Tag Archives: thurlow ruhnke collection

“The Boon of the Huge Ditch,” St Lucie Canal

Today, we will continue to study an article of a 1964 50th Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News from my mother’s history archives. We are doing this in light of the upcoming 100 year “anniversary” of the St. Lucie Canal.

The title of the this article, published originally in the 1920s is “St Lucie  Canal, Approved in 1914, Is Boon to Agriculture Here. Huge Citrus Growth Along Water Route; Mayaca Groves First.” In 2023with all of our water quality issues it is hard to imagine supporting the digging of this giant ditch. Back in the 1920s, it was a promise for a better future.

Looking west towards Lake Okeechobee. St Lucie Canal meeting the south fork of the St Lucie River c. 1920s. Thurlow/Ruhnke Collection.

TRANSCRIPTION, first 4 paragraphs of Stuart News 50th Anniversary Edition, 1964, page 6-H. JTL

“The St Lucie Canal, a twenty-five  mile artificial river tapping vast Lake Okeechobee, was originally approved back in 1914 as a drainage and navigation outlet from the lake, with great accent upon its commercial use as a barge waterway, but few foresaw that its greatest boon would be to agriculture. Digging began in September 1915, with dredges starting at the lake and working eastward.

Excerpt, Stuart News Anniversary Edition 1964.

The land from Stuart westward to the mysterious lake was a wilderness supporting a few scrub cattle and a few patches of “hit-and-run” tomato farms which were frequently drowned out or parched. Small scale citrus plantings, attempted on ten-acre tracts west of Palm City and Port Salerno were bringing heartbreak because of a lack of water control. There was either too much or too little.

Back on November 5, 1915, the Stuart newspaper reported the work of digging the huge St. Lucie-Okeechobee drainage and shipping canal is progressing nicely and is being hurried along with night and day shifts. Two dredges are employed in the work, each operating from the Okeechobee end. The small dredge, which precedes the larger, is now about one and one-half miles from the lake, and is advancing at the rate of about 600 feet a day. The large dredge which completes the actual work of digging the huge ditch has reached a point about one and one-half miles from the Okeechobee end and is excavating dirt at the rate of about 10,000 cubic yards daily. If this rate could be maintained constantly work would be finished in a year. Actual digging operations on the canal have been in progress for about five weeks. It is probable, the the Furst Clark Construction Company, the contractors, will also put a dredge at the St Lucie end of the canal so as to expedite the work, although no definite announcement to this effect has been made.

Manuscript Collection, courtesy, Florida Memory https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/335255
Dredge “Culebra” on the St. Lucie Canal in the Everglades Drainage District, 1925.

The St Lucie Canal will be the main control canal of the immense Everglades drainage system, the largest drainage project in the world. The huge ditch will be twenty-five miles in length. 200 feet wide at the top, 160 feet wide at the bottom, with a maximum depth of twelve feet. It will empty into the south fork of the St lucie River six miles above Stuart, the waters reaching the Atlantic Ocean through St Lucie Inlet about the same distance southeast of Stuart. Indications are the digging operations will now go steadily forward until the completion of the canal and that no further hitch up will result  as the Internal Improvement Board of Florida and the United States War Department have come to a thorough understanding…” 

-End of transcription.

Florida Geology Collection, courtesy Florida Memory, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/124753
People along the Saint Lucie Canal near Indiantown. Note sand. Unlike other canals  constructed, at least partially along the alignment of natural creeks or rivers, the St. Lucie Canal winds through uplands with no natural drainage patterns (SFWMD historic timeline). The St Lucie has/had no natural connection to Lake Okeechobee.

The St Lucie Canal, now known as the C-44 Canal since becoming part of the Central and Southern Florida Project of 1948, runs from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Luice River. The canal/ditch allows for both “basin runoff” (historically almost all of this water flowed south to the Loxahatchee system attached to the Everglades) and  Lake Okeechobee’s waters to be directed through the St Luice River. The “ditch” is also designed to flow backwards into the lake if the lake level is lower than the canal level.

The infamous St Lucie Canal in spite of its “boon for agriculture and Everglades drainage” has been, and continues to be, the most controversial canal in Martin County (in 1925 Martin County was created from Palm Beach County and a smaller part of St Lucie County) due to its potential for immense, longstanding, economic and environmental damaging discharges to the St Lucie River.

Thankfully and ironically, progress by the same entities that built this huge “ditch” is being made by the modern  Army Corp of Engineers (referred to in the historic Stuart News article as the United States War Department) and their local partner whose origins go back to the 1905 Everglades Drainage District now the South Florida Water Management District.  Yes, modern progress is being achieved through the Indian River Lagoon South portion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. As we know, times change and so does the definition of what brings a better future!

As we work to improve the system it is important to understand the perceived positive and negative consequences of the history of this “ditch.” I will be writing a lot about the St Lucie Canal this year, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, next year, 2024, will be the official anniversary of the St Luice Canal.

Google Maps today in 2023. The red bubble is near Indiantown. The St Lucie Canal runs from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River and out to sea at the St Luice Inlet, near blue dot. The St Lucie “ditch” cut through uplands of narrow strips of pine flatlands interspersed with hammocks, ponds, sawgrass, wide prairies, sloughs and cypress trees, severing the natural flow south of water from Allapattah Flats and connected lands that once drained almost entirely  into the Loxahatchee/ Everglades system that also has been severed.

