The Intertwined History of Stuart and Bell Glade, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Bridges across the St Lucie River, ca. 1920. (Photo archives Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Bridges across the St Lucie River, ca. 1920. The swing span (metal span) of the auto bridge was moved to Torry Island, Lake Okeechobee in 1938. (Photo archives Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Location of Torry Island, Belle Glade, Lake Okeechobee where the St Lucie Bridge was moved to ca. 1940.
Location of Torry Island, Belle Glade, Lake Okeechobee where the St Lucie Bridge was moved to in 1938..

Few people realize that a little piece of Stuart history sits on Torry Island near the City of Belle Glade. Belle Glade of course sits along the southern shores of Lake Okeechobee….I didn’t know this either, until I visited my mother last week.

When I got to her house, she handed me what appeared to be a gold leaf yearbook, but when I looked closer it read: “Florida Trails to Turnpikes 1914-1