Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oxbow Eco-Center

What is this Blog all about? We love this part of Florida. Not just for the weather (many of us really do think of it as “Paradise”) but also for its’ rich culture and history. So we decided to spotlight many of the little known “treasures” that are here. Not just the sunken ships but the treasures that are on land in plain sight and undiscovered by most visitors and even most of the residents.

Oxbow Eco-Center

When rivers meander and are sometimes cut off from their course, they form an oxbow lake which is so named because of the distinctive "U" shape. 

An oxbow is a U-shaped metal frame that fits under and aroundOxbow Yoke the neck of an ox or bullock, with its upper ends passing through the bar of the yoke and held in place with a metal key.

The Oxbow Eco-Center, surrounding the Oxbow of the St Lucie River, comprises 225 pristine acres of preserve on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. One of the most diverse rivers in the state of Florida, there are more species of fish in the St Lucie River than are found in any other river in Florida.

St Lucie River

An Environmental Learning Center, the Oxbow Eco-Center is a trip through time. It’s basically what the Treasure Coast looked like before settlers arrived. It seemed strange to find this preserve right in the middle of such a busy area.


The entrance, on St. James Drive (A.K.A. 25th Street), contradicts the wildness that lies just beyond the Visitors Center. A short hike brings you right into the thick of the floodplain forest. The brochure describes it as “the real Florida” where you can discover the mysterious and hidden life of the forest and river. A living laboratory.

Endangered species preserved at the Oxbow Eco-Center

Where the wild things live.

Along with our beloved Manatees, the Florida Scrub-Jay, Green Sea Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Gopher Tortoise, Feral Hogs and Lakela's Mint are just a few of the fauna and flora listed on the Federal Register of Endangered Species. So the Oxbow Eco-Center doesn’t just preserve our past it’s also preserving our future.

There are sevFoliageen trails winding through the sanctuary. We started on the Blue Heron trail and then diverted to the Scrub Jay trail which took us along the riverbank.  It’s at this junction that you begin to notice the diversity of the landscape. The Blue Heron Trail was flat and open but when we got close to the  rivers edge the topographyRiver path changed dramatically. We now were traveling under a canopy of large trees and the path itself became a bit more challenging as it hugged the shoreline. This path took us to the canoe dock where the canal meets the river at the Oxbow. We really enjoyed this hike and the fabulous views of the river. This particular trail took us far enough into the preserve to shut out the road noises from 25th Street. We also noticed a kayak crossing the river and thought it would be a great experience for a future visit. We do plan to return. There is so much more to see than we were able to experience in one day!

There are trail maps and brochures available at the Visitor's center visitor’s center. Once inside, you might want to visit the children’s discovery room and meet some of the “pet turtles” in their individual aquariums. The main room has a multi-media display where you can hear and see a Multimedia display presentation about the entire course of the St. Lucie River. Don’t miss the interesting and intricate diorama that spotlights the fish and animals you might see while traveling the trails. You can even enjoy a quiet picnic on the patio behind the center and enjoy some quite time with nature.

If you like hiking, bird watching, paddling a canoe or kayak, or just about any other outdoor activity the Oxbow Eco-Center has it all!  Please visit and support this irreplaceable treasure. Let’s keep it alive for future generations.



Calendar of Events

Trail Brochure

Virtual Boardwalk Tour

Directions and Hours



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Monday, February 15, 2010

House of Refuge at Gilbert's Bar

What is this Blog all about? We love this part of Florida. Not just for the weather (many of us really do think of it as “Paradise”) but also for its’ rich culture and history. So we decided to spotlight many of the little known “treasures” that are here. Not just the sunken ships but the treasures that are on land in plain sight and undiscovered by most visitors and even most of the residents.

