Tag Archives: st lucie estates

Remembering the Scrub Jays of Our Childhood Backyard

A Florida Scrub Jay: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Florida_Scrub-Jay/id

When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!

This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all? 

So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.

St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely.  These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.” 

I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.

I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.

Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.  

Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has  been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.

I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought  that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!

Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…

~The location of my childhood backyard.

After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.

~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!

I was alone in my childhood backyard…

I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.

Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?

I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.

My little sister, Jenny, proudly feeds a neighborhood Scrub Jay, St Lucie Estates, Edgewood Drive, Stuart, ca.1972. (Family Album)
Cousin Drew Hudson and I feed the Scrub Jays 1972, St Lucie Estates, Stuart, FL (Family Album)

Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:

Somehow this cactus garden has grown and survived! Prickly pear is a common scrub plant and a favorite of gopher turtles.
Prickly pear.. Ouch!
Scrub oak and palmetto in a remaining lot off East Ocean Blvd.
A rare sand pine of the Florida Scrub was once prolific requiring fire for pine cones to open and take seed.
Flower of the scrub
Prickly pear in sandy soil with other ground cover

Florida Scrub:



Scrub Jays:




Visit #2 Hawk’s Bluff in Savannas Preserve Park is rare gem of the Florida Scrub landscape and it’s wildlife:

New signs including Scrub Jay and Florida Scrub Habitat signs, Florida Park Service, photo album below from Hawk’s Bluff, 11-3-19




Toxic Beauty, SLR/IRL

Growing up in Stuart in the 1970s, my mother and father gave me full reign to explore the undeveloped lands in the area of St Lucie Estates. I remember endless summers, wandering around in “the woods” and of course my eyes were drawn to the vine of the widely dispersed, perfectly shaped, red and black seeds known as rosary peas.

I would collect them tightly in my little, sweaty hands, pushing them far down into my pockets. I recall the first time I brought them home, my mother said, “Yes, they are very pretty, but don’t eat them, they are poisonous.”

“Hmmm,”I thought. “How can something beautiful be poisonous?”

I continued to collect the seeds, and over the years filled up many clear glass bottles that sat in my window sill; the sun never fading their brilliant color.

Later in life, I learned that bright color patterns, especially red, black, and yellow, as with some caterpillars, or the famous, shy, and deadly coral snake, are “warnings” in nature and actually provide the animal with protection from being eaten.

As I walk through Hawk’s Bluff today, I am thankful to my parents who allowed me to explore the natural world and grow confident, unafraid, even with all of its toxic beauty.


Rosary pea, known many other names: https://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-directory/abrus-precatorius/

Colors in Nature: http://flnps.org/color-nature

“Stuart on the St Lucie,” Real Estate History and the Cluelessness of Developers Regarding the Health of the Indian River Lagoon

St Lucie Estates, On the Beautiful St Lucie River, Stuart Florida, 1926 booklet. (St Lucie Estates, Inc.)
St Lucie Estates, On the Beautiful St Lucie River, Stuart, Florida, 1926 booklet. (St Lucie Estates, Inc.)

In the 1960s, I grew up in St Lucie Estates, Stuart, Florida, the neighborhood just north and south of Kreugar Creek close to the St Lucie River, not too far from Downtown Stuart. Until I was ten, we lived at 109 Edgewood Drive. I loved that little brick house. I had full reign over the neighboring empty lots and could ride my bike on the “black road,” to get to a park, along  the river, next to the Granfield’s house. The kids of the neighborhood often met there, and we pretended the gigantic, falling Australian Pine was a ship and we made it into our fort. We traveled across oceans. We fought pirates. It was a wonderful childhood.

As a kid, I had no idea of the long running issues with the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the canals, and Lake Okeechobee. I just knew I loved the river. I loved that I could escape there. Even when I was in high school, living in Sewall’s Point, I’d steal away and sit under the bridges and “think” in the privacy of the river’s ancient calm.

Today, at half a century, I am still in love with the river, but I view it in a different light. A light of history and destruction. My heart aches because I really don’t know if it can make it against the odds. Now that I am older, I know its complete destruction has been coming for a long time, kind of like a cancer. I am miffed that since 1923, when the ACOE first connected the C-44 to the South Fork of the St Luice, that locals were not able to stop the “drainage machine,” as Ernie Lyons, previous editor of the Stuart News, called it. I am miffed also that the state and federal agencies would so blatantly kill an ecosystem.

When I look through my mother’s historical data and read the ads for selling land in Stuart in the early 1900s, it is ironic that they all incorporate the St Lucie River into their sell while they were killing her.

“Stuart on the St Lucie, 1907;” “St Luice Estates, On the Beautiful St Lucie River, 1926;” “Stuart, Atlantic Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, ca. 1926.”

The are all bragging about draining the Everglades; they are bragging about the digging of the Okeechobee Waterway from Stuart to Ft Meyers thorough Lake Okeechobee; they are basing the draw of the Stuart area on its  location/proximity to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and yet they seem to have no clue that by supporting the over draining and over dredging of everything, they have created the rivers’ own destruction!

All news adds and photos from Stuart on the St Lucie, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow, 2001)
All news ads and photos from Stuart on the St Lucie, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow, 2001)

IMG_5887 IMG_5882 IMG_5883;IMG_5877 IMG_5884

This is an excerpt from the St Lucie Estates sales booklet:

” St Lucie Estates is situated in one of the most gorgeous spots in Florida—the beautiful St Lucie River County…The St Lucie and the Indian River meet here to form one of the most wonderful bodies of water in the world—one hundred miles of navigable waterway,  edged with luxurious tropical foliage able white sandy beaches…”

“In the introduction to my mother’s book, Stuart on the St Lucie, she writes” Pioneer businessmen of Stuart…realized the St Lucie River was the town’s greatest asset. To foster awareness they of the town’s superior location, they used “Stuart on the St Lucie” in promotional literature, on signs and as newspaper headings. Time has not changed the fact that the St Lucie River is the best thing about Stuart.”

Promotional signs to "Stuart on the St Lucie"  along Dixie Highway from Jacksonville read as shown on list and stated, ca. 1919. (SHT)
Promotional signs to “Stuart on the St Lucie” along Dixie Highway from Jacksonville read as shown on list and stated, ca. 1919. (SHT).

The St Lucie is still the best thing about Stuart, and now we know better. The drainage of lands surrounding the St Lucie/IRL was too extensive. In order to make way for agriculture and real estate development.  The St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon now take on more than twice what was originally drained into them. 

The excess fresh water and pollutants have all but killed the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. This chart shows the original drainage in green and today’s drainage which has been added to the green area  in yellow. Lake Okeechobee’s  discharges, in pink, are often on top of this. It is too much.

The old adage says “history repeats itself.” Well, here in “Stuart on the St Lucie,” history cannot repeat itself anymore. We must create a new future.

Drainage changes to the SLR.
Drainage changes to the SLR 1900s to today.(Citizen’s Report to Congress, 1995)