Palm City was founded partially as Palm City Farms and even had its own drainage district. We have altered the land so we can be productive and live here, and today, and in the future, we try the best we can to put some of the water back on the land to clean it and bring all back to health. Also this article is shared as 2024 is the official 100 year anniversary of the St Lucie Canal.
“Empire of the Everglades,” Miami Herald, 1923, Part 1 as transcribed by JTL
“The Great Prairie of Florida”
Palm City Drainage District Lets Contract for Additional Ditches
Will Expend $100,000 Supplementing the Original Drainage Plan; 900 Acres of Citrus Trees Growing In the Reclaimed Area; C.C. Chillilngworth Is the Developer.
By William Stuart Hill
Back of Stuart, in the Palm Beach county, lies Palm City, then Palm City Farms and the Palm City Drainage District, the latter extending almost to the St. Lucie canal and containing 14,300 acres of land and prairie.
Palm City is situate on the shore of the south fork of the St. Lucie river, and its inhabitants have access to the other bank by means of the Palm City bridge, and to Stuart two miles away, by means of a hard surface road. Another road, to the south, connects with the Dixie highway at a considerable distance below Stuart.
The Palm City drainage district was formed recently to supplement the work of drainage begun and achieved by the Palm Beach County Land company, original owner and developer of the Palm City Farms, C.C. Chillingworth, attorney, of West Palm Beach, is owner of the Palm Beach County Farms company and retains about 5000 acres of the original 10,000 acre tract. The remainder has been sold to settlers.
There are 28 citrus groves in Palm City Farms, comprising 900 acres. The largest of these, the grove owned by the Niagara Fruit company, contains 160 acres, and is said to be the largest citrus grove on the east coast of Florida. There are also considerable plantings of avocados and one guava grove in the drainage district, which takes in 6,200 acres not in the Palm Beach Farms.
The land within the drainage district is well adapted to citrus culture and has the double advantage of easy drainage and easier irrigation. The highest elevation in the district is 27 feet above sea level. Artesian water may be had, with flowing wells at a depth of approximately 600 feet.
During the years between 1912 and 1916, the land company spent $102,000 in the digging of drainage ditches and the construction of the roads within its 10,000-acre tract. Three main outlets were provided, one through Danforth creek, another through Bessey’s creek, and a third large ditch, emptying into the south fork of the St Lucie river near the outlet of the big St. Lucie Everglades drainage or control canal.
-Indian River Lagoon & St Luice River meet to flow into the Atlantic Ocean as seen over the savannas. Nettles Island , a landmark, juts into the IRL (upper left.) Note peninsula of Sewall’s Point and St Lucie Inlet. Aerial photograph by Ed Lippisch, 9/11/22, 6:15pm.Recently, I have been asking Ed to get a “different view” while flying-something other than the location between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island near the St Lucie Inlet. That area is the heart of the matter when documenting seagrass recovery or destructive discharges from Lake Okeechobee. However, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon includes much more than that. The undeveloped savannas region seen above is quite striking.
Here Ed looks south over the savannas, now Savannas Preserve State Park, an area west of the railroad tracks stretching ten miles between Jensen Beach and Fort Pierce.
As my mother, author Sandra Thurlow writes in her book, Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River, …”ours is not a savanna at all. A true savanna is grassland with scattered, small drought resistant trees. Many eons ago the Jensen Savannas was a lagoon like the Indian River. Now the ancient lagoon is a region of lakes, marsh and pine flatwoods. When polar icecaps formed, bringing Florida out of the sea, tides and winds shaped a primary dune along the east coast of the peninsula. The shallow waters in the wetlands behind the dune were brackish. The ocean levels continued to drop and sand bars just off the coast were exposed, forming Hutchinson Island. What had been the primary dune became the Atlantic Coastal Ridge.”
She goes on to explain that prior to modern times the savannas’ ecosystem was almost 200 miles long, but due to development along the Indian River Lagoon the region has been reduced to just ten ecologically intact miles.
Areas such as these “savannas” are critical to the health of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and an inspiration for more comprehensive protection in the future.
“My husband Fred van Vonno worked as a Planner (GS-11) from June 1978 until 1982 for the Department of Interior, National Park Service, Regional Office, Atlanta Ga. His work involved assessing the “recreational potential of rivers and trails”. My husband was the Study Coordinator for the Loxahatchee and Myakka Wild and Scenic River studies”. -Nicki van Vonno
These news articles saved by Fred van Vonno, now loving shared by his wife Nicki, are now available for all. I learned so much reading through them and most are not available on line. Now they are! May we continue to study our past so that we may work towards the best future our beloved Loxahatchee River!
SLIDES RELATING TO THE LOXAHATCHEE RIVER (also see Lessons 4, 5, and 6 above)
Removed from a slide carousel used by Fred van Vonno who was a Planner (GS-11) from June 1978 until 1982 for the Department of Interior National Park Service, Regional Office in Atlanta, Ga. His work involved assessing the “recreational potential of rivers and trails.” The slides were used for presentations when van Vanno was the Study Coordinator for the Loxahatchee and Myakka Wild and Scenic River studies. It is a good idea to make sure these photographs are documented as many are more than 40 years old. I would think they would have been taken around 1980. ~Sandra Henderson Thurlow
The purpose of this post is to continue to share the slides of the late Fred van Vonno. I presented charts and aerials yesterday in Loxahatchee Lesson 4. Tomorrow, or later today, I will add structures and people. Today we share my favorite, Loxahatchee Flora and Fauna as well as River Scenes. If you recognize anything interesting let us know! My mother noticed what appears to be old world climbing fern slide #7. A terrible invasive plant that costs millions of dollars for the State of Florida to manage.
Thank you to my mother for archiving these photos that were once slides in Mr van Vonno’s 1980s slide shows. Thank you to our friend, Nicki van Vonno for sharing her husband’s work.
SLIDES RELATING TO THE LOXAHATCHEE RIVER
Removed from a slide carousel used by Fred van Vonno who was a Planner (GS-11) from June 1978 until 1982 for the Department of Interior National Park Service, Regional Office in Atlanta, Ga. His work involved assessing the “recreational potential of rivers and trails.” The slides were used for presentations when van Vanno was the Study Coordinator for the Loxahatchee and Myakka Wild and Scenic River studies. It is a good idea to make sure these photographs are documented because some of the photos are more than 40 years old. I would think they would have been taken around 1980.
Stuart, St Lucie River, Sewall’s Point, Indian River Lagoon, and Hutchinson Island, Atlantic Ocean, Martin County, Florida 1971
“I have enjoyed looking at this aerial taken in 1971. Too bad our little house on Edgewood is out of the photo. It shows the location of the future Monterey Road through the Krueger property. The Krueger building to house Merrill Lynch has not been built yet but you can see the little surgery center was already built. I think I can see Mimi and Grampy Tom’s house in Snug Harbor–at least the driveway. So many things yet to be built.” Mom
My mom, local historian, Sandra Thurlow, recently shared this aerial with my brother, sister and me as we grew up here in Martin County. It’s a really great photograph capturing a growing community. Look how Hutchinson Island, Sewall’s Point, and even parts of East Ocean were undeveloped. No Indian River Plantation, later renamed “Marriott Hutchinson Island.” No Cedar Point Plaza. No Benihana! White sands shine through the remaining forest denoting scrub habit, home to threatened and endangered scrub jays and gopher turtles. This sand pine scrub habitat that made up most of Florida’s east coast is now considered one of the most endangered habitats in the world. The East Ocean Mall on the right sits next to a flower farm. At this time flower farms were giving way to roads and development. Already, the freshwater ponds have been directed and drained, and obviously thousands of sand pines have been mowed down for condos, houses, farms, roads, and shopping centers. By 1971 this area was fully on its way to build-out as we see below in 2020. Nonetheless, from air and ground this area of Martin County stands out as one of the most beautiful.
