As we continue our historic journey, today we view pages 8-9 of the 1937 Stuart Daily News. Today’s ad for the City of Stuart is so large that it is featured side-to-side rather than top to bottom in the publication. Proudly, because of the completion of the Stuart to Ft Meyers Cross-State Canal, Stuart has branded itself as “the Atlantic Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico,” particularly for the nation’s yachtsmen.
Although this image below was not in the publication, I wanted to include it because one might drive by and not recognize this recently renovated, now officially registered historic structure in Rio for what it really is, ~a monument to the cross-state canal!
Of course also in the ad Stuart lauds itself as a fishing mecca touting: “Florida’s finest fishing in adjacent waters.” The truth of the matter is that the quality of the St Lucie River and Southern Indian River Lagoon, as documented by local fishermen, had been deteriorating since the opening of the St Lucie Canal to Lake Okeechobee in 1923. (Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Stuart on the St Lucie) Nonetheless, the rivers and ocean remained “marvelous” fishing arenas as this 1938 Chamber of Commerce Fishing Guide shows.
Today, the City of Stuart remains the vibrant and beautiful heart of Marin County, but it no longer brags about being “the Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico.” As much as the St Lucie Canal has caused issue with our local waterways, I do think the Stuart to Ft Meyers connection, and being a starting point for a historic boat trip across the state is worth re-boasting about!
City of Stuart: http://www.cityofstuart.us
History, City of Stuart: http://www.cityofstuart.us/index.php/naming-of-stuart
Stuart Museum: http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com
Stuart Chamber: https://www.stuartmartinchamber.org/tourism/history
TCPalm’s Elliott Jones reported this morning that Stuart has received a whopping 11.30 inches of rain just so far this month! (The average being 7.14.)
Although due to the recent drought, the ACOE/SFWMD are not dumping Lake Okeechobee through Canal C-44, canals C-23, C-24, C-25, and areas along C-44, as well as our own basin, are draining right into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Very little of this water is cleansed before it enters and thus is damaging to the eco system. Next time you see water draining through a grate in a parking lot, think about this. Remember too that before the major canals were constructed the 1900s, the river received less than half the water it gets every time it rains today.
The aerials below were taken 6-13-17 by my husband Ed Lippisch and pilot Dave Stone. It is important to monitor the river all of the time so we can view changes.
“Rain stained” we are; please remember not to fertilize during the rainy season. The birds on Bird Island will appreciate it! (http://befloridian.org)
Canals draining water into SLR/IRL after rain events:
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! 🙂
Martin County’s theme is “Our Good Nature.” We have kept some of it, unlike so many other counties in the state of Florida. I grew up appreciating this. My mother and father used to bring home injured animal for my sister, Jenny, my brother, Todd, and me to care for when we were growing up in Stuart in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I was taught never to be afraid of wild animals, but to respect them.
One of my favorite fascinations with local wildlife is the black, or “melanistic,” bobcats of western Martin County. I have written before about this local genetic phenomenon. In fact, it is one of my all time most popular posts. Indeed, there are more reports of black bobcats or “black panthers” occur right here, especially around Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie Canal, than anywhere else in the state!
Yesterday, my friend and UF NRLI classmate, FWC biologist Angeline Scotten– who was in town to give a coyote presentation for Sewall’s Point and Martin County, took me to visit Busch Wildlife Sanctuary and to meet her mentor– of animal-fame– David Hitzig, Busch Wildlife’s long time executive director. I was totally impressed. What an amazing place. You must visit! http://www.buschwildlife.org
Early on in the conversation I told Mr Hitzig that for whatever reason, although an animal fan, I had never visited Busch Wildlife Sanctuary—but that I had written about a black bobcat that was documented to be at the sanctuary after being trapped near the St Lucie Canal in Western Martin County. This bobcat had been eating somebody’s chickens.
