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Martin County’s Hundreds of Ponds, “Down the Drain,” St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

1940 aerial photo from the US Dept of Agriculture Flight over Martin County, Fl 1940. Here Stuart, Sewall's Point, Hutchinson Island and Jensen are easily recognized by air. (Photo courtesy of UF Smathers' Library collation.)
1940 aerial photo from a US Dept of Agriculture flight over Martin County, Fl. 1940. Stuart, Sewall’s Point, Hutchinson Island and Jensen are easily recognized by air along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Many small ponds can be seen darkly colored. (Photo courtesy of UF Smather’s Library collation.)

 

1964 photo, left to right, uncle and aunt Dale and Mary Hudson, and my parents Sandy and Tom Thurlow. Me in lap. (Self portrait)
1964 photo, (left to right) uncle and aunt, Dale and Mary Hudson, and my parents Sandy and Tom Thurlow. Me in lap. (Family album.)

From the time I was a baby until growing up, I remember lots of ponds here in the region of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Hundreds of ponds intertwined with scrub lands…

Some of these boggy ponds were right outside my neighborhood in St Lucie Estates, just off of East Ocean Boulevard. It was the 1960s and 70s. Over time, especially in the 80s and 90s, when I had grown up and was off to University of Florida and beyond, these ponds simply dried up and “disappeared.” These lands became shopping centers, an expanded Witham Field, gas stations, schools, golf courses, and more neighborhoods. The same thing happened to the lands out west of town, but they became expanded agricultural lands. At a kid, I didn’t think too much about it. Today it blows my mind.

The aerial at the top of this blog post is from 1940. I was born in 1964. The small dark areas are ponds. When I asked my brother Todd, who is very knowledgeable on these old photos and land use, where all the ponds went, he noted  that when our area canals were constructed by the water districts and Army Corp of Engineers, from about 1920 to the 1960s, the canals not only drained the lands, but over time, the water table dropped, (the water below the surface of the soil that you don’t see)  drying out the many of little ponds, so that these lands could be developed.

Canals in Stuart, C-23, C-24, C-25 built in the 50s and 60s. C-44 connected to Lake Okeechobee constructed in the 1920s.
Canals in Martin and St Lucie counties, C-23, C-24, C-25 were  constructed in the 50s and 60s. C-44 is connected to Lake Okeechobee but also drains the agricultural lands around it. It was constructed in the 1920s.

So most of the 1940 wetlands you see in the aerials throughout this blog are now gone, and “we are here.” This happened all over Martin, St Lucie and almost all counties of south Florida. This on top of the shrinkage and drainage of giant Lake Okeechobee!

Yikes!

There is something is really odd about this. Millions of people living in former wetlands. Like sitting atop a dry sponge. No wonder all the wildlife is gone and the rivers are polluted. I’ve heard people talk about this change forever, and I have lived it myself, but seeing my brother’s video below, really bring the whole thing “home.” Watch and wonder where we should go from here…

Click here to see Martin County’s land use change over time, and watch the little ponds/wetlands “disappear. ” Time flight video by Todd Thurlow: 

 

Link to video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvH5H0TiG5c)

The flight starts in the area around Pratt & Whitney in northern Palm Beach County / southern Martin County where the land still looks like much of Martin County used to look. We then fly to the area around Bridge Road where the headwaters of the South Fork used to be nice and wet in the 1940s. Hundreds of interconnected ponds and bogs eventually coalesced into the tributaries of the South Fork. Today the ponds have been drained for farming and a few neighborhoods. The smallest tributaries are now drainage ditches. Next we fly over the area around the City of Stuart and Witham Field. You can see how the old ponds and bogs lined up between low ridges that run parallel to the ocean. Many of the bogs are now low-lying dry nature preserves in the neighborhoods and golf courses. –Todd Thurlow

 

1940 DOA image of boarder between Martin and St Lucie Counties, where Port St Lucie sits  today.
1940 DOA image of border between Martin and St Lucie Counties, where Port St Lucie sits today.
1940 aerial of  east side of east side of Lake  Okeechobee and lands of western Martin and St Lucie counties.
1940 aerial of east side of east side of Lake Okeechobee and lands of western Martin and St Lucie counties.
Ponds and bogs that are still left in undeveloped areas of Matin County. (Photo JTL 2015)
Ponds and bogs that are still left in undeveloped areas of Martin County. (Photo JTL 2015.)

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Todd Thurlow: (http://thurlowpa.com) 

(Link to University of Florida’s Smather’s Library aerials: (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/iufmap/all/brief)