Greetings everyone. I have fallen behind in my new year’s resolution for 2023 – “write once a week on a historical aspect of the St Lucie Canal for 2024’s 100 year anniversary.” The St. Lucie Canal was built by Florida’s Everglades Drainage District from 1916 to 1924. In the early days many locals called it the “monster ditch” but it would reach much larger status in the years to come once turned over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1931.
Today, I share one of my mother’s articles from the early days of the canal and river from one of Sewall’s Point’s most famous adventurer naval residents, Hugh L. Willoughby who came to Sewall’s Point in 1906. This article is an uncovered gem of a piece from The Stuart Messenger penned by Willoughby. The date on the front page is hard to read; to me it looks like 1918. My mother thinks it looks like 1916.
World War I occurred between 1914 and 1918 and thus the St Lucie Canal was first constructed during this difficult era. Also Congress was considering deepening the St Lucie Inlet after being opened by hand in 1892.
Thoughts of war are reflected in the article: “Willoughby Boost the Canal and Inlet, Both are of Great Importance. On the Completion of These Projects Submarines and Torpedo Boats Can Navigate East Coast.”
Hopefully, such thought are never something we have to ponder again…
-Across the Everglades was written in 1897 by Hugh Laussat Willoughby, Thurlow Library.“Hugh Laussat Willoughby, a Sewall’s Point winter resident for 32 years, was one of the Treasure Coast’s most colorful characters,” writes my mother Sandra Thurlow in her book Sewall’s Point, The History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
While in my youth, the stories I heard about Hugh Willoughby really shaped my Weltanschauung. My historian mother often referred to him a “braggart,” but he certainly earned it! He led a life of adventure even “at home.” He flew an early airplane over the St Lucie River taking some the first aerials photographs; he partnered with Captain Henry Sewall for whom Sewall’s Point is named, together they developed Port Sewall. As a kid, I thought that parts of the War Hawk aeroplane Willoughby built could be found at his Sewall’s Point property on the St Lucie River, Mandalay. Willoughby’s life was the stuff of dreams and he lived in my hometown. I still think of him every time I take a walk. Over the past few years, I watched the remains of his beautiful estate get developed and endured witnessing the clueless developer tear down the ancient night blooming cactus vines and giant old trees…
So why am I speaking of Hugh Willoughby? I am writing this blog today because right now Willoughby’s memory is being honored for another famous and remarkable accomplishment of his -in 1897, he crossed the Florida Everglades and in 1898 wrote Acrossthe Everglades, an American classic.As I write, a team of adventurers and scientists, are retracing a modern day Willoughby path. Their website reads: “In recognition of the 125th anniversary of Hugh Willoughby’s daring Everglades crossing and the 75th anniversary of the creation of Everglades National Park: The Willoughby Expedition.”
Willoughby was the first to test Everglades’ waters, this team will test for many substances but one especially Willoughby would never have imagined, micro-plastics. Another, through the help of Dr Fred Sklar, SFWMD, invasive apple snails.
The group pushed off from the Harney River on October 27th, and as of October 31, 2022 at 12:26 pm, the team was located, along the Tamiami Trail’s L-29 Canal. Of course when Willoughby explored these waters 125 years ago Florida was a wilderness unlike today. In fact today, cities, airports, and roads have been built out into the once Everglades. These are the words of Chief Navigator Charlie Arazoza explaining to me the path from today until the last day:
“The 31st we come out of the wilderness and into civilization. We launch from the North bank of the Tamiami canal across from the bridge and paddle to the Tamiami Canal Park on 6th Street and 127 ave. Straight line canal paddling with several portages, come for the day or come for a slice. Halloween at Belen!
On the 1st of November we leave the park and paddle down the Tamiami, hang a left at the Palmetto, come through Blue Lagoon and spend the night under the LeJeune overpass into the airport. Join us for the paddle, or join us for a drink when it’s over.
The last day of the expedition, we launch under the overpass, paddle 50 yards, and get out again to drag our boats across Melreese golf course around the last floodgate. That puts us less than a mile from the river and then down the river we go. Final destination, Bayside.”
You can follow along on their website and on November 19th they will be giving a report of their travels at 1pm at the Cox Science Center in West Palm Beach. May we continue to work to educate and revive the Everglades health. Gratitude and thanks to the all reliving history and setting new scientific baselines 125 years later by retracing Willoughby’s Across the Everglades!
-Map insert of Willoughby’s track across the Everglades 1897, Across the Everglades.
-Hugh Willoughby in aviation attire. He flew often over the St Luice River after his adventure across the Everglades. Historical Society of Martin County.
A message and some photos sent from expedition co-leader Harvey Oyer: Awesome!
“Being greeted by Mayor of Miami Dade County last night when we landed at Belen Jesuit School on banks of Tamiami Canal. Three canoes of Belen students paddled with us from our exit from the sawgrass back to Belen where they hosted a dinner for us.” Harvey Oyer -Screen shot of location 11-1-22 6:25pm.
Co-expedition Harvey Oyer wrote: “We finished yesterday. 7 days, 6 nights, no major injuries…”
So exciting! I can’t wait to hear more about this modern day historical journey! I will be reporting. ~jacqui tl
Thank you to Captain Frank Adams of Naples who sent these photos from Hugh Willoughby’s first edition of Across the Everglades. There were four.
Today I will share an historic aerial photo along Willoughby Creek together with a brief history lesson by my mother. Following, there are recent Google Map photos to compare…Stuart is still “paradise,” but sometimes I wish I were born 100 years ago. 🙂
“Jacqui, I came across this in my computer and thought it might be interesting for you to see. The date is Feb. 26, 1949. You can see Marvista… I think the house in the middle is the one that became Lee Rasch’s home. Patty Irons Child’s mother, Marge Irons was Lee’s second wife. The house at right was originally “Lagunita” built by Hugh Willoughby, Sr. (There is a big write-up on it on page 158 of the History of Martin County.) It later became a small hotel-like place call “Inlet Tides.” Both of the structures on the right side have been demolished… I am sure you know that Marvista was built by Hugh Willoughby, Jr. in 1924-25.”
—-Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Historian
You may have to “look” a bit, but if you do you will find Marvista and Lagunita today.