Excitedly, Mr Hitzig noted that yes, the melanistic bobcat had been at the center a few years ago, and was released. He also shared that just this month, April 2016, there had been reports of not one, but two, black bobcat cubs walking behind their mother; he later shared this rare and awesome photo.
What a sight! Two black bobcat cubs strolling happily along behind their mother in western Martin County. I love this place. Don’t you?
Former post on black bobcat that was temporarily at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/07/the-black-bobcats-of-the-st-lucie-region-and-indian-river-lagoon/
Correction to blog 🙂 Just after completing this post, I just received an email from David Hitzig of Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, and this black bobcat cub photo was taken in Okeechobee, a western neighbor to Martin County not Martin County itself as I thought when I wrote this! Certainly there are no boarders for the cats and Okeechobee and Martin are side by side “out west.” See map below. Wanted to note for the record. jacqui
Thank you Mr David Hitzig for sharing this marvelous photo.
Thank you to FWC Angeline Scotten from UF NRLI Class XV for taking me to the Busch Wildllife Sanctuary and for her excellent coyote presentation for the Town of Sewall’s Point: http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu
In the days before air travel, the term “air line” was a common for denoting the “shortest distance between two points”–a straight line drawn through the air, or on a map–unaccounting for obstacles. Therefore, a number of 19th century railroads used “air line” in their titles to suggest that their routes were shorter than those of competing roads…in the 1920s, there was a famous rail company named “Sea Board Airlines” and Indiantown, was to be its South Florida headquarters…
Lately, rail travel has been on everyone’s mind here along the Treasure Coast, as the controversy and indignities of “All Aboard Florida” play out. The power and transformation rail brought to the state of Florida is legendary, especially in the history of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad. A lesser known entity that was perhaps equally competitive in its day, is Sea Board Airlines, a rail company whose history had a collision with Indiantown, Florida, in western Martin County, right in the area of Lake Okeechobee. If fate had just tracked a bit in the rail line’s favor, things could be very different today….
In 1924, Mr. Solomon Davies Warfield, amazingly related to the soon to be and iconoclastic Duchess of Windsor, became CEO of the Seaboard Air Line. He began building a 204-mile track extension, called the “Florida Western & Northern Railroad,” from the Seaboard mainline in Coleman, Florida, ( just northwest of Orlando in Sumter County) to West Palm Beach. Previously these locations had been the exclusive domain of the Florida East Coast Railway. The Seaboard extension ran through Indiantown, which Warfield planned to make the new southern headquarters of the Seaboard.
Many life changing things were happening in our region in the 1920s. The Florida land boom was in full swing, swamps were becoming real estate, and the connection of the St Lucie Canal from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River officially occurred forever changing the health of the area rivers. (1923) The canal, although primarily an outlet to control for the “southerly overflow” waters of Lake Okeechobee for farmers, was also “flood control,” and on a business level, the canal was meant and “sold” to be a trade route for shipping the riches of the interior of the state. The goal of backers of the canal was to compete with the railroads.
Well the frenzy of dollar signs came to a head and in 1926. The stock market crashed, and the horrors of the Great Depression for Florida and the nation ensued. A stressed Warfield died in 1927, and Indiantown just kind “faded into history.” Dreams became memories. Life changed. Florida morphed….Nevertheless, Indiantown still sits positioned for a prosperous future. In fact, it’s waiting and ready to relive history. What do they say? “Location, location, location! ” What do you think?
Me? I have a funny feeling history will repeat itself for Indiantown; in fact, I see a train comin’ ’round the track! 🙂
(Warfield’s name still remains on “everything” in Indiantown today! (road, school. etc.)
There are over 2000 miles of canals draining precious fresh water off South Florida; it’s a good idea to know the main ones. I started thinking about this after going through some old files and finding this awesome 1909 Map Dr Gary Goforth shared with me showing a plan in 1909 to drain the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee WITHOUT killing the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Well as they say: “The rest is history….” As we know, the C-44, or St Lucie Canal, was later built.