But it would be fun to bring back some of the scrub habitat ~easy to do by just altering our yards. How things could change…
See the house in the distance in the above photograph? It was the Olds’ homestead that I mentioned in my previous post about Hutchinson Island. I had thought when I read about and discussed a property dispute between the Olds and the U.S. Government -that built the House of Refuge- that the Olds’ property was built first, as they were making a claim against the building of the House of Refuge-saying that they owned the land it was built upon. But that was incorrect; the House of Refuge was built first, but built on land that mistakenly later was homesteaded to the Olds. Confusing!
In thinking about this story the above photograph helpful because it shows part of the long strip of land that was homesteaded to the Olds as well as the proximity of House of Refuge -apparently built about in the middle of what became the Old’s very long parcel of land. The survey and documents below will help us unravel all this and why in the end, the Olds had to get an easement to access their own property with the Gilbert Bar’s House of Refuge like an island in between.
To clarify the dates that I got confused about in my previous post, the Olds’ homestead was formally granted by the U.S. government in 1894 (as you can see below) and they built shortly thereafter. My reference to 1862 comes from the date of the Homestead Act itself. The House of Refuge was built in 1876. In spite of the dates, or the paper issuing of the homestead, somehow the Hutchison Island property was deeded to the Olds even after the the House of Refuge was built on it. (See History of Martin County below.) The House of Refuge was the first house built in today’s Martin County, but there is more to the story than just “being first.” Next time you visit this wonderful place, remember that even in the 1800s things could get very mixed up.
“The Olds homestead shows well on this map.” Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
Email exchange after my prior blog post:
Mom : “Jacqui, The Homestead Act of 1862 was what provided for Hiram Olds homestead claim of 1894. It is strange that he homesteaded after the House of Refuge was already standing but it happened. It was an error that it was granted and the government had to make amends later. The House of Refuge was the first build we know of in this area.”
Jacqui: “So the Olds house wasn’t built first? Shouldn’t I still mention 1862, the first year of the U. S. Homestead Act?
Mom: “I don’t think 1862 should even be mentioned. It throws people off because it is a date when the country first was open to homesteading. Our first homestead was no earlier than 1883.”
Jacqui:” It seems to me, if they had rights to the land they must have gotten those rights prior to 1894 or there would not have been a conflict with the US Govt. regarding their construction of the House of Refuge in 1876. Right? It was granted afterwards? Strange. I’ll figure something out.”
Below: Explantation from page 52, The History of Martin County, Historical Society of Martin County, Florida.
Looking south in the direction of today’s St Lucie Inlet. Former home of Hiram and Hattie Olds, 1907, Hutchinson Island, in what became Martin County, Fl. Courtesy Agnes Tietig Parlin, achieves Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Deanna Wintercorn “Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History.”
The more I learn about water, the more I want to know about the land. Inexorably connected – as the lands change, so do the surrounding waters.
Don’t you love this above photograph?
The lone high-house rising through thick vegetation reminds us of what the beach-scape of today’s Hutchinson Island, Martin County, Florida, used to look like. Cradled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon, the home belonged to Hiram E. and Hattie Olds who made application for homestead with the United States Government in the early Florida year of 1862. The photo above spotlights the natural beauty and native vegetation; it was taken in 1907 – forty-five years after the original homestead. With almost a half century passed, like a protective cape over the sandy dunes, the Indian River Lagoon/Hutchinson Island vegetation remained in tact. What an incredible and rare photograph! It almost feels like Africa or some far-off exotic place.
There must have been so many hiding places for birds and other wildlife. Rain percolating through sandy soils to ocean and estuary. Only a shadow of this vegetation remains today, although Hutchinson Island remains a beautiful place.
This second photograph reveals the same house in the distance, the Olds’ homestead, granted in 1862-but structure built ca. 1894 -that later became the Yacht Club. From this perspective we are now looking south from the House of Refuge -built in 1876. It is clear from this Thurlow Archives photograph that theGeorges Valentine shipwreck had recently occurred thus this photograph must have been taken around October 16, 1904 – the fateful night of the ship’s destruction. Again, look at the thick high curve of vegetation along the western edge of the Indian River Lagoon. Fabulous!
With these 1904 and 1907 photographs we can, for a moment, go back and imagine what Hutchinson Island looked like. It was not just an Anastasia rocked shoreline, but a Beach-Jungle! A jungle that protected wildlife and waters of our precious Indian River Lagoon.
In our next blog post, we shall learn how the Olds homestead and the House of Refuge were “connected,” not just via fantastic vegetation, rocks, and dune lines, but also through claims of property rights to the United States Government.
Today I share a humorous column by our beloved local hero and inspiration, Ernest Lyons, The piece is about “wishing for something.” For years, my mother, local historian Sandra Thurlow, has shared old columns from her transcribed works of Mr. Lyons’ writings about the old days along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. With patience and love, mom types out these old columns buried in the micro-fiche chambers of our local library so we can enjoy them today. Here is a new one she found. Timeless, funny, and classic Ernie, enjoy!
If you want anything intensely enough, somehow you will get it, but that’s no guarantee it will be good for you.
The high voltage of your desire produces the results. Weak wishers get nowhere. Back when I used to enjoy catching plain, ordinary fresh fish, Chuck Schilling called up one Saturday morning and said that he was bringing Jason Lucas to my home that evening “so you can get acquainted. You know about Jason of course.”
“Oh, Sure,” I said. “He’s on the staff of Sports Afield Greatest authorities on black bass in the United States probably the world. Catches them in those big western impoundments. Catches them in Minnesota when it’s freezing and no one else can. I have his book. Love to meet him.”
But in truth, I was seized with an awful wish. I suddenly desired to catch a bigger black bass than ever before in my life‒maybe not bigger than Jason had, but one that would give him a run for his money. While I was running around getting my tackle ready, my wife noticed the gleam in my eye. “You’re wishing again,” she accused. A high-powered wish can no more be hidden than the evil eye. “And whatever it is,” she said sadly, “it’s not going to do what you think it will.”
I brushed her aside. My desire pulled me with the intensity of a laser beam to a little backwoods pond covered with bonnets. I paddled out in a tiny bateau only seven feet long and two feet wide, the sort in which you have to part your hair in the middle to keep it from capsizing. Unerringly, I pushed my way to the edge of the only clear hole in the mass of vegetation.
I sat quietly for five minutes by the edge of that hole, which was not much larger than a dining room table, knowing that it held the big bass I was going to catch. It would be impossible of course to check the run of a large fish once it started off through that maze of bonnet stems. What’s impossible? I took one cast the surface of the hole welled up in a tremendous strike and I struck back. The giant bass leaped in air two feet from the bateau and I grabbed it by the jaw in mid-leap.
I sat on it all the way back to shore. A monster bass over 12 pounds not under 14, (I never weigh my bass) just exactly what I wished for. While we were sitting in the living room that evening, I artfully led the conversation around to how small bass would occasionally strike plugs. Jason Lucas agreed. “Why just today,” I said, “a little old minnow-sized bass hit my plug and gill-hooked itself so deeply that there was no use releasing it. I brought it in to show you.”
I went to the icebox, walked back into the parlor and held that giant fish under my guest’s nose. Did you ever in your whole life,” I asked, “see a smaller bass than this hit a plug?”
Well, I made my point all right but my wife remarked later that she didn’t think I had made a hit with Mister Lucas.
“But it proves,” I said, “that if you want something bad enough you can get it. Like if you were stranded on a desert island and you really, really wanted some ice cream, a yacht would come along, rescue you and the first thing you would get would be a big heaping dish of ice cream.”
“And, it would probably make your teeth ache,” she said. “As long as you’re wishing, why don’t you wish for something important, like a beautiful home on the river, a big bank account or an income for life?”
