Tag Archives: The Once Great Forests of Indiantown

The Once Great Forests of Indiantown

FPL cooling pond east of Lake Okeechobee, Indiantown, was once a gigantic cypress forest. April 21, 2023 – Ed Lippisch.

Even though I am obsessed with water, my first love is trees. Because the trees are gone we forget that deforestation was occurring at the same time as the building of the St Lucie Canal – and was equally destructive.

Because the cypress and pine forests of our area were logged prior to the first ariels taken by the Department of Agriculture in 1940, there is really no visual record. But we have clues.

1940 aerials DOA, FL. Indiantown is marked just above the “dip” in the St. Lucie Canal. Click on image to enlarge. UF Libraries.
Long leaf pine forest image 1930s, Florida Memory

A recent article shared with me by my mother got me thinking about our region’s “once forests” again. The long title of the article from mom’s archives reads: “Hammons Sawmill Employs 300 Men, Big Business at Indiantown Has Hum of Activity, Largest  Industry in This County is Run by Texan Men.”  The Stuart News article is dated Saturday, July 19, 1930 and it really gets one thinking about how extensive our cypress and pine forests once were.

The article begins:

“The biggest and busiest operation in Martin County is the plant of the Long Leaf Lumber Company, five miles northwest of Indiantown.

There, in the woods, 300 men are busy daily, cutting timber, sawing the busy logs into boards of many shapes and sizes, curing the refinished lumber and shipping it to all parts of the world… enough timber for ten years….”

“Five miles northwest of Indiantown” puts one about at today’s Florida Power and Light plant, so recognizable from the air. It is located west of Highway 710  also known as Warfield Boulvard. As far as cypress trees are concerned, we know an extensive cypress forest connected to Lake Okeechobee existed in this area prior to it being converted into a cooling reservoir for FPL in the 1970s. Today what is left is a thumb known as “Barley Barber Swamp.”

So a clue, cypress just outside the marsh of Lake Okeechobee, yes, but what about the numerous pine trees and were there any long leaf pines as the article notes the Indiantown sawmill of 1930 was run by a Texan “Long Leaf Lumber Company?” 

5 miles NW of Indiantown connects to about FPL thin yellow line – Hwy 710, Google.
Everglades Drainage District -St Lucie Canal c. 1916-1924. Note pine trees. https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/335250#!

Pines were very prevalent as we see in old photos and reports of the digging of the St Lucie Canal, but the best clue I know of mentioning long leaf pine trees lies in an abstract, No. 12386, of Indiantown. These lands can be traced to the 1850 Swamp and Overflow Lands Act; Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund; the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railway; the Southern States Land and Timber Company; The Land Company of Florida- Seaboard Railway; and in 1925 to the Indian Lumber Company. Certainly this 1855 survey map below from the abstract is a snapshot of the surrounding area pre-drainage.

Original land survey with trees and other natural features- 1855 of today’s Indiantown sec. 6&5. Abstract 12386 Thurlow & Thurlow

Back then, as now, there were a lot of land shisters and one them of that era according to the abstract was J.H. Vaughn who in 1910 made an agreement for someone to “examine” 2000 feet of long leaf pine and 90,000,000 of cypress. He acted as a representative for Southern States Land and Timber Company but was later called into court for false representation, so perhaps he is not a trustworthy source. Perhaps Southern States Land and Timber -the company that first planted sugarcane at Canal Point blossoming into today’s sugar industry- and owned just about all the lands of Martin, Palm Beach and other- was so powerful they framed him? I don’t know. In any case, the very broad swath of lands mentioned in his agreement clearly refers to”long leaf pine.” If it wasn’t long leaf some could have been virgin slash pine or “yellow pine” that can live up to 400 years old.

Page form Abstract No. 12386, courtesy of Thurlow & Thurlow

So whether it was virgin cypress, virgin long leaf pine, or virgin slash pine, or another type of pine when was it timbered, some of it was cut in Martin County, Florida, near Indiantown.

According to the same abstract, in 1924, after all the lawsuits, the lands that make up today’s Indiantown went back to Southern States Land and Timber Company, or it was theirs the whole time. Crazy land deals! Eventually, they gave permission for the The Land Company of Florida to cut the timer.  And then in 1926, Indian Lumber Company was “given” land to erect a sawmill at Indiantown.

(First you drain the land, then you cut the timber, then you develop it and name it after something that is no longer there.) Sorry!

So the article says 1930 and the abstract says 1926….

I think we can safely say that most of the cypress and pine forests in and surrounding Indiantown were cut in the 1920s and 1930s. I think this is important to remember. It’s not just the canals that killed the St Lucie River. It was also the cutting of the trees. Thousands of acres of trees. Great forests. Home to wildlife beyond our imagination.

Next time you’re are driving around out there, imagine the once great forests of Indiantown. They must have been a sight to see!

Famous 1913 Harshberger vegetation map marks forest surrounding today’s Indiantown in 1913. Look west of “Allapattah Flats.”

-July 19, 1930, Stuart News, Martin County, FL., courtesy Sandra Thurlow.

Image from video Barley Barber/FPL story byTodd Thurlow.
Image of a cypress forest, Florida Parks.