So when I was looking on-line for a good map to show the canals of South Florida today to compare to Gary’s canal map of 1909, believe it or not, I could not find one! One that was well labeled anyway. So I made my own.
It’s pretty “home-school” but its readable. From left to right, below, you will see canals Caloosahatchee, (C-43); Miami, (L-23); New River, (L-18); Hillsboro, (L-15); West Palm Beach, (L-12); L-8 that never got a name as far as I am aware; and St Lucie, (C-44.) I do not know why some are labeled “C” and others are “L,” but you can follow them to see where they dump.
I believe the first two built were the Miami and the New River— by 1911, as I often see those two on historic maps prior to 1920. Today our state canal plumbing system is outdated and wasteful sending on average over 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water to tide (to the ocean) every day. (Mark Perry, Florida Oceanographic.)
Even though I grew up in Stuart, I was never really taught about the canals. As a young adult and even older, I drove around for years not knowing about these canals and others like C-23, C-24, and C-25. If I “saw” them, I did not “recognize” them. I knew the land had been “drained” but really had no conception of what that meant or the extent thereof…
I remember my mom used to say if we were driving around in Ft Pierce in the 80s, “And to think there used to be inches of water covering all this land at certain times of the year….” I just stared at her but didn’t really “get it.” The pine trees flashed by and it seemed “impossible” what she was saying…
In any case, the young people today should be learning in detail about these canals so they can be “updated,” “refreshed,” “reworked,” and “replugged.” Say “no” to old-fashioned canals, and “hello” to a new and better South Florida!
Below is a history of the South Florida canals as written in an email to me by Dr Gary Goforth. It is very enlightening. Thanks Gary!
As you know, plans to manage the level of Lake Okeechobee (by discharging to tide) in order to develop and protect the agricultural lands south of the lake were developed before 1850 and evolved through the mid-1950s.
1. Buckingham Smith, Esq. in 1848 proposed connecting the Lake with the Loxahatchee River and/or the San Lucia (report to the Sec. of the US Treasury; copy available).
2. In 1905, Gov. Broward rejected a proposal to lower the Lake with a new canal connecting to the St. Lucie River.
3. Attached is a 1909 map of South Florida from the 1909 State of Florida report “Report on the Drainage of the Everglades of Florida, By J. O. Wright, Supervising Drainage Engineer”. The importance of this map and report is the recommendation to manage the water level in Lake Okeechobee via drainage into multiple canals from the Lake to the Atlantic Ocean – but NOT the St. Lucie Canal. The primary canal for moving Lake water to the Atlantic was to be the Hillsboro Canal which would connect the Lake to the Hillsboro River in present day Deerfield Beach / Boca Raton. Note the recommendation is to construct what is now called the “West Palm Beach Canal” and route Lake water into the Loxahatchee River and then out to the ocean via the Jupiter Inlet – this is actually being accomplished as part of CERP and the Loxahatchee River restoration program.
4. In 1913, the State accepted the recommendation of an NY engineer (Isham Randolph) to construct a canal connecting the Lake to the St. Lucie River (report available). The Everglades Drainage District was formed the same year, and was responsible for the construction of the canal and associated locks/water control gates. (historical construction photos available). Construction lasted from May 1915 through 1924, and the first Lake discharges to the St. Lucie occurred June 15, 1923 (ref: Nat Osborn Master’s thesis 2012, copy available)
5. After the 1928 hurricane, the State asked for and received federal assistance. The canal was enlarged by 1938; new St. Lucie Locks was rebuilt in 1941; the new spillway was constructed in 1944. —Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net)
The canal systems of South Florida are managed by the SFWMD:(http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/sfwmdmain/home%20page) and the ACOE: (http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports.htm) Their future will be determined by the people and the Florida Legislature.