“Because it won’t work if you’re selfish” I replied. “It has to be something of peculiar value only to yourself.” She said she couldn’t see any difference but I can. I wish real hard for two early editions of Jonathan Dickenson’s Journal. Within a week, two sixth editions showed up printed in archaic English around 150 years ago. Then I wished real hard for some Cape of Good Hope triangles for my British Colonial collection. A dealer in London wrote that he was liquidating a philatelic estate and sent me a dozen for practically nothing.
My horizons widened, I announced that I deeply desired a fossilized fish. “Of all things,” said my wife. “And why would you want a fossilized fish. What earthly good would it be? I replied that the important thing was wanting it, that I was wanting it harder and harder every day and pretty soon it would appear.
It did. All wrapped up neatly in a package from the Collector’s Shop of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, a gift from a special friend of mine up there. There was a little note. It went two live million years old was the best I could do. Thanks, Beano, you don’t know what this means to me.
My Fossil fish is from the Green River Shales of Wyoming. Its silvery body fluttered down in a long-vanished sea mid-way in the Oligocene Epoch. Its bones are delicately imprinted eons before the appearance of primitive man on earth. Nature’s tip-off to Gruenberg.
Someday, some fisherman is going to come into the office bragging about his catch and I am going to ask slyly, “But how old was your fish?” I can’t help it, I’ve got to do it. I’ve resisted so far but one of these days, I will completely, absolutely floor whoever it is. Else what use is there in having the oldest fish in town?
The creative seed for this blog post dates back to 2011. On November 1st in 2011, my mother forwarded Bill Lyons, son of famed Stuart News conservationist and newspaperman, Ernest Lyons, an email that had been sent to me by Mrs. Sheri Anker of the St Lucie County Conservation Alliance. Sheri had come up with an idea to erect a series of signs throughout the St Lucie River highlighting the favorite spots that “Ernie” so passionately and lovingly wrote about throughout his career.
The following essay is Ernie’s son Bill’s response to my mother’s inquiry for guidance on creating a historic Ernie Lyons’ St Lucie River tour, as Sheri envisioned: “Travels with Ernie on his Rio de Luz.”
Bill’s reply was insightful, poetic, and bittersweet. Bill updated the piece in 2014 -after reading about the St Lucie’s “Lost Summer” of 2013, the tipping point causing a tsunami river movement resurgence that even from the grave, through republished essays in the Stuart News, was inspired by the spirit of Ernie Lyons. Recently my mother rediscovered Bill’s essay in her files and now seems like a good time to rethink the sign idea.
It is my wish that after we read Bill’s tribute to his father, we follow through on Sheri’s idea for signage along the St Lucie River. Indeed, it is difficult to mark what is “favorite” when you love it all, but one thing is certain, we must ensure that our beloved river and the spirit of Mr. Ernest Lyons continues so that “progress” in the future won’t mean a bulldozer.
Favorite Places on the River, by Bill Lyons
Ernest Lyons, my father, first came to Stuart, Florida in 1913 and lived there for most of his life. He worked at the Stuart News for 40-some years, retiring as editor in 1975. Dad loved to fish and above all he loved the St. Lucie River, an affection evident in his writings. A few years ago an admirer of that writing suggested erecting signage at Dad’s favorite places on the River. This is my response.
Dad’s favorite places changed with the moods of the River. For instance, I’m fairly sure North Fork Bay wasn’t his favorite place the day he couldn’t find shelter there from what he called a Blue Norther. He had gathered my mother, my sister and me in his boat and set off up the River to look at a piece of land. It rained and blew all the way up the River, abated for a while as he walked over the property, and then poured buckets all the way back to Stuart. Dad never owned a boat with a cabin or a cover, and I don’t recall that Mother ever got into one of his boats again.
Dad really did love the North Fork, though. Willard Kiplinger commissioned Florida artist Beanie Backus to do a painting for Dad – “Just contact Beanie and tell him what you want” — so Dad requested a view from the shore where the narrow North Fork opens out into North Fork Bay. Beanie took a boat out there, sketched the scene, and the finished painting hangs in our home today. Many times in the nineteen forties and early fifties, Dad drove us to Burt Pruitt’s Fish Camp, rented a skiff, and motored down to where two branches of the North Fork converge. The River then was alive with fish and birds and alligators, but by the late fifties, it was gone. Drainage from the Rim Ditch Canal (C-24) did so much damage to that part of the River that it lost its sparkle. I don’t think Dad ever went back to the North Fork; after that, he just lived with the memories.
When Dad wrote about festoons of asters along the banks and sprays of orchids hanging from oaks over the River, he was thinking of the South Fork in summer. He took me there many times and we caught lots of fish, but the magical memories are of the flowers and of the tarpon and manatees that came rolling by while we sat quietly watching. During summer, sheet-flow from the Allapattah Flats converged in tiny rivulets into a deep pool with a sand bottom, the first of a series of pools connected by shallow streams of clear water that formed the headwaters of the South Fork. Dad loved that place, not just for its beauty but for its solitude. It could only be reached by Jeep during the wet season, so we hitched rides with the local game warden, who would drop us off and return for us later. Clyde Butcher’s photos of the upper Loxahatchee River are the nearest thing I’ve seen to what once was the upper South Fork. Then in the fifties, construction of the Florida Turnpike cut off the flow of freshwater to the River. Soon saltwater intrusion crept up the South Fork, impeding the spawning of its fish, and the River began to die. In 1962, a friend and I drove to the former site of the headwaters. The area had been bulldozed and the pool had become a cattle watering hole.
Dad loved many places on the River. Some nights he would drive over to Lighthouse Point (the one with the restaurant on US 1, not the development). He took a lantern, a single-tined spear, and a croaker sack and went wading for flounders. He knew just where they would be, hanging at the edge of the bar waiting for unwary fish and shrimp to wash by. A few hours later he would come home, dump a bag of flounders into the kitchen sink, and start cleaning them. Then the mud from Lake Okeechobee washed down the River and the flounders went away.
Dad loved the widest part of the River, where vast schools of mullet gathered along the north shore. Tarpon and snook, seatrout and jack crevalle would attack the mullet and drive them grey-hounding in waves across the River, often all the way to the shores of Stuart. Interactions between Plains wolves and bison were no more dramatic. Much of the action happened at night as we lay in our beds, listening to the mullet thundering across the River. When hurricane season approached, immense schools of fingerling mullet moved down the River, sometimes taking several days to pass Stuart. They too ran the gauntlet of snook and jacks, and residents flocked to the shore to fish. Who then could not love the River, unless he were a mullet?
In my early years, Dad loved the lower St. Lucie around Hell Gate, that part of the River that separates lower Sewall’s Point from Port Sewall. Again, it was the fishing that brought him there. When winter storms blew, he could find shelter in the lee of Sewall’s Point, and that’s where he would be, trolling for bluefish or bottom-fishing for weakfish. After the months-long runoff from the ’47 and ’49 hurricanes, though, the fish did not return.
Where the River rounds Sewall’s Point it meets the Indian River Lagoon and together their waters flow over large seagrass beds on their way to St. Lucie Inlet. Dad loved casting for large seatrout on the grass flats, and it was there that he and I were fishing in Dale Hipson’s iconic photo that graces one of Dad’s books.
And of course he loved the inlet, where the River meets the sea. Dad was enchanted by the place he called the Sun Parlor, the channel that hooked north around Sailfish Point and spread out to feed the adjacent grass-beds. Ancient black and red mangroves hung in the water along the channel, and sheepshead and snappers could be seen swimming among the snags in the gin-clear waters on flood tides. Sharks were not uncommon in the channel, and queen conchs and large horse conchs lived in the grass-beds. If you wanted to see a roseate spoonbill in Martin County in the fifties, that’s where it would be. Dad spent countless hours in the Sun Parlor. Then the developers came in the late fifties, and it was lost.
