Tag Archives: South Bay

“What The Muck?!” SLR/IRL

IMG_4325.jpg
Flying over the black gold of the EAA. JTL
IMG_7550.JPG
Fields in Pahokee, JTL

Road Trip Series.

Since I began my Glades “Road Trip” Series, I have read three books by Lake Okeechobee historian, Laurence E. Will: Okeechobee Hurricane, Swamp to Sugar Bowl, and A Cracker History of Okeechobee.

These books hold amazing stories of the Glades; if Mr. Will hadn’t written, there would be very few first-hand accounts of farming that became a Florida mega-industry just over the first half century of the 1900s. Today, I will transcribe some of his most interesting descriptions of Lake Okeechobee, the magical landscape that was transformed into today’s contoversial Everglades Agricultural Area, for none other than its MUCK.

EAA
EAA below Lake Okeechobee. (Public map SFWMD)
pond apple mac stone 916de13305c68a6d2fd5e4f9e8ff95b
Photo of pond apples also know to locals as custard apples in Big Cypress- shared on Flicker by photographer Mac Stone, allow us to envision what this incredible forest looked like. 32,000 acres rimming the southern and eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. The best muck built up over thousands of years under these roots that worked like a seine as the lake overflowed its edge then running south through the sawgrass. The Everglades….

When I was on my recent tour with former mayor of Pahokee, J.P. Sasser, I learned the nick-name for Pahokee is “The Muck,” named so for the “black gold” soil that accumulated over thousands of years under the roots of a custard apple forest that rimmed the lake. (Kind of like fresh water mangroves today in the Indian River Lagoon.)

When one drives deeper into the Glades, one finds similar nick-names or “muck mottos,” that have to do with the muck. For instance, Belle Glade’s motto is “Her Soil is Her Fortune;” Clewiston’s is “America’s Sweetest Town,” and South Bay’s refers to its highways, “Crossroads of South Florida,” named so for its intersection of two major roads, East-West State Road 80, and North-South, U.S. Highway 27, roads that get one into the muck, or out of it….

Will first experienced the Lake in the early 1900s as a boy when his father was developing Okeelanta, located about four miles below today’s South Bay. Okeelanta, today a mill location for the Fanjul holdings, was located not in an apple custard forest, but rather in the miles of sawgrass lying south. Although the soil here is excellent, it is different, more peaty and not as “mucky.” Thus the most productive lands lie closer to the lake, deep in the MUCK.

Here is a moving account by Will about the land of muck in “Cracker History of Lake Okeechobee:

“Before the dredges crashed through the custard apple woods to start the first canals, the lake most always stayed high and clear, unbroken except for those islands Kreamer, Torry, and Observation. When I first saw the lake it was still wild. Excusing the trifling settlements at Utopia, Ritta, and Tantie, a score of fishing camps, and the openings to four unfinished canals, it’s swampy shores hadn’t changed since Zachary Taylor found the redskins or probably not since DeSoto anchored in Tampa Bay. It sill was just as the good Lord had fashioned it. The lake was lonely Mack, silent and mysterious as well. But I tell you boy, it was beautiful, and sort of inspiring too.”

Will was absolutely pro development, pro farming/agriculture,  but he, like most of the old timers, recognized the tremendous awe-inspiring beauty of the place.

Most all the natural beauty the lakeside shoreline in Martin County, where the FPL Power Plant is today, and north to the town of Okeechobee has also been radically altered as well.

IMG_4144.JPG
FPL solar plant and “cooling pond” in Martin County looking west towards “Barley Barber Swamp.” This area was once a forest of mostly giant cypress trees and others. JTL

Excerpts by Lawrence E. Will:

“Dense forest ringed the lake around. Along its northern half water oak, maple, cypress, potash, rubber and palmetto trees crowded each other on the lakeshore ridge…the south shore and half way up the eastern side was something else… Here were custard apples, a solid belt of tropical trees, blanketed with a moonvine cover, which stood, two miles or more in width, without break or opening, from near Clewiston’s Sand Point, slap around to Port Mayaca. 32,000 acres of custard apple woods there were, the most of these trees, I wouldn’t doubt, on the whole blamed continent of America.”

“…Although the shores were for the most part black muck, low and flat, there were some fine sandy beaches too. Along the east side for eighteen miles lay beautiful East Beach…”

“Now if Zachary Taylor or Hamilton Disston could return to Okeechobee they would find that farmers have exterminated the custard apple woods. Highways, service stations, super markets and housing projects have replaced the cypress, rubber and maple trees along the ridge. A levee occupies the onetime shore and drainage has lowered by half a dozen feet the water’s elevation. Tractors cultivate the former seining grounds, and unless you as old–and no amount, as some of us, your never heard of town of Tantie, Utopia or Ritta. Civilization has re-made the lake and I’d be the last to say it isn’t better so, but the lakeshore’s one time natural beauty is long gone, and man, wasn’t that old lake a fascinating place.” 