In yesterday’s blog, I quoted a Department of Environmental Protection document stating that the St Lucie Canal, now known as “C-44,” was originally proposed in the early 1900s to connect Lake Okeechobee to the Manatee Pocket in Port Salerno, rather than the South Fork of the St Lucie River…
So after reading my blog, my mother sends me this awesome historic real estate ad above. Can you believe it? I had heard the tales of “urban legend” for years, but now there is a visual of this historical record!
She wrote: “This was the centerfold for a booklet “Little Journeys to Salerno and the Famous St. Lucie Inlet Farms, 1914.”
I just blows my mind that those old timers were trying to turn Stuart into Miami. If the 1926 depression had not hit, they just may have been successful…
In any case there was a fight for the now dreaded C-44 canal between Stuart and Port Salerno. Stuart “won” to lose…
The historic ad above reads:
“The bird’s-eye view printed here shows the position of the tract as to transportation–the magnificent and picturesque water of the St Lucie River—the Indian River—the St Lucie Inlet where the United States Government has appropriated one-hundred thousand dollars toward the construction of a deep water harbor–the Atlantic Ocean–the automobile thoroughfare, which connects Jacksonville to Miami–and the location of the town of Port Salerno which is clearly destined to become the commercial city and the great shipping point for the products of the winter gardens of the Everglades—the most logical route for the proposed state ship and drainage canal, which is to empty into the St Lucie Inlet and will deliver most of the products from the vast Everglades, for distribution and shipment, at tis point the proposed shore road and bridge connecting the mainland with Sewall’s Point and many other features which go to prove the enviable location of Port Salerno and the St Lucie lnlet Farms.”
Thanks mom, for another amazing piece of history!
Video showing where the C-44 did connect to the South Fork of the St Lucie River: video Todd Thurlow:
Link to video:(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYI34XZUNYs&feature=youtu.be)
Link to yesterday’ blog: (http://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/06/08/journey-back-in-time-to-see-the-creation-of-c-44-the-greatest-negative-impact-to-the-st-lucie-riverindian-river-lagoon/)
Link to video: Where “did” the St Lucie Canal connect with the South Fork of the St Lucie River?
I share a video today that I believe to be my most “insightful” blog post since I began writing in 2013. The video above by my brother, Todd, who is an expert in historic map overlays merged with images from today’s Google Earth, communicates and educates in a manner no one map or document could do independently.
The video’s journey shows exactly where the C-44 canal was connected to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. An historic Hanson Grant map reveals the “Halpatiokee River, meaning “alligator river;” with a basis in multiple Indian languages. Because the St Lucie Inlet was not opened, the forks and river were “fresh,” thus alligators lived there. Then flying over a 1910 plat map of St Lucie Inlet Farms, you will see the South Fork of the St Lucie River mapped out. As the image changes over “time” you will see the construction of the C-44 canal, and how it was built right through the middle of South Fork’s north-western prong. In fact, those prongs today on the northerly side, are “gone” as sections 32 and 33 show. Those lands today are agriculture fields. As the journey continues, in the developed areas of St Lucie Farms you will see a very large lake “disappear” near section 25. I find all of this fascinating and kind of depressing… My brother said it best: “Wealth created at the expense of the environment…” Maybe we could create more wealth today going in the opposite direction?
The canal was built by the Everglades Flood Control District and later the Army Corp of Engineers, at the request of the state of Florida and Stuart Chamber of Commerce head Capt. Stanley Kitching and other “leaders.” (From conversation with historian Sandra Thurlow).