Dad loved Bessey Creek, a tributary of the lower North Fork, and once in the early fifties he accompanied me and two other boys on a camping trip to the upper reaches of the creek. Around the campfire at night, Dad told us of a remote pond connected to the main creek by a hidden stream that he found in his youth. We boys searched until we found it, and we took Dad back there to fish. Judging from the abundance of hungry bass in that pond, I don’t think anyone had been there for decades. There were no houses on Bessey Creek then, and we could spend days without seeing another human being. But around 1960 the county built a new road to extend Murphy Road across C-23 Canal. The road cut across upper Bessey Creek virtually on top of our old campsite and passed within 100 yards of the hidden pond. When I returned from the Army in 1962, I walked across a sand lot from the road to the bank of the pond and gazed at the empty bait cups and beer cans on its shore. Humpty Dumpty was off the wall.
Aerial maps suggest that Mile Lake and a few adjacent lakes in southern St. Lucie County may be ox-bows, formed as part of the North Fork but pinched off as the River meandered away. In his boyhood Dad camped and fished around Mile Lake, and he took me there many times. I don’t know if Dad knew Mile Lake had once been part of the River, but it may explain his affection for the place. He loved the River in all of its many parts, but I don’t know how he’d have felt about Mile Lake surrounded by homes and golf courses as it is now.
Dad had a love/hate relationship with the St. Lucie Canal. Its discharges damaged the River downstream, and he campaigned tirelessly but futilely for the Army Corps of Engineers to manage it responsibly. Still, when many of his favorite places were gone, fishing remained good in the canal, and Dad could drive out and fish along its banks. Then, testing found some of the nation’s highest readings for pesticides and heavy metals in fish from the canal. That’s when Dad gave up fishing.
If anyone were to put up signage at Dad’s favorite places on the River, they would need lots of signs. And the signs should say “This was one of Ernest Lyons’ favorite places, a place of magic, until progress did it in. Sit quietly, look closely and try to imagine the sparkle that once was here.” If you can’t see the sparkle, it just looks like water. Or, more recently, like guacamole.
~Bill Lyons, son of Ernest Lyons
Biography of Bill’s father, Ernest Lyons
Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame, Ernest Lyons, 1994
Lyons began working as a reporter for The Stuart News in 1931. He also worked as an advertising salesman, printing salesman, then as advertising director for the paper. He became editor in 1945, serving until his retirement on March 1, 1975. He died April 6, 1990, at age 85.
Under Lyons the paper grew from a tiny independent weekly to a lively Scripps Howard daily. As editor, Lyons practiced community journalism at its best. He had a keen sense of what local people wanted to read and a zeal to guard their interests. Fearing that rapid population growth and urbanization might ruin coastal Florida, Lyons fought for protection of endangered water resources and wildlife habitats.
In 1965, his newspaper columns won the nationwide Edward J. Meeman Award for conservation writing. His writings, some composed 30 or more years ago, still are quoted by conservationists because they ring with enduring concepts and timeless values.
The following are two rare accounts of pioneer life documenting the extreme rain event of 1878. The first is from A. Hendry Sr., and the other by Emily Lagow Bell. These related families lived along the banks of Ten Mile Creek at the time of this flood. Their stories give us insight into a world we cannot even image today.
Historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, (http://www.sandrathurlow.com)
had transcribed these accounts from old newspaper articles and a book. Apparently, the News Tribune had the wonderful idea of a “contest for old timers” and people wrote in.
Sandra, my mother, recently came across her transcriptions again, after I visited the Richard E. Becker Preserve in St Lucie County and started asking questions.
Today I put these valuable recollections out for all to read. I think you will find them as interesting as I do.
We must not forget that are living in a Land Remembered!
TWO RARE ACCOUNTS
Transcribed by Sandra H. Thurlow
Nov. 26, 1978
by Charles S. Miley
A. Hendry was one of the first settlers of this area, and one of the pioneer cattlemen.
Born near Bartow, he came here with his parents at the age of 14, when there were but a handful of settlers in the area. As was the case with most other early settlers, he engaged in the cattle business during his late youth hood and all his adult life, reportedly being among the largest cattle owners in the state. He and K. B. Raulerson established the East Coast Cattle Co., which later became the Raulerson Cattle Co., forerunner of some of the present-day cattle operations.
He died at the age of 87 and he and his wife are buried in the Fort Pierce cemetery.
A son, A. A. “Buck” Henry, Jr., presently lives at 3576 N. E. Skyline drive, Jensen Beach, but spent most of his life in Fort Pierce and is well known among many of our residents.
When the News Tribuneconducted an old timer’s letter writing contest in February of 1934, the senior Hendry wrote a letter relating some of his experiences as an early settler of the area.
Here is the letter.
Fort Pierce, Florida
February 20, 1934
Within less than eight miles of White City, where I hope this will be read as a prize-winning letter, has been my home for 62 years, one month and one week.
For early in January, 1872, my father and mother and eight children left Polk County with two wagons drawn by oxen. After two weeks slow traveling over the old government trail, Ft. Meade, Ft. Kissimmee, Ft. Drum, we arrived at Fort Pierce. We drove our cattle with us and camped where night caught us.
We settled on the south side of Ten Mile creek, where later was located the Lisk and Roden Gove, later owned by B. J. Selvitz.
Of my father’s eight children, seven are still living, three still in this neighborhood, Mrs. Frank Bell, John Hendry and myself.
At the time of our arrival Henry Parker lived in Fr. Drum and Elias Jernigan lived on what is now the Standard Growers grove at Ten Mile; on the south lived Lang on St. Lucie River bluff just south of White City, clearing what has since become the Edwards grove, now owned by Mr. Martin East was the trading post. of the old fort, run by Alex Bell (who had arrived the year before) and a Mr. Smith; on the north lived Jim Russel and the Paine family at Ft. Capron. Beyond these points, outside of possible wandering trappers and hunters, there were no settlers short of Ft. Bassenger, Ft. Jupiter, where lived Captain Armour and Mr. Carlin, and Sebastian, where Col. Gibson lived.
An occasional band of Indians stopped on their way to the “fort,” where they would swap deer skins and other hides for beads, cloth, ammunition, salt, etc.
Their main cooking was what they called “sofkee,” ─ a tick soupy mixture of meat, grits, meal, potatoes, beans, or anything they might happen to have, boiled in a copper kettle swung over a slow fire. When done, they would squat around the kettle and pass around the one big spoon for individual use or would gorge out a handful and pour or suck off their fingers. First the bucks would eat till they had enough, then the squaws and pickaninnies. They liked white man’s cooking and lost no opportunity to enjoy it. They were especially fond of milk, never having any milk cows of their own. They would always divide with us whenever they had anything to eat that we did not have.
These Indians were of Old Parker’s band. They were known also as the Cow Creek Indians.
There were about a hundred of them in all. Their headquarters were in the Indiantown section.
September 7, 8, 9, and 10thin the year of 1878, there was a gale with a heavy rain. The Ten Mile creek’s banks overflowed. When the water came up in the floor of our cabin I built a rough boat in the hall and poled my people across the creek to Asbury Seller’s place. Finding them gone, I became somewhat alarmed. Then I poled on east to John Sellers and spent the night there with their family. Next day we all took refuge on the “mound” ─ still standing, what is left of it, just south of the road about a mile west of Five Mile.
There were 32 of us men, women and children and we spent there two days and one night. We had no shelter and were drenched to the skin. We managed to build a fire which we kept going with driftwood. We brought provisions along but were gladdened by the addition of a deer which swam up and which we killed with a pole. On returning home we found the water had been up two of three feet in the house, according to the marks on the walls.
We lived a rough, hard but healthy life. Plenty of clean food and plenty of outdoor exercise getting it. We had no Sunday schools or churches for years. We soon had a few months school for the younger children and we older ones picked up reading and writing as best we could. Mail, at best, came once a week by sail boat, newspapers were scarce, and magazines scarcer.