Well, to the land of Lake Okeechobee! For all she was, and for all she is. It’s enough to make one exclaim:”What The Muck?!!!”

__________________________

Agriculture’s Eradication of the Mythical Pond Apple Forest, Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL: https://www.google.com/amp/s/jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/04/15/agricultures-eradication-of-the-mythical-pond-apple-forest-lake-okeechobee-slrirl/amp/?client=safari

Black Gold and Silver Sands, Snyder/Historical Society of Palm Beach County https://floridafoodandfarm.com/book-reviews/turning-soil-gold-silver-look-back-palm-beach-county-agriculture/

Lawrence E. Will: http://museumoftheglades.org

war map
War map of the Everglades created during the Seminole Wars, 1856.

*Custard Apples are also known as Pond Apples. The old photos of the trees are from Mr Will’s books or the Florida Memory Project.

photo pond apple
Pond apple blossom. Photo by Lisa Jefferson, 2015.

file-page1-2

file-page1
Proposed land purchase in the EAA, Senator Joe Negron 2016/17.

The False Edge of Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

screenshot 2.jpgIMG_6449.jpg

Road trip series:

Today we continue our road trip in the Glades atop the Herbert Hoover Dike.

In the short video below you can see my Glades tour-guide, former mayor JP Sasser, driving, –in his hometown of which he knows so much about–Pahokee. On the right lies the city, and on the left is Lake Okeechobee. A precarious position indeed!

Pahokee is actually unusual in that this little town is “high-ground.” According to JP, about 13 feet above ground. This is not the case for most of the Glades.

Interestingly, in the video, JP discusses how the Army Corp recently decided where to strengthen the dike in Pahokee, because if they had extended it out 500 feet as was done along the rest of the eastern shore, the town of Pahokee would have been covered up as it is located right beside the dike.

Video: Driving along dike:https://youtu.be/fQILKYeQbeU

Lake Okeechobee’s dike and its history are fascinating just as is all our area of the Northern Everglades including the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon that in 1923 became the primary exit point for waters that could no longer flow south after the Herbert Hoover Dike was built.

According to historian and Gladesman Lawrence E. Will:

“…following the floods of 1923 and 1924 water stood over farm lands nearly the entire winter. To protect the farms, the state of Florida had then constructed an earthen dike along the whole south shore. It was some five to eight feet above ground level but this dike was never intended to withstand a hurricane.”

Regarding the expansion of the dike, as the “Herbert Hoover,”after the horrific hurricanes of 1926, ’28 and again in again in ’49, Mr. Nathaniel Reed notes in his writing “Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades: “The Corps of Engineers studied the average size of Lake Okeechobee and designed a dike around it…”

Now this is where things get very interesting.

“The average size of the lake….” what’s that?

Now if we look at this slide taken from a 2016, presented by Jeff Sumner, who was at the time Office Chief State and Agricultural Policy, SFWMD, it shows the size of the lake pre-development. One can see it was about once about 1000 square miles in size and today it is 750.

screenshot.jpg

FullSizeRender 2.jpg
The checkered fields were once lake bottom. L. E. Will, “Okeechobee Hurricane”
FullSizeRender 3.jpg
L.E. Will Swamp to Sugar Bowl. The Glades area, today’s Everglades Agricultural Area has  become one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world…

Of course the size expanded and contracted based on rainfall, but one still gets the point…this lower area was nature’s shoreline, a boggy marsh with rivers leading into a sawgrass “river of grass” bordered by a forest of over 30,000 acres of Custard Apple trees that functioned like mangroves extending up to five miles or more south into what is today’s Belle Glade. As Mr Lawrence Will would have said: “Who wudda thought!” (http://museumoftheglades.org)

IMG_7427.jpg
Pahokee is in upper right. Map Laurence E Will
img_7501
The lake once went further south here and there following the rivers to  Hwy. 80
file-page1-2
Land ownership today
file-page1
Sen. Joe Negron’s map for land purchase

fig1x-2

Captain Backus’ 1838 Map of Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

Gleason
1838 Captain E. Backus map of Lake Okeechobee.

This week we will take a look back at Lake Okeechobee, a lake that since 1923–via the C-44 canal,  has been  connected to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Information for these posts is made possible through a book entitled “Environments of South Florida–Past and Present,” by Patrick J. Gleason. This text was lent to me by Dr Gary Goforth. I will transcribe portions of this rare and amazing text in order for us to contemplate the changes that have occurred and how those who first documented this once remote area experienced our region.