According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s Eco-Summary from 2000, the C-44 canal was begun in 1916 and completed in 1924. The document states:
“Next to the permanent opening of the St Lucie Inlet which changed the St Lucie River from a freshwater river to a brackish estuary, the construction of the C-44 has had the greatest impact on the St Lucie Estuary….Records show people have been complaining since the 1950s and there are numerous problem associated with the C-44 Canal…
UThe article discusses the prevalence of fish lesions due to too much fresh water, sediment smothering benthic communities, seagrass destruction, and the continued heavy nutrient and pesticide loading from agriculture and development in light of a tremendously enlarged basin coupled with massive periodic releases from Lake Okeechobee. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/C-44%20Canal%20.pdf)
The DEP Eco Summary also states: The canal..“was originally designed to enter Manatee Pocket instead of the South Fork of the St Lucie River. ”
IInteresting isn’t it… to ponder what would have been different if the canal had gone through the Manatee Pocket instead? Certainly the St Lucie River would have been spared but the Pocket, near shore reefs, and inlet surrounding perhaps full of even more contaminated silt and high impact nutrients. Best of all the canal would have never been built but that reality we cannot change…or can we?
Most important today is to know where we have come from so we can redirect where we are. Please take a look at the very short video, put your thinking cap on, and let’s get the state, federal and local governments delivering on what they have documented as problematic for Florida’s waters since the 1970s. Only the people will change this problem, not the government.
Video creator: Todd Thurlow, P.A. (http://thurlowpa.com)
ACOE, Army Corp o fEngineers, Lake Okeechobee: (http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee/OkeechobeeWaterway(OWW).aspx)
Looking at this old 1909, original, Palm Beach County map, the book, “The History of Martin County” states:
“…extending from Stuart on the north line to a line three miles south of Pompano Beach was Palm Beach County.”
It continues: “The southerly ten miles was subtracted and included in the creation of Broward County in 1915, and in 1925, the northerly seventeen miles was lost to Martin County.”
It is interesting to think that “we,” Martin County, were once a part of Palm Beach County that is so different from us today in terms of land development and water theory.
In 1909, the C-44, or St Lucie Canal, had not been connected to the South Fork of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. What a paradise it must have been! Oh the fishing and wildlife!
Nonetheless, no matter what “county” one was in, people were draining the land and altering the fishing and wildlife….that is what has led us to where we are today. “White”settlers lived along the New River Canal, the canal second from the west on this map, as early as 1830s. 185 years!
Knowing our history, allows us to change our future. Knowing we were once part of something many of us now separate ourselves from brings perspective….
An interesting document to peruse regarding this situation is by the South Florida Water Management District entitled “Canals in South Florida.”
As we fight for a better water future, the more we know, the further we will go! Take a look and enjoy.
Last week, I took my fourteen year old niece, Natalie, to a meeting with me, to meet Florida’s brand new, only seven weeks old in the position of Lieutenant Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami; he is the first hispanic ever to hold this office.
The purpose of the meeting was to “educate” the new lieutenant governor about issues concerning the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. I had Natalie for Spring Break and since she has been a member of River Kidz (http://riverscoalition.org) since she was ten, I figured I’d put her to work.
I said, “Natalie, just be honest and polite. Shake his hand, look him in the eye, smile and then tell him how you and your family were affected by the releases from Lake Okeechobee and the other canals last summer, the “Lost Summer.”
When it was our turn, Natalie went first. She did exactly what I had asked. She shook his hand, looked him in the eye and smiled saying:” My name is Natalie and I live in North River Shores. Last summer, because of the releases from Lake Okeechobee, my family and I could not use the new wakeboard we got for Christmas, because the river was off limits with toxic algae blooms. Also we did not go fishing like we usually do. The water was gross…”
At this point, as there were others standing around listening and waiting to meet Mr Lopez-Cantez too, I did my typical control-freak move and “nicely” butted in just to qualify a piece of information so my comrades couldn’t claim I was using Natalie for purposes of propaganda.
“Natalie, we should mention, that the other canals were releasing too; you know the C-23 and C-24; the C-23 is the one your sister did her Science Fair Project on…”
Natalie looked and me and the Lieutenant Governor looked at me. Natalie nodded her head, and Mr Lopez-Cantera honestly asked: “Don’t all the canals here connect to Lake Okeechobee?” Silence.