Study of this historic article is to be continued…JTL

 

The Stuart Middle School Pond That “Was Made to Disappear…” SLR/IRL

Left, 1947 photo of Stuart High School that today is the location of the Martin County School Board Administrative Buildings. Right, “The Log Cabin,” that is now located at Langford Park in Jensen Beach/Rio. Today’s Stuart Middle School along East Ocean Blvd. is located exactly where this pond used to be. Photo shared by historian Alice Luckhardt from Clyde Counant, Thurlow/Collection.
Google Earth (from opposite direction) shows 2017 image of today’s Stuart Middle School (large roof in middle of photo, marked as #102 East Ocean, Stuart) at corner of Georgia Ave and East Ocean Blvd.  The school is built IN the area where large pond once was located that you see in the 1947 black and white photo above . Notice the small depression to the right of the building. That is what is left of the pond.

This week, with a short reprieve from politics, I have been sharing historic photos and videos of the once wetlands and ponds of East Ocean Boulevard. Land use changes interest me as land use is of course directly connected to the water quality and health of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

After reading yesterday’s blog, historian and family friend Alice Luckhardt, shared the remarkable 1947 photo above. I wanted to make sure everyone saw it as well! Look at the size of that pond that once was at Stuart Middle School! I remember it; do you? Now it’s gone.

The question posed to Alice in a conversation thread on Facebook was “why was the school board allowed to drain and build over the pond?”

It appears “the powers that be” had been eyeing the land under the pond for some time…

Alice has included two old news articles, featured below, explaining how students, two different times, did save the pond from destruction in both 1964 and 1971, but no one spoke up during the real estate boom era of the 2000s when the “new Stuart Middle School” was built. Why didn’t the adults save it?

Now I must state that I love Stuart Middle School as I attended there as a student and taught there as a teacher, but this disappearing pond act is incredible and should be noted. At the time I saw it happening, I did write a personal note of concern and disbelief to the current principal who did not write me back. Now that I am a “politico” person, I understand the principal does not make these decisions.

Many locals who grew up here still have memories of the pond. My Dad does as he went to hight school here in the 50s. Generational Stuart resident Boo Lowery  says:”Jay Davey and I fished in that pond a lot 1949-53, we caught a lot of bream.. there were two  islands then, –they later connected them to shore; I guess to make mowing easier.”

Yes, the goal is always to make it “easier,” for we humans, unfortunately over time this adds to the desolation of our St Lucie River…Easier is not the answer.

Well enjoy Alice’s articles below! Thanks, everyone; see you at the fishin’ pond.

Jacqui

P.S. Go Jaguars!

 

Center JTL 6ht grade at SMS. Nice hair doo.
Full page SMS 1975-76, recognize anyone? 🙂

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Photo Stuart, Florida, in 1947. Source: Clyde Coutant Photography, Thurlow/Collection. An aerial with Stuart High School on left and the pond and Log Cabin on right.

By Alice Luckhardt
Alice can be reached and her Historical Vignettes are available at: http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com

JULY 16, 1964, THE STUART NEWS, SCHOOL POND IS TO BE ‘SAVED’ BY CONSERVATIONIST GROUPS
The pond at Stuart Junior High School will not be filled. Instead, its water level will be restored, its banks will be graded to stop erosion and it will again be the habitat of water lilies and fresh water fish. Martin County School Board Monday night approved a plan advanced by six local conservation groups: Garden Club of Stuart, Izaak Walton League, St. Lucie-Indian Rivers Restoration League, the Historical Society, Junior Conservation Club and U. S. Soil Conservation Service. Charles Kindred, president of the Isaak Walton League, detailed the plan, which involves grading of the banks with county equipment, stabilizing them with Bahia grass and other plantings, installation of a well and one and a quarter-inch pump, operated by the city, to maintain the water level at three or four feet during drought periods and the planting of bream and bass.

JAN 10, 1971, THE STUART NEWS JUNIOR HIGH POND IS DUG OUT

The pond on the campus of the Stuart Seventh and Eighth School is in the final stages of renovation. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jack Smouse said that the pond is somewhat of a landmark in the community and that it has been here “as long as I can remember.” School officials have intended to update the pond for some time, Smouse said and with the cooperation of the city and the county the work has been done. The county donated a dragline and the city provided fill for the project. The pond was originally designed with two separate islands in the center. Smouse said the design made maintenance difficult. Transporting mowers and other equipment from one island to the other was virtually impossible without a boat. With the fill which the city provided, the two islands have been connected. Smouse said the pond was originally dug to provide fill for other areas and that the spoil taken from the recent work will be used on the campus. Moves to fill in the pond in the past were blocked by local conservationists, Smouse said. They felt that if the pond is eliminated the city will lose one of its areas of beauty. The digging is now completed and the next step is to clear the area of cattails and other debris. When this work is complete the area will be planted and stocked with fish. Smouse said it will provide a fresh water pond for the area and will be used primarily as a “classroom” by the science department at the school. The pond is filled by surface water from the campus. In the past, storm sewer drainage went into the pond, but with the present drainage system this is impossible, Smouse explained. With the present low water table the surface water will be the only method of fill in the pond. Smouse said that eventually the school hopes to erect a flagpole at either end of the island with a school sign.

2000s: “quiet as a mouse”….pave it over!

Stuart Middle School along East Ocean Blvd. 2017. Photo courtesy of website.
The remaining pond at Stuart Middle School. Photo courtesy of website.

Stuart Middle School:http://sms.martinschools.org/pages/Stuart_Middle_School