It continues to amaze me—the ability of the early map makers and surveyors who functioned without today’s technology.

For me it is noteworthy to notice how the original map of the lake “veers off to the south-east.” Looking below one can see that today this area is today’s Bell Glade and South Bay. These lands are the richest in “black gold” as they have the accumulation of thousands of years of muck. Now we can see why. Tremendous amounts of sugar and vegetable products are produced in this area. Also, I believe these lands are most valuable because they are less likely to freeze due to their proximity to the lake.

As we can see, although we must take the Captain’s map with a grain of salt–interestingly enough—this area was once the lake…

Today's Google map, 2016.
Today’s Google map, 2016.

Here are the words of Captain Backus for us to ponder as I transcribe:

In 1838 map produced by Captain E. Backus had produced a map of Lake Okeechobee, which for a long time remained buried in the national archives records of the Seminole War. It reveals the knowledge of the lake that time, and his version of the lower Kissimmee River shows graphically how that crooked meandering stream flowed thirty-five miles from Fort Basinger to reach the lake only eighteen miles away– as the crow flies…  In a brief statement in the lower left portion of the map, Captain Backus writes: “Many small streams flow into the Okee-cho–bee on the North-East and West side and also on the South- East side, but it is not known that it has any outlet, and probably has none, except at the high water when Grassy Lake (The Everglades) and Okee-cho-bee are united, and probably empties thought some streams into the Atlantic. This is corroborated by the statements of different indians and negroes who profess to have crossed from one side to the other in a canoe at high-water, and to have carried and dragged a canoe many miles over the portage at low tide.”

I wonder how we would have seen the lake had we been there? Would you have crossed it in a canoe? What would you have dreamt it to become?

 

....
….The handwritten text
....
….Book information and inside cover.

(http://garygoforth.net/index.htm)

Fly-over of South Bay and the Altered Historic Shoreline of Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

 

South Bay is approximately 5.8 miles
South Bay is approximately 5.8 miles from open water, it was once “in” water. Lake O has been drained and altered for agriculture over the past 100 years with most drainage occurring after the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes. (Slide from Todd Thurlow’s presentation)
The red line shows where a former canal was located and filled in. The square is
The red line shows where a former canal was located and filled in. The square is Section 2, Township 44, Row 36E, once custard apples and a “dead river” part of the lake, now sugar fileds. (Todd Thurlow.)

Published on Oct 16, 2015
This overlay flight shows the following maps:
– 1907 Official Map of the Everglades Patent 137 conveyed to Florida on January 2, 1905
– Map of the Everglades Patent 137 re-recorded in Plat Books of Broward County, originally recorded in Plat Book B, Page 131, Dade County Florida
– 1924-1925 USCGS Maps of the Airplane Survey of Lake Okeechobee

After taking a counterclockwise lap around the shoreline of Lake Okeechobee while viewing the 1925 surveys, we return to South Bay.

Section 2 of Township 44 South, Range 36 East, north of the town of South Bay, was originally under the waters of South Bay. On 12/31/1888 that section was conveyed by TIFF to the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad Company. The area of the Lake is now sugarcane farms.

VIDEO LINK: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJkMOIqjr_I&feature=youtu.be)

Lake Okeechobee used to be a much larger lake. It crested at about 21 feet to fall over an undefined edge of sawgrass and in some areas a pond apple forest.

Since the late 1800s the lake has slowly had its undefined edge pushed back and dammed. The lake perhaps holds about 30% less water than it originally could. Those overflow waters today are plumed to drain into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee so that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) can exist. Watch this amazing historic map/Google Earth video created by my brother Todd Thurlow and see for yourself!

South Bay, for instance…Todd explains: “You can see on Google Earth where the canals and levees follow the old shoreline of South Bay, now 5.8 miles from open water, but 2 miles from the rim canal. That Section 2, which was under the bay, was conveyed to the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad Company by TIIF deed on 12/31/1888. It looks like there is a little town there called South Bay…”

I am also including a presentation by the SFWMD’s Dr Christopher McVoy, 2008, about pre-drainage Lake O. Hydrology: (http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/geer2008/Presentation_PDFs/Thursday/Royal%20Palm%20VIII/1040%20C%20McVoy.pdf)

Through understanding history, we understand ourselves.

Lake O's original level was 21 today it is around 15 feet.
Lake O’s original level was 21 today it is around 15 feet.
All images below courtesy of Dr McVay's SFWMD presentation, 2008.
All images below courtesy of Dr McVay’s SFWMD presentation, 2008.
.....
…..
.....
…..

Todd Thurlow: (http://www.thurlowpa.com)