“I’m glad you asked, I said. It’s all very confusing.” I drew a picture as Natalie explained that C-44 does connect to the lake, but C-23 and C-24 do not. She also explained that the C-23 and C-24 are very polluting canals, but it has been only when the heavy releases from Lake Okeechobee come, on top of the releases from our local canals, that the river goes completely toxic.
I told a story that is well known. Prior to the releases from Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District had taken samples of toxic algae, “microcystis aeruginosa,” a type of cyanobacteria, from Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca , and the Army Corp of Engineers knew this, before they opened the gates at S-308 and S-80 allowing the water to flow into the St Lucie Canal and St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
I relayed that Mark Perry speaks on this situation often, reiterating again, that the river became toxic not while our own, although they be disgusting canals, were releasing, but only when the massive water from the Lake Okeechobee was allowed in…
The Lieutenant Governor looked surprised, “Who is Mary Perry? ” he asked. “Mark Perry is the executive director for Florida Oceanographic,” I replied. Mr. Lopez-Cantera wrote down Mark’s name.
Our fifteen minutes were up, I gave the Lieutenant Governor a booklet of aerial photos my husband and I took of the river during the summer of 2013; he did a double take when he saw the cover but it was time to go.
Nonetheless, he did not rush us off, and as we were getting up to go, he told Natalie about being a big wake boarder himself in Miami in younger days. We took a photo for Natalie’s album and then Natalie and I were off to walk the dogs and bake cookies since it was too windy to go to the beach.
I commend the Lieutenant Governor for coming to Stuart and meeting with local stakeholders to learn about the Indian River Lagoon, St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. I’m sure he has people pulling at him from all directions, but he came here.
As distasteful as politics is, at the end of the day, change for our rivers will come through the steady work of building relationships. By knowing our politicians, whether they be republican or democrat, the face to face experience makes it harder for them to forget us when the vote is before them.
I’m hoping when it comes time for a vote, or in the future when the possibility of sending the water south is real, Lieutenant Governor Lopez-Cantera, or what ever his position is at that time, will remember the nice kid named Natalie from Stuart, and her story about not being able to wakeboard in the toxic St Lucie River during the lost summer of 2013.
The headlines of the South Florida Developer on December 29th, 1925 bragged about a Stuart along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon very different than the one we know today:
“Port of Stuart, Florida’s New Gateway. “
“The Opening of the St Lucie Inlet to the commerce of the world will bring to Stuart and all Martin County that belated recognition to which it is rightfully entitled by virtue of its strategic geographic location.”
“W.B. Shearer, recognized international authority on ports and waterways, makes the positive statement that of all the East Coast’s four hundred miles of waterfront, the harbor at Stuart is the the only port with natural advantages suitable for a naval base…”
“St Lucie Ship Canal Locks- the first link in the chain of waterways that will eventually form a navigable canal from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico is the “St Lucie Ship Canal” now 95% complete. It’s completion will open up the fertile western portion of Marin County…”
As these headlines show, the “Port of Stuart” was not just a dream, in the early 1920s, it was a becoming reality. Details of the port still exists in dusty federal, state and local documents. If it were not for the Great Depression of the late 1920s and the difficulty for the ACOE in dynamiting the Anastasia rock from the bottom of the St Lucie Inlet, it could have been a reality.
So how could this be? Today an idea like this would be heresy!
Well, Captain Henry Sewall, for which the peninsula of Sewall’s Point is named, was one of many responsible for this “heresy.” Not only had he led locals to open the St Lucie Inlet by hand in 1892, he had served as county commissioner, and state representative.
In 1910 Captain Sewall and his powerful business friends, including adventurer Hugh Willoughby, founded “Sewall’s Point Land Company,” as Captain Sewall had inherited the tip of Sewall’s Point and large portions of waterfront and other lands along Stuart through his family linage to the famous Miles-Hanson Grant.