I have seen and used ox carts, mule teams, horse and buggy, railroad cars and automobiles on land, and the rowboat, sailboat and steamboat on the water; and overhead the airplane. What next?
A. HENDRY, SR.
About the Williams Mound:
Emily Lagow Bell, My Pioneer Days in Florida, 1928
I have a copy of this rare book
April 26, 2003
…Alexander Bell and family, also Mr. Archibald Hendry’s family, Mr. Sellers and family were living at Ten Mile Creek. This was the 1878 storm.
The gale lasted 24 hours and the creek began to rise and James Bell and brother, Frank, and others found they had to get something to save the women and children, so took the floor out of the house , made a raft, and the water was in the house then! Well, he took his mother and children first to an Indian mound, which I think is near Ten Mile creek yet. He had to make several trips before he got them all and forgot his horse, and it drowned in the yard.
There were cattle, hogs, deer, snakes, and coons, possums, turkeys all coming to the mound. Hundreds of stock and animals drowned. They built fires on the mound and the second day the water was receding and all came into Fort Pierce.
…Then there were several men hunting the frostproof part of the state for new groves, and my father-in-law had died, and the family decided to sell the Ten Mile place and a Mr. Sid Williams came about 1894 or 1895, and he bought the place at a very low figure, something like five or six hundred dollars, and he built up something like one hundred acres of groves which sold for a fabulous price. Now it is owned by the Standard Growers.
I continue to share my mother’s historic documents for those who love and appreciate history. Today’s original 1934 Stuart Daily News publication is very impressive, oversized, with aerial photographs and pride-filled words lauding the City of Stuart, and her Roosevelt Bridge as part of the new “Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico.”
This gateway, of course, was the Cross State Canal that was federally funded through “navigation” with the dual use to discharge Lake Okeechobee water, that Nature would have flowed south to Florida Bay, into the northern estuaries enhancing “Fishing, Hunting, and Sports on the Beautiful St Lucie….Lake Okeechobee, and Caloosahtchee River….”
In 1934, an era of Man Over Nature, both men and women did not know their determination to control the environment and its waters would, eventually, kill almost everything they loved.
And here we are today…
But as my hero Ernie Lyons, editor environmentalist of a later newspaper, the Stuart News said: “What men do they can undo.”
I believe this.
New bridges must be built. Not just of concrete but of the heart.
Bridges between people and politics. Bridges between corporations and children. Bridges between agriculture giants and fish. Bridges between developers and a new way to live. Why? Because like it or not, we are a Florida Water Family. All connected. All bridged together by depending on this place.
I will end with words from my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow:
“Jacqui, This is a very large book that was published to celebrate the dedication of the original Roosevelt Bridge on January 8, 1934. The pages are supposed to face each other so “Stuart–‘Atlantic Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico'” run together. The sentence at the bottom should be “The City of Stuart Invites You to Winter on the Beautiful St. Lucie River.” A gentleman who lives in Rio, Richard Lewis Miller, shared the original in honor of his father, Alvin Richard Miller 1906-1976.” Mom (http://www.sandrathurlow.com)
The photograph above is one of those rare images that tells you everything even without a caption. This photo, shared by my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, (http://www.sandrathurlow.com) was given to her by Mrs. Elizabeth Early, a pioneer of Stuart, “Stuart on the St Lucie.” The photo is entitled “Mosquito Ditch Digging,” and the subjects are unidentified. My mother believes the photo was taken in our region around 1920.
Mosquitos…such an integral part of Florida ~as is our war against them. Some have even gone as far to call the mosquito our “state bird.” As a kid, growing up in Sewall’s Point, in the 1970s, I remember having to run in place at the bus stop so as not to be attacked. Forever it seemed, I had white scars covering my tan scrawny legs. Another classic mosquito tale is gleefully riding my bike, along with my friends, behind the fog of the mosquito trucks. When we heard the trucks coming we ran from our houses, meeting in the street, quickly negotiating who got to be first behind the blower.
In any case, the mosquito ditches, the mosquito control districts, and the small green and white metal markers along Indian River Drive reading “MC” for Mosquito Control are not something we think too much about anymore, but for the old timers, mosquitos, and our war against them, and thus against Nature, defines this place.
My mother’s photos from her “Mosquito Control” file tell part of our local Martin County tale below. The lands are almost unrecognizable. In 1948 when the “Bridges to the Sea” were constructed over the Indian River Lagoon onto Hutchinson Island’s beaches – everything changed. The wetlands, the scrublands, and the old bean farms from early pioneers were ditched and diked, laced through and through like a pearl necklace. The government and owners organized with the goal to control those pesky mosquitos so the land would be fit for fill and for sale.
Over time, the mosquitoes lessened, and more and more people came to replace them.
According to my mother, some of the very early mosquito control worked by allowing fish into ditches to eat the larva; this not-so-intense mode was later replaced by other more stringent methods, including chemical means using DDT. As so often is the case in Florida, we are “successful,” successful at the expense of the environment.
Today we drive over the the Indian River Lagoon and forget the wars we’ve waged to live here, and instead, we wage a war to put our environment back into place.
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.
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 Withlacoochee 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 based on a 1st hand account of 1910 by J.H. Vaughn in an Abstract of Title for Indiantown, Florida, No. 12386.
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.”
I have shared this 1925 aerial previously, but it is worth sharing again. What a wonderful photograph of a healthy confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Every time I see it, I see something new.
I see the white sands of the newly dug St Lucie Canal, today’s C-44 connected to Lake Okeechobee, in the far middle distance; I see dark, prevalent natural vegetation; I see an undeveloped Sailfish Point, Rocky Point, Manatee Pocket, Sewall’s Point, and Stuart; there are a few roads, but no airport; no spoil islands along Sewall’s Point; there are no “bridges to the sea; ” I see shoaling, as the St Lucie Inlet had been opened/widened not too long before ~located just around the left hand corner of the photograph; I see beaches at Hutchinson Island with beautiful coquina sands that had not been “re-nourished;” I see lush seagrass beds, the nurseries of life, cradled against the shoreline; I see Paradise…
What would we do as far as development in this paradise, if we had it to do all over again?Or would we do just the same?
How we develop lands, of course, affects the health of surrounding waters. Today, what can we do to reinvigorate our rivers, our paradise? How can we help bring back the seagrasses especially? Well, we can do a lot.
Think of all the lawns that would be in this photo today! All the development, and how when it rains everything on our streets, parking lots, and lawns runs into our drainage systems and into our river.
Yesterday was June 1st, the beginning of rainy season. The beginning of fertilizer restrictions that were especially inspired for the entire Indian River Lagoon by the work of Sewall’s Point, the first to have a strong fertilizer ordinance, in 2010. I am proud of this and thank my fellow commissioners of that era.
Do what you can by not fertilizing your yard this rainy season, and if you haven’t considered changing out your yard to a more natural, Florida Friendly landscape, perhaps begin the process.
Every little thing we do, counts. And the more we do, the pressure we can put on the “big polluters” to do the same.
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.
“See that white strip just below the wetland? That is the extension of Flamingo Drive that skirts the pond behind the old car wash. They just dug a retention pond and conducted the water to it. All of that pineland is covered with condominiums today.” (Cedar Point, Vista Pines, and Kingswood)~ Sandra H. Thurlow
Today we drive over the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River surrounded by “civilization,” and forget that once it was once a wetland and pine forest full of wildlife. In the course of a lifetime, these things are long forgotten.
The above 1957 photograph hangs in my brother’s law office. When I visit him, I find myself staring at it for long periods of time. It is one of those rare photos that really puts things into perspective. The road construction through the wetlands, (note it going through the pond, and pine forest) was all taking place around the same time that the “Bridges to the Sea,” from Stuart to Sewall’s Point, and Sewall’s Point to Hutchinson Island, were completed. It’s amazing to see what the landscape once looked like. The road in the photograph, Fourth Street, was renamed “East Ocean Boulevard” in 1960, and is a major thoroughfare to the beaches today.
