Dredging Indian River Lagoon Wetlands 1920 - 1950s
The idea to drain wetlands to create land for agriculture first surfaced in 1850 when the U.S. Congress gave Florida title to its 10 million acres of wetlands. In 1905, the Florida legislature set up administrative machinery to create drainage districts and levy taxes on property within each district to help fund the program. After a fierce political battle, the dredges Everglades and Okeechobee were christened in Fort Lauderdale and began work in 1907. Despite challenges of every sort, the state’s reclamation program was to endure for nearly twenty years, changing the face of southeast Florida, especially the Everglades. To the consternation of conservationists, the program irreversibly damaged the environment, but offered land for new towns, encouraged growth, and brought civilization to a region previously characterized by wilderness. The largest private projects were found near Fellsmere, Fort Pierce, and Vero. By 1909, 3,800 acres of wetlands had been drained throughout the state, a number that rose to 1.5 million acres in 1919. Two of Florida’s largest private reclamation projects were found in present-day Indian River County.
Beginning in 1910, the Fellsmere Farm Company acquired 118,000 acres of muck, prairie, and pine land, located nine miles west of the St. Sebastian River, that it set about to drain and develop. Dredges cut canals, providing irrigation and drainage to farm lands. The main control gate was completed in June 1913, affording settlers a degree of protection from periodic floods. Within two years of its founding, the Fellsmere Farms Company claimed to have drained 8,000 acres of wetlands.
This book and hundreds of others on the history and scientific study of the lagoon, are available to the public at the MRC Library of the Indian River Lagoon. Please call (321) 504-4500 for more information.