House of Refuge at Gilbert's Bar

“On the coast of Florida, when vessels strand, they usually come well up to the shore, so that sailors find little difficulty in reaching the land. Until of late, however, these shores were almost uninhabited and mariners cast upon them were exposed to the terrors of starvation and thirst. On this account there are provided for their relief ten stations of an exceptional type, denominated houses of refuge.” ~Sumner I. Kimball~ (1890)
It’s easy to believe the House of Refuge is the oldest structure in Martin County.
Looking at the House of Refuge immediately brings a full picture of what life was like in 1876. Standing high on the "St. Lucie Rocks", an outcropping of the Anastasia Formation (rocks formed from shell and limestone) it’s easy to believe it’s the oldest structure in Martin County. The land it stands on is now called Gilberts Bar (shoal). It was named by early mapmakers after one of the last active pirates operating along this coastline, Don Pedro Gilbert, was executed in Boston in 1835 along with four members of his crew. He was one of the last remaining pirates operating in these waters.

Only one House remains out of the original ten
The Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge is the only House of the ten commissioned by the U.S. Lifesaving Service in 1876 that is still standing. Originally designed to help stranded sailors, they stood at intervals along the coast from St. Augustine to the Florida Keys. It now serves as a museum abundantly filled with artifacts testifying to its long colorful history!

Houses of Refuge had no trained lifesaving crews. Occupied by a Keeper and his family, they were responsible for continuously walking the shoreline and searching for shipwreck victims after a storm or hurricane. They were required to maintain the station, its equipment, and purchase the supplies. Stocking the House with food and medical supplies was paid for by the Keepers since they did not receive any additional budget from the government. Daily logs and wreck reports also had to be regularly submitted to the U.S. Lifesaving Service. These Keepers were undoubtedly fully committed to their service!

A Lonely Vigil

In between shipwrecks, theirs was a lonely vigil. One description of a Keepers life taken from one of the sign markers on the site is: "A "Keeper's life is one of monotony punctuated by terror!" Sparse, and completely devoid of modern conveniences, it’s hard to imagine the life the Keepers and their families had to endure. Surely it was a sense of mission that kept them at their posts! 

The first floor of the House is divided into three rooms, a bedroom, a living room and a kitchen. The second floor served as a dormitory. The only diversion from daily life was a Victorian Era phonograph. No video games, internet, or TV!

Long Distinguished Service

The House of Refuge served as a lookout for enemy submarines during World War II. A tower was built by the U.S. Coast Guard to scan the waters for German U-boats after freighters were torpedoed off the Treasure Coast in 1942. In April of 1945, the Gilbert's Bar Coast Guard Station was decommissioned after a long and distinguished service record.

 Martin County Commissioners get a bargain

Today it is owned by the Martin County government. The Martin County Board of Commissioners purchased it in 1953 after it sat empty for years following its’ decommission from the Coast Guard. The building, plus 16.8 acres of surplus government land, was acquired for the grand sum of $168. (Talk about a great deal!)

In addition, and under the direction of Ross Witham , Marine Turtle Coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources from 1963 to 1987, this area also serves as a refuge for sea turtles.

In 2004 Indian artifacts were uncovered on the reef as the result of hurricane damage sustained to the nearby shoreline. (Remember Jeannie and Francis?). The midden that was uncovered contained charred fish bones, pottery and shells used by the Ais (also known as the Az or Ays) Indians, who inhabited the area from 2000 B.C. to the 18th century. You can see some of this collection displayed in the House.

On May 3, 1974, the House of Refuge was added to the U.S. national Register of Historic Places. In addition to the House being a National Historic site, the waters, off the coast in front of the House of Refuge, have become a State of Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve. An Italian brigantine, the Georges Valentine, while carrying a cargo of mahogany, sank in October of 1904. Seven crew members were rescued by Keeper Captain William E. Rea and his wife. The ship still lies scattered in a large debris field approximately 100 yards off the coastline in front of the House. The wreckage is partially buried in the sand and is broken into five prominent sections. The sea life here changes from season to season due to the shifting sands and has an abundance of marine life making this a very popular diving spot.

Current Activities

In the current issue of the official newsletter of the Historical Society of Martin County, Innovative Times, Jim McCormick, Keeper of the House of Refuge, states that the staff welcomes tour groups since it is a wonderful opportunity to bring history alive for students and adults alike. Check their website for more current activities.