I remember early East Ocean Blvd, although it was already quite changed by the time I was born in 1964. My family lived at 109 Edgewood Drive in Stuart, a short distance away from these wetland ponds under development. I recall Scrub Jays in our back yard and feeding them peanuts. By 1974 the family moved across the river to Sewall’s Point “growing and improving” with the changing landscape.
By 1979, when I was fifteen years old, riding my bike over the bridge to Stuart to work at the Pelican Car Wash, the beautiful wetland pond had been relegated to a retention pond for run off. Over the next two decades, you didn’t see wetlands and ponds anymore, or wildlife, just condominiums, office buildings, and shopping plazas. The state four-laned East Ocean Boulevard and built higher bridges to the ocean too.
Believe it or not, the pond in the aerial is still located behind a gas station that used to be the car wash. It is not even a shadow of its former self. Two days ago, I drove by and noticed that there was an extensive algae bloom in the pond backed up to the parking lot and gas pumps; the water reflecting a sickly shade of green.
I sat there thinking about the long forgotten pond in the middle of East Ocean Boulevard in the photo I love in my brother’s office, wishing the developers had figured out a way to go around the pond. As the shortest distance between two points, over time, is not always a straight line.
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! 🙂
One of my favorite aerial photographs from my mother’s history books on Martin County is of the infamous Hugh Willoughby flying over the St Lucie River at Sewall’s Point and Willoughby Point. In more familiar terms for boaters, this location is known as “Hell’s Gate” due to the bottle-necking of the rushing tide.
Mr Hugh de Laussat Willoughby, one of the “early birds” of aviation, and a resident of Sewall’s Point, (http://earlyaviators.com/ewilloug.htm) had the idea of locating the New York Yacht Club at the southern tip of the peninsula as envisioned in the map below. It is difficult to see in the aerial, but the insignia of the New York Yacht Club is on the side of the biplane.
The yacht club never materialized as the market crash of the late 1920s and following depression of the 1930s dashed that dream. Today many local pilots fly over the St Lucie River at this same location to photograph a different dream. –By showing the devistation, inspiring a dream for our state and federal agencies, of clean water…
Would Mr Willoughby ever have imagined his paradise would be one of controversial pollution? Never in a thousand years….
This year, the ACOE has been discharging from Lake Okeechobee since January 29th 2016; in 2013 they released May through October, and in 2014 nothing…
May the photographs or today’s ailing river inspire change, and may the spirit of Mr Willoughby keep adventure and love alive in our hearts—and the wind— ever at our backs.
If you ever drive the easterly location of Indian Street in Martin County, you are in the historic subdivision for the proposed Town of Port Sewall. According to the “History of Martin County,” in 1910, Hugh Willoughby and Captain Henry Sewall established the Sewall’s Point Land Company which developed Port Sewall–of which Golden Gate is part.
I was taken by these old aerials from 1954 showing the straight roads of the Golden Gate section of the development with Sewall’s Point and St Lucie Inlet in the distance; I wanted to compare the photo to a cool old plat map and a Google map of today.
I love this old area of Martin County. So much history. It is fun to drive along Old St Lucie Boulevard and through Golden Gate. There are still remnants of the past. To visit the old Golden Gate building on Dixie Highway now getting a new life as the office of House of Hope—that was once a real estate office…..an awesome old Whiticar Boatworks from a bit later…
One of the long forgotten thing about this area is that Sewall and Willoughby’s vision for this development was a deepwater port off of Sewall’s Point. According to historian Sandra Thurlow, “The port was to be established at the junction of the waterways known today as the Crossroads. It would be called “Port Santa Lucia” and would handle the vast amounts of produce that would be shipped out of the interior of Florida via the cross state canal.”
The cross-state canal in this reference? Yes, the cross state canal of the 1920s was the dreaded St Lucie Canal or more lovingly know today as C-44…the canal that connects Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Willoughby and Sewall’s development and the Port of Santa Lucia never succeeded as the Great Depression of the 1920s killed that dream. But unfortunately part of the dream of that era lived on. Today the cross state canal or since named “Okeechobee Waterway” (C-44 in Martin County) does not transport vast amounts of fresh produce, but rather is used to “manage” the waters of Lake Okeechobee and to send sediment and nutrient filled Agricultural run off to feed algae blooms and destroy the property values of Sewall’s Point, Port Sewall, Golden Gate, and the rest of Martin County.
It clearly allows us to see “where we have come from,” and “how we got to where we are today”–especially in regards to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon region.
In the early decades of the 1900s, Chapter 298 of Florida Statues allowed for Drainage Districts to be created, (most still exist today), by early settlers across the state so they could begin the hard work of “settlement.” These early Floridians often chose areas around rivers for their location, riches and soils.
Nonetheless, “drain baby, drain!” was the mantra.
Drainage of small tributaries of the forks of the rivers such as the St Lucie created rich farmlands and the ability to develop the lands. This was expected of settlers. During this same era, giant public works projects such as the St Lucie Canal, (C-44), linking Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, were dug through the cooperation of state and federal governments to create what would become the Everglades Agricultural Area, or EAA, south of Lake Okeechobee.
“The rest is history…”
As we sit here today with news of a substantial blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee, and cringe as the ACOE dumps it into our estuary, I find this small booklet my mother came across recently “a through looking-glass” —–of the mentality of the times when all this over-drainage was the goal and the repercussions were not understood.
Counties all over our state had such little booklets. As you can read, this one is from St Lucie County connected to the North Fork of the St Lucie River. These hard-working people of the day dug their canal around 1936 so it would “veer to the southeast and then east to the St. Lucie River….” certainly they were not thinking about toxic algae blooms or water quality at this time. It did not even cross their radar. But it does ours….What will our little booklets look like for future historians to read ? Well, that’s for us to decide.
Today I will share an historic aerial photo along Willoughby Creek together with a brief history lesson by my mother. Following, there are recent Google Map photos to compare…Stuart is still “paradise,” but sometimes I wish I were born 100 years ago. 🙂
“Jacqui, I came across this in my computer and thought it might be interesting for you to see. The date is Feb. 26, 1949. You can see Marvista… I think the house in the middle is the one that became Lee Rasch’s home. Patty Irons Child’s mother, Marge Irons was Lee’s second wife. The house at right was originally “Lagunita” built by Hugh Willoughby, Sr. (There is a big write-up on it on page 158 of the History of Martin County.) It later became a small hotel-like place call “Inlet Tides.” Both of the structures on the right side have been demolished… I am sure you know that Marvista was built by Hugh Willoughby, Jr. in 1924-25.”
—-Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Historian
You may have to “look” a bit, but if you do you will find Marvista and Lagunita today.
This amazing 1925 aerial photograph of the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon tells a story….I found this photo looking back through some old emails between me, my mother, and my brother dated 2010. At the time, I did not catch all of the nuances in the photograph….
For instance, look at the beautiful, healthy seagrasses hugging the elbow of the shoreline of Hutchinson Island; what about the dock in the midst of the seagrasses that is no longer there; the gentle, crashing waves over a thriving reef at “Bathtub Beach;” the entire area so pristine with extensive natural vegetation. Look at the wispy sandbars forming in the river… Nearby the St Lucie Inlet had been permanently opened, (1892), but also much “improved,” as 1925 was just before the real estate crash, great depression, and two hurricanes that altered Florida’s history forever.
In 1925, community leaders were actually planning a port, Port Sewall, one to complete with Miami and Jacksonville right in this area! In fact they dug a turning basin for ships just off the southern tip of Sewall’s Point and created Sandsprit Park with the fill. Can you imagine?
