Recently, I attended the ribbon-cutting for Martin County High School’s Administration and Classroom Building. They even opened a time capsule from the school’s origins in 1964. I hardly recognized the place…having graduated in 1982. It was so much bigger and better than when I attended. The place has come a long way from being what was literally once the county dump.
When I got home my mother had sent me a historic photograph via email (above.) I looked at it wondering what it was. I wrote back: “Where is that? Somewhere near Frances Langfords? IRL?”
I couldn’t believe it when she replied that it was an aerial of Martin County High School in 1964. I didn’t even recognize it! All these years, and I have never really realized the school lies so close to the St Lucie River. In fact, it lies not too far from where the South Fork of the St Lucie River was connected to the St Lucie Canal, today known as C-44. The link that allows polluted water in from Lake Okeechobee. A link that should be closed…
In her Vignettes, local historian Alice Luckhardt writes about the first school in Stuart. ~Stuart became the county seat of Martin County in 1914:
“Stuart’s first school was a one room building, about 12 x 16 feet, built in 1891 on the banks of the St. Lucie River, to accommodate the community’s children; the first teacher was Kate Hamilton whose salary was about $30 a month, but at that time there were not 12 grade levels and very few students.”
Imagine being taught, along the shores of a clean, beautiful, fish filled, St Lucie River….what a day, what an education, that must have been….
“Let’s put it this way, if we get a ’40s-style hurricane, people here will forget all about Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. Compared to the ’40s, those storms were like breezes.”
~Jay Barnes, author of the 1998 book, Florida’s Hurricane History as quoted in Palm Beach News Daily.
With all the talk of hurricanes this year, and people still shook up from Hurricane Irma, I asked my mother what year held the record as Stuart’s strongest storm along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
I knew about historic hurricanes that hit the Treasure Coast in 1933, 1947, and 1949 but was unsure. My mother’s answer, without a doubt: “the Hurricane of August 26, 1949.”
During this time, storms were unnamed and of course there was not today’s technology or communications. The storm is recorded to have had Category 4 winds (130-156 mph) when it struck the Florida Coast near West Palm Beach. That put Stuart on the northeast side of the storm receiving the highest winds, and records show gusts much higher.
Mary Jones, the director of Stuart Heritage, has a primary source regarding this storm with some amazing numbers. The source is an envelope from the Garnett Rushing Early Collection. Mrs Rushing was from a pioneer family and this is what is written on the envelope as the hurricane tore through Stuart in 1949.
“Lost over Lake Okeechobee. Hurricane 1949. Grady Norton. Stuart Airport Barometer broke at 210 M.P.H. winds exceeded 230 M.P.H. Miami Weather Bureau reported the this hurricane went to sea over an unpopulated area between West Palm Beach and Ft Pierce.”
Grady Norton, was the “first director” of the National Hurricane Center. It is believed he wrote the notes on the envelope or perhaps they were notes taken by the Rushing family while he broadcast? In any case, the numbers are literally “off the chart,” (gusts at 201/230MPH!!!) and at that time it is almost amusing to note that Stuart was referred to as “an unpopulated area between West Palm Beach and Ft Pierce.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grady_Norton)
Well, Stuart is not an “unpopulated” area today, and as historian hurricane author James Barnes notes: ” If we get another 40s style hurricane, people will forget about Frances, Jeane, Wilma (and certainly he would add Irma’s visit to Stuart) –compared to the 1940s, those storms were just breezes.”