Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of how things used to be. The Geezer took Mrs G and me to a place that figured prominently in Florida history. It isn’t a site of a battle, or the first fort-school-etc. The sign in the picture above doesn’t commemorate a disaster, though one took place here. However, what was done here changed the states future and continues to impact it today.
Say South Florida to most folks and they envision white sand beaches, tourist attractions, and a retirement Mecca. Before what occurred at the spot pictured, South Florida had a very different reputation. An army major serving during the third Seminole War described the land as, “Much like Hell with insects replacing the flames.” Half the year the flat land was inundated with “sheet water.” Sheet water is the result of the lack of change of elevation; rains flood the ground and they sit moving at a snails pace in any direction that’s a few inches lower. The land becomes one gigantic “river without banks.” It’s what creates the Everglades. This also was what served as a super incubator for mosquitoes, deer flies, and countless other pests. It was malaria and yellow fever’s home town. The fertile land beneath it was unusable in what was still an agricultural country.
Someone thought, “Why don’t we drain it?” The whole story of how Hamilton Disston was drawn into this enterprise as a result of a Florida fishing trip is a fascinating but long tale. The Disstons led by father Henry had become fabulously wealthy as a result of their development of saw technology. Drastically shortening the story Disston and the state of Florida played lets make a deal in the early 1880’s. Disston was to get half of the lands he drained. (An area the size of Connecticut)
The picture above is the site of one of the primary results of his efforts. He dug a canal from Lake Okeechobee to connect to the Caloosahatchee River. The “lone cypress” marks the spot where the canal empties lake water into the river. It served as GPS, channel marker, and signage for the early water-born trade that helped develop this section of Florida. He dug additional canals on the south lake shore. His efforts resulted in the partial drainage of the land, the opening of rich agricultural areas, and eventually the Florida land boom … and bust … that added more to the unsavory reputation many Disston contemporaries bestowed on the “Sunshine State.”
The cypress and sign are located in the town of Moore Haven. It remains an agricultural area and a heaven for bass fishermen (and ladies). Ironically, the town’s growth promoted by the canal, proved deadly. In 1926, a hurricane killed 400 and was a precursor to an even worse storm. The 2nd greatest storm related loss of life in US history occurred when the 1928 hurricane killed more than 2500 a few miles east along the lake shore in the Belle Glade area.
The 1928 hurricane figures prominently in DL Havlin’s book, Blue Water, Red Blood. If you’d like more information on the storm and, how through some fantastic coincidences, the disaster helped win World War II, it provides a good read.
The canal historical marker is pictured below.
Today the canal remains controversial. Much of the pollution of the surrounding rivers, Everglades, and the costal estuaries are a result of Disston’s efforts to improve life in the area. Human’s are slow learners. We canines understand that screwing “Mother Nature” can result in creating a baby that turns out to be a monster.
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