Tag Archives: Southern Sugar Company

The Seeds of U.S. Sugar’s Success, Canal Point, SLR/IRL

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Sugar ration ad WW1

Before we begin today’s lesson, two major changes must be recognized. First after almost a year, the ACOE halted the destructive Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St Lucie River. These releases began January 29th, and lasted through November 4th, 2016.

And on Tuesday, November 8th, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election over Hillary Clinton, an election considered the most remarkable and unpredictable in over 100 years…

Now back to our Road Trip series:

Most recently we have traveled to Canal Point, the first town south of the Martin County line on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. This almost forgotten little town has an amazing history, and holds the seeds of today’s expansive Everglades Agriculture Area and of  United States Sugar Corporation itself.

The easiest way to take this drive through history is a timeline. So let’s crank up the car and begin!

Connors’ Hwy 1920s Florida Memory

1914-1918 – World War 1. Sugar rationing across the nation.

1917- The West Palm Beach Canal is constructed, intersecting at Canal Point, allowing transportation of goods and internal land development around Lake Okeechobee

1918-After the war, Congress holds hearings about concerns that the county should “never again” get into a position where domestic sugar production is just 1.7 billion. The United States Department of Agriculture opens a sugarcane research central at Canal Point that still operates today-a hundred years later.

Original USDA lab/office, Canal Point (Wiki)

1920- The American Legion and Federation of Women’s Clubs mount a national lobbying campaign against the high price of sugar. West Palm Beach chapters lead in support of the effort.

1920- Englishman, F.E. Bryant, already a successful farming business man in Lake Worth, forms the Florida Sugar and Food Products Company working with G.T. Anderson at Canal Point. They buy land and build the first sugar mill by 1921 and encourage expanded sugar farming.

1922-Flooding of some cane fields…they plod on…

1923- 900 acres of sugarcane in Palm Beach County, 800 of it in Canal Point. This is a real success.

1924- Connors’ Highway constructed allowing access in and south of  Lake Okeechobee for more sugar farming and development

1924- More flooding of cane fields– a major set back so Bryant merges his faltering company into a “better capitalized” company in Clewiston. The name of this company is Southern Sugar Company.

1926- Hurricane

1926 Florida land booms slows, beginnings of the Great Depression for Florida

1928 Hurricane- an historic Category 4/5 hits Lake O area coming through West Plam Beach. Up to 3000 people die. Many are never found.

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Coffins at Canal Point, Florida Memory

1931 Businessman and General Motors executive, Charles Stewart Mott purchases Bryant’s failing Southern Sugar Company renaming it United States Sugar Corporation. This is the hugley successful and profitiable Clewiston “US Sugar Corporation” that we know today. http://www.ussugar.com

When I drove through Canal Point a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that this little town held so much history. A history that eventually and unintentionally led to the diking of Lake Okeechobee and the destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

S-352 at Canal Point/WPB Canal

*Thank you to the book Black Gold and Silver Sands, by James D Synder, and the Palm Beach Historical Society as sources.


Cinnamon Toast and the Indian River Lagoon

The Ship and the Oak Tree
The Ship and the Oak Tree (Photo JTL)

In the late 1960s, one of the best things about Christmas, was that old Christmas trees reinforced our fort under the old oak tree, we pretended was a ship, along the St Lucie River.  I remember going to my neighbors, the Schramm’s house, with all their brothers and sisters, to have cinnamon sugar toast for breakfast around this time of year.

Mrs Schramm’s cinnamon toast was like nothing I had ever had: butter, sugar and cinnamon on Wonder Bread toast. Delicious! Little did I know, that one day I would be criticizing  the sugar industry for not doing enough to help us save the Indian River Lagoon.

Recently, I have been reading the book, Raising Cane in the Glades,  The Global Sugar Trade and the Transformation of Florida, by Florida International University professor, Gail M. Hollander. http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/R/bo5704198.html

The book is credited as the first “to study the environmental transformation of the Everglades within the economic and historical geography of global sugar production and trade.” It is an “environmental history,” a discipline that is becoming more studied and written about: how we as humans effect change in our environment.

The book’s history is amazing and so far the story that has hit me the most is one about Mr Bohr Dahlberg who in the late 1920s owned Southern Sugar Company  before it went into “receivership” and was purchased by Stewart Mott who created the United States Sugar Corporation. http://www.ussugar.com/downloads/ussc-history.pdf

Although Mr Dahlberg’s  company went broke by 1928, the year of the great hurricane, he managed to break the Democratic hold on the “South” and form relationships with Republicans across the country for the benefit of the sugar industry in South Florida by supporting the successful presidential campaign of Herbert Hoover. Mr Hoover was a man who came to the support of those who had supported him, and it is he who authorized the building of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, to protect the sugar industry’s lands and the labor. The dike was completed in 1933 and changed forever the fate of the Everglades, the St Lucie River, and the Caloosahatchee River.

The politics of this book will make your jaw drop. Expressions such as: structure of the world system, national and global importance for presidents, national interest and world unrest, supposed and real issues of national security, using drainage and navigation to nationally fund the Okeechobee Flood District, the Army Corp of Engineers, the  Cross State Canal that opened up the major draining of Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

All of this happened thirty years before I ate that cinnamon toast at the Schramms; there are fifty more years of politics that have come into play since then!  The whole thing is rather daunting, but whether a kid, or a 50 year old today, I think the Sugar Industry owes the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon something, after all we take their drainage and I ate all that toast as a kid.