Back to the photo…
Notice there were no spoil islands off of Sewall’s Point–no Archipelago or Island Addition…Notice the sparse development of Stuart and the lack of an airport. Notice the basically undeveloped peninsula of Sewall’s Point, Rocky Point, and the even less developed— later named— “Sailfish Point.”….The Manatee Pocket just east of and beyond Sewall’s Point shows some signs of the coming future but not many….Do you see anything else?
For me the most interesting thing of all was caught by my brother Todd’s keen eye.
“What is that huge white stripe on the horizon??” He said. “It’s looks like a giant 20-mile-long spaceship runway. Well, it’s the spoil from the freshly-dug Okeechobee waterway. See it in the attached comparison from Google Earth.”
Looking upward and beyond in the 1925 photograph to the right of the clouds, Todd noticed the piled up sands of the C-44 canal—a long curving snake connecting Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. Can you see them?
Of course we all know that this canal along with others and extensive development, over time, destroyed the healthy seagrasses, great fishing, negatively altering the beautiful paradise of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon..
It’s fun to look back, but its even more fun to think about how we have the ability to improve things in the future.
Certain photographs become imprinted in our minds, affecting us on an emotional level–conjuring up images and memories again and again….
One such photo for me is this late 1800s image of Captain Henry Sewall’s Post Office and home. The picture graces the cover of my mother’s book “Sewall’s Point, A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast.” This photograph was often laid out on our family dining room table and we kids listened to mom tell stories of the house and the people from that era of history.
The first time I ever saw the photo it was like I was walking along the long, crooked dock myself to say “hello” or go pick up the mail. I could imagine a gentle breeze blowing, the sun shining, the birds flying over, the fish jumping, and yes, maybe a mosquito or two….
In my imagination, I also thought about how happy I would be to say “hi” to the Sewalls and to maybe get some mail…My mother in her years of writing the books repeatedly pointed out how “lonely” it was for the pioneers, and that the post office played a social role in the community as well as one of function.
With no roads, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon—were the roads—the only means of transportation to greet a neighbor, get supplies, or pick up the mail. The river brought people tougher, just like it does today.
Yesterday, when I drove to today’s Stuart Post Office from Sewall’s Point to drop off Ed and my Christmas cards, I thought about how much things have changed.
But I have to say, that even though I did not recognize anyone at the post office, the holiday mood and bustle of mail led to many smiles just as it must have in the days of Captain Henry Sewall. The post office, even with all of the world’s changes, still holds the heart of “greetings and hellos,” especially during the holidays.
SEWALL POST OFFICE/HOUSE TIMELINE
1889: Capt. Henry Sewall builds a house on Sewall’s Point
1891: Sewall’s Point post office established in the house
1913: The house is moved by barge to Port Sewall
2006: The house is moved by barge to Indian RiverSide Park with unanimous support from the Martin County Commission and advocacy of historian Sandra Thurlow, Stuart Heritage, the Historical Society of Martin County and others. A large donation is made to support the move by Mr. Fred Ayers.
2012: Restoration of the house is completed/the house is listed as one of 11 properties on the Martin County Local Historic Register of Historic Places.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
All of Sandra Thurlow’s books can be purchased at the Stuart Heritage Museum (http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com) on Flagler Avenue, the Elliott Museum, or ordered on Amazon.
Having trouble thinking of a holiday or Christmas gift? Consider one of my mother’s four books…
1. Stuart on the St Lucie
2. Historic Eden and Jensen on Florida’s Indian River
3. Sewall’s Point, A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast
4. Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge
All of these books have tremendous historic value with fabulous old stories of pioneer families, photos, maps, surveys, charts and advertisements. As you know, I pull much of what I write about in my blogs from these books.
The sands of time….shifting, reforming, just like my childhood memories. 1977–Seventh grade—I remember riding my bike with my best friend, Vicki, out to Hutchinson Island. No traffic. Along the way we would take our hands off the handle bars holding them over our heads, laughing and shouting “look mom!”
A veritable paradise and giant playground we left our bikes at Stuart Beach not locking them and jumped into the ocean.
This photo was taken in 1957, twenty years before Vicki and my bike ride, but it was still relatively undeveloped at that time. If my memory serves me correctly Indian River Plantation’s first condo, The Pelican, went up in 1976 and later in the 1980s the establishment filled out to its final glory. Later sold to the Marriott these lands, though altered, remain a beautiful part of Martin County with public beaches for all to enjoy.
I got ahold of this photo from my mother asking her what kind of vegetation pre-development was on the island. This was her reply:
“This aerial was taken on October 16, 1957. The causeway was under construction as were improvements to Stuart Beach. It is hard to tell what kind of trees are there. They were probably a variety of things, oak, salt bush, cabbage palms, palmetto and Australian pine. The later were growing at the House of Refuge at this time so they were no doubt popping up everywhere. It was “disturbed land” since patches of it had been cleared for farming. Mangrove would be growing along the water but I doubt they had reached inland yet. You can see the new piles of sand indicating mosquito ditches had recently been dug. Notice the little Beach Road.” Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow
Thinking a bit more about this area I asked my brother, Todd Thurlow, if this area formed “the fan” because it was once an inlet, such as the Gap, he talks about so much. He sent me this:
“The steady forces of long shore drift have operated over the eons to produce not just the current BI and previous BIs such as the ACR on the mainland, but even the peninsula of Florida itself (Schmidt 1997). The strong linearity of the east central and southeast Florida coastline, its low fractal dimensionality (Rial n.d.), indicates the steadiness and consistent directionality of these forces. Chaotic events like storms, on the other hand, produce drastic BI and lagoonal modifications via overwash and tidal inlet cuts, and leave chaotic, or irregular (“squiggly”) backbarrier shorelines, the former producing overwash fans, and the latter producing flood tidal deltas (Figure 3-6).
Figure 4-19. Cartographic signatures of geomorphic stability and instability. Map to left is most north, right map is most south”
Alan Brech, NEITHER OCEAN NOR CONTINENT: CORRELATING THE ARCHAEOLOGY AND GEOMORPHOLOGY OF THE BARRIER ISLANDS OF EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA, 2004.
Translation: Breaks occurring during storms create overwash fans. (e.g. IRP and Sailfish Point). Tidal inlets produce flood tidal deltas, somewhat like the old Gilberts Bar. BI = Barrier Island; ACR = Atlantic Coastal Ridge. —-Todd Thurlow, “Time Capsule Flights:”(https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDaNwdmfhj15bmGNQaGhog9QpkQPAXl06)
The shifting sands of time… So many wonderful memories, and so many more to make as times and sands continue to change.
The ironies of life in Stuart and Martin County are grand.
Here are a few:
Business tycoon, Henry Flagler, is said to have first planned to run his railway through and develop Sewall’s Point and then across the St Lucie River to Rocky Point rather than developing Palm Beach. Title problems with the Hanson Grant, of which Sewall’s Point encompassed, led Henry to change the path of his railroad, instead taking it through Potsdam, later named Stuart.
Stuart’s orignal seal, adopted in 1914, shows only the railroad going through Stuart as there was no “auto bridge” at that time. The docks sticking out into the St Lucie River can be seen on the seal due to their importance to property and commerce at that time in history. —The St Lucie River was important to “commerce” like the train at that time.
Stuart was first on the north side of the railroad over the St Lucie River. When leaders wanted to change the name to “Port St Lucie” the railroad company “denied” this as there was already a town by the same name north. So the clever leaders of the town just moved the train station over the river to Potsdam and changed the name to Stuart. When things don’t work, smart business men take another path…
All Aboard Florida and East Coast Railroad, Henry Flagler’s company, is now owned by Fortress; their plan to expand Mr Flagler’s business is likely to fail.