With the permission of the Martin County Historical Society, the Florida Ghost Team investigated this historic site in 2004. There were a few events during the investigation that rose suspicion of paranormal activity. (H-m-m…no surprise there!).

There is so much more to see than we’ve been able to describe in this blog. All we can say is that you’ll be fascinated by the rich history this museum has to offer. Our thanks to Martin County for having the foresight to preserve this last remaining House of Refuge for our Treasure Coast! A true Treasure!

The House of Refuge is located at 310 SE McArthur Blvd. on Hutchinson Island in Stuart
The hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm and on Sunday from 1pm to 4pm
For more information call: 772-225-1875

House of Refuge Wikipeida
The Elliott Museum, Stuart, FL

Monday, February 8, 2010

St. Lucie Village

What is this Blog all about?

We love this part of Florida. Not just for the weather (many of us really do think of it as “Paradise”) but also for its’ rich culture and history. So we decided to spotlight many of the little known “treasures” that are here. Not just the sunken ships but the treasures that are on land in plain sight and undiscovered by most visitors and even most of the residents.

St. Lucie Village

There are “big” treasures and “little “treasures along Florida’s Treasure Coast. This week we’re spotlighting one of the lesser-known Buried Treasures, St. Lucie Village. A small well-preserved historic village nestled along the shoreline of the Indian River directly north of Ft. Pierce.

As you journey through St. Lucie Village you feel like you’ve taken a step back in time. Most of the roadways are still "carriage paths" just about big enough for one car to travel on at a time. You can just imagine a fully decked out horse-drawn carriage traveling along the road passing the stately mansions overlooking the scenic Indian River.

At the east end of Chamberlin Blvd, on the shoreline, stands a stone monument where Fort Capron once stood. It was built as a replacement for Ft. Pierce, after it burned in 1843 and named to honor Captain Erastus Capron, U.S Army First Artillery Officer, as a tribute to his courage during the second Seminole War. The Fort was constructed in 1849 mainly as a guard-post for the Indian River inlet to protect the settlers from renegade Seminole Indians. One of the officers serving at Ft. Capron was Captain Abner Doubleday, better known as the founder of baseball. Also serving was Major James Paine who named this settlement St. Lucie Village.

Major Paine settled on 40 acres of prime land along the Indian River with his family in 1857. Around 1872 Alexander Bell also settled in the Village becoming a neighbor of the Paine family. The cemetery where Maj. Paine and his wife are buried still lies on the front lawn of the St. Lucie Village schoolhouse on Dixie Highway.

Today’s Village residents still feel a strong connection with their history, since many of them are descendants of the original founders. Polly Summerlin Moore, a descendant of Edward Cabell Summerlin who arrived in 1887 to grow pineapples, said the community's first school was in the Summerlin home. “It was open country here,” said Moore, who has lived in the village most of her life. “My grandfather bought land from the Paines and Jones', who were already living here.” The Dixie Summerlin House stands on the corner of US 1 and St. Lucie Blvd. It has since been converted into efficiency apartments.

Although the landscape has changed over the years you can still catch a glimpse of the pristine tranquil view enjoyed by the original inhabitants.

In 1989 St. Lucie Village was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and historical significance. Out of the 50 structures standing along Indian River Drive about 35 are on the National Registry.

The peaceful, tranquil feeling we experienced when we were traveling through and around St. Lucie Village was so strong that we felt the absence of it as soon as we crossed the border into the "modern" world of US 1. How fortunate we are to have such a unique place right in the middle of our busy world! We salute the residents for keeping this wonderful piece of history in relatively pristine condition for the enrichment of our community and for Florida in general. We know that the people who live there want to keep it just as it is, so we urge anyone who visits to respect that. Thanks St. Lucie Village for a lovely journey!

Feel free to comment below with suggestions on your favorite place or places you’d like to know more about, or with any general feedback about this blog!

Future Blogs will include places like the House of Refuge, Navy Seal Museum, Oak Hammock Park and Veteran's Memorial Park, just to name a few.

Thanks for visiting "Buried Treasures of the Treasure Coast"!

Enjoy Florida, we certainly do!

For Additional Information See:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

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