According to Sandra Thurlow’s book: “Sewall’s Point, the History of a Peninsula on Florida’s Treasure Coast,” after the formation of Sewall’s Point Land Company, the men got right to work building the Sunrise Inn on Old St Lucie Boulvard, and miles of roads in today’s Golden Gate; (see map above), government, bonds were held by the county and a turning basin at the tip of Sewall’s Point was dredged; this fill created today’s Sandsprit Park.”
A turning basin at Sewall’s Point? You’ve got to be kidding.
They were not.
Even poetry was written for the dream, ironically by beloved environmentalist, Ernie Lyon’s father:
Just One Place for the Harbor by Harry Lyons 1924
“Brave sailors in Atlantic storms, A harbor need for aid. They skirt the coast of Florida, Lest commerce be delayed. When hurricanes sweep o’er the deep, And ships grave perils face, ‘Tis the duty of all mariners, To seek an anchorage place. You’ll find the place for a harbor here, Where the old St. Lucie flows. There is room for ships at Sewall’s Point, Where the Indian River goes. No where else is there such an inlet, Down below or up above. There is just one place for the harbor! Stuart the town we love! From Stuart to Fort Myers at last, We’ll have a waterway, When the canal is finished, And they’re hastening the day. Across Lake Okeechobee, From the Gulf of Mexico, Oil and phosphate, fruit and lumber, Into Stuart soon will go.”
Sewall died in 1925 and the bottom fell out of the real estate market around 1926. Around the same time, two devastating hurricanes put the nail in coffin of the Stuart Port at the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
It is interesting to note that the St Lucie Canal, C-44, between Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River was completed not only for transportation and trade, but for flood control of agriculture and people working south of the lake. The prosperity associated with the canal for the local people of Stuart never came and the canal ended up being a major factor in the destruction of their beloved waterways…
Well time goes on, new dreams come and go; new fortunes are made and lost. But for old times’ sake, one can stand at Sandsprit Park, and look out to Sewall’s Point remembering perhaps Stuart’s biggest dream, the lost dream, and for many, a dream well lost, the dream of the “Great Port of Stuart.”
*Thank you to my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, for sharing her historic articles to make this write up possible.
The Martin County Difference” is an expression that one often hears from locals that means exactly what it says, “things are different here…”
Not only are the different, they are exceptional. We have the beautiful St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, a four story height limit, a strong urban service boundary, great public schools, a strong fertilizer ordinance, public beaches and black bobcats…
When I was a kid growing up in Stuart, one sometimes heard stories from the kids that lived in Indiantown or Palm City about “black panthers.” And someone who had seen them would swear on their mother’s grave this to be true. Supposedly these stories had been around for many, many years coming down from parents and grandparents.
More recently in 2008, my first year on the Sewall’s Point commission, the town had at least three “normally colored” bobcats and multiple kittens. The sightings were very exciting but scared some residents who had moved here from up north so I started reading about bobcats in great detail. Eventually we had Dan Martinelli of the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center speak before the commission and things calmed down but my fascination with these beautiful creatures did not.
I talked about bobcats a lot during this time and in the course of a discussion, one of my husband’s physician friends who lived in Palm City, with great excitement told a story of seeing a black bobcat in Palm City walk across his yard. That same year one of the Guatemalan landscape workers in the town, knowing I loved animals, struggled wide eyes to tell me about the black panther he had seen walking along a fence, close to Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie Canal, that he had seen while fishing with his son.
According to my reading there have been more reports of melanistic bobcats in Martin County than anywhere else in the country, mostly near the area of the St Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee and Loxahatchee.
If you want to find these reports, google “melanistic bobcats martin.” These posts are not entirely scientific but they are documented. They say there have been sightings for the past 80 years.
Although I never seen a black bobcat, popular lore says the exist, I believe it, and it’s certainly better documented than Sasquatch who many of my high school friends claimed to see too.
What an incredible place to live! The “Martin County Difference!”