Today proposed All Aboard Florida is not following Henry Flagler’s one famous quote: “To help others is to help yourself,” in the age of paternalism such was the justification of the railroad….not today… Fortress Corporation is doing nothing to help others, like putting a stop at every pineapple plantation, but rather figuring how much money they can make for themselves barreling right through and then failing for bigger and better things…like Panama Canal freight. Luckily their plan is falling apart.
The following information was simplified and explained by Mr Len Sucsy, of CARE, Citizens Against Railroad Expansion. He is a business expert. He gives us the inside scoop in layman terms we can understand.
You probably know about the Martin County and Indian River County lawsuits that are pending, but the specifics of All Aboard Florida’s failing business deal makes its vulnerability easier to understand:
“All Aboard Florida is having difficulty selling their $1.7 billion tax exempt, junk bond issue. Municipal bond investors are being quoted in Bloomberg, the Chicago Tribune, and other media sources as being “uncomfortable” with the business model not only because no passenger train in the history of the country has been profitable but also the real estate above and around some train stations is speculative and yet to be built. Other freight rail cash-flowing services are also future events and speculative. The high leverage of the deal is also been noted…. a problem. A well known muni manger of a $36 billion fund passed on the deal for “credit risk” reasons.
Fortress, Inc., parent company of All Aboard Florida and Florida East Coast Railway, is closing its flagship macro hedge fund. At its peak, it managed $1.6 billion which now stands at $400 million due to investor flight. Last year the fund lost .6% and this year is down 17.5%. Managing partner and billionaire co-founder of Fortress, Michael Novogratz will leave the firm. The company share price (FIG, NASDQ) has dropped 32% this year…”
AAF CAN’T SELL ITS BONDS. THEY ARE A BAD DEAL. SPREAD THE WORD. WRITE IT ON FACEBOOK. CALL YOUR FRIENDS UP NORTH. PUT UP A SIGN.
Maybe our sign should read: “HENRY FLAGLER WOULDN’T HAVE BOUGHT AAF BONDS.”
Today I am going to share some aerial photographs that showcase development in Sewall’s Point during the 1960s, specifically, Isle Edition and Archipelago. To give reference, I was born in 1964. During this time and before, the bulkheading of spoil islands was fashionable. Due to environmental restrictions that were put into law in the 1970s, development on such a scale is no longer allowed.
Bulkheading is basically when one creates a seawall. In the case of a some of the islands off the Town of Sewall’s Point, they were cleared, bulkheaded, filled with sand, and then developed. In some instances the fill is high enough that these islands are not completely in same flood zones as surrounding areas.
According to my mother’s book, “Sewall’s Point, A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast:”
“High Point’s “Isle Addition” was developed by Bessemer in 1966, during the same years Perry Boswell developed Archipelago. Both subdivisions are on bulkheaded islands that were augmented by dredge-and-fill operations. Since laws no longer allow this type of development, there will never be another one on Sewall’s Point.” -Sandra Henderson Thurlow
The islands I am referring to are spoil islands. They are not natural islands. These islands were created by the ACOE. The 156 mile long Indian River Lagoon has 137 spoil islands; they were formed from 1953 to 1961 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Intracoastal Waterway — the main channel through the center of the lagoon. The Corps left behind heaps of sand on either side of the channel.
I am including this video my brother Todd created about the spoil islands from an earlier blog as it is most fascinating as is the coast history of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon region. Enjoy!
The words of Ernest F. Lyons, famed fisherman, environmentalist, and veteran editor of the Stuart News, can be used over, and over, and over again…
Lyons grew up in Stuart in the early 1900s and witnesses first hand the destruction of his beloved St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. In the 1940s and 50s, for “flood control” and EAA interests, he watched St Lucie Locks and Dam, C-44, and S-80 be “improved,” by the ACOE and SFWMD—-destroying fishing grounds that will never be replaced…He witnessed canals C-23, C-24 and C-25 be constructed to scar the land and pour poisonous sediment from orange groves and development into the North Fork and central estuary.
But even amongst this destruction, Lyons never stopped seeing the miracle of the world around him. And no where did life continue to be more miraculous than along his beloved river.
This week so far, I have written about things that bring light to the destruction of our rivers, I must not forget that in spite of this destruction, beauty and life still exist….To do our work as advocates for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon we cannot become negative, we must be inspired….one of the best ways to achieve this is to recall the work and words of our forefathers….to “recycle inspiration.”
Although Ernie Lyon’s work was first read on the pages of the Stuart News, my mother historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, has clipped old pages, been in touch with Ernie’s children, and transcribed many of Lyon’s columns as part of the work of Stuart Heritage. Stuart Heritage helps keeps our rich “river-heritage” alive. After all, our founding name was “Stuart on the St Lucie.”
“What a Wonderful World”
I get an indescribable “lift” from the habit of appreciating life.
All of us, even the most harried, have moments when we are fleetingly aware of the glory that surrounds us. Like moles that occasionally break throughout their tunnels, we infrequently catch a glimpse of the natural beauty and awesome majesty outside the corridor within which we have bound ourselves.
And pop back into our holes!
The habit of appreciation—–the cultivation of the sense of awareness—are forgotten roads to enrichment of personal experience. Not money in the bank, or real estate, or houses, or the exercise of power are true riches. By the true tally, the only value is “how much do you enjoy life?”
All around each of us are the wonders of creation—the shining sun, a living star bathing us with the magic mystery of light…we look to the heavens at night and wonder at the glittering panoply of suns so distant and so strange, while accepting as commonplace our own.
We live in a world of indescribable wonder. Words cannot tell why beauty is beautiful, our senses must perceive what makes it so.
What we call art, literature, genuine poetry, and true religion are the products of awareness, seeing and feeling the magic which lies beyond the mole-tunnel view.
One man, in his mole-tunnel, says he is inconsequential, a slave to his job, of dust and to dust going. Another, poking his head our into the light, realizes that he is a miraculous as any engine, with eyes to see, a mind which to think, a spirit whose wings know no limitations.
The mole-man is bound to a commonplace earth and a commonplace life. He lives among God’s wonders without ever seeing them. But those who make a habit of appreciation find wonder in every moment, and every day, by the sense of participation in a miracle.
They see the glory of the flowers, the shapes and colors of trees and grass, the grace of tigers and serpents, the stories of selfishness or selflessness that are written on the faces men and women. They feel the wind upon their faces and the immeasurable majesty of distances in sky and sea.
And in those things there is the only true value. This a wonderful world. Take time to see it. You’re cheat yourself unless you appreciate it.—–E.L.
Ernest F. Lyons: (http://www.flpress.com/node/63)
It all started with a recent comment by Bob Ulevich, at a Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council meeting. In the course of his presentation and questioning on the history of the water management districts, Bob noted that the EAA, the Everglades Agricultural Area, was not historically “just located” where it is today, south of Lake Okeechobee, but basically included all of Disston’s lands. Are you kidding me? “Gulp”….
Hamilton Disston. Remember him? The “savior,” “the drainer” of our state—-who basically bought the entire state from a bankrupt entity, the Internal Improvement Fund? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_Disston)
The more I read and think about it, I think what Bob meant was that almost of all the swamp lands sold to Disston and then others were marketed for people to purchase and farm….basically creating a giant Everglades agricultural area…but it wasn’t always so easy….
When I was trying to figure all this out, I went back to a map I had seen before, reread a chapter in my mother’s Jensen and Eden book, and contacted my brother, Todd, to help me answer a question.
“Todd, why isn’t St Lucie Gardens in pink on the Disston map? …And wasn’t this area supposed to be farmland?”
St Lucie Gardens was a huge subdivision in the region of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon including the savannas filed in 1911 by the Franklin Land Company of Jacksonville. According to my mother’s book, “the land was advertised as far away a Kansas and a few families bought land and tried to make a living farming. However land that had been pine flat woods continued to have cycles of flooding a drought and was impossible to farm profitably. The families that came to farm in St Lucie Gardens either gave up or turned to other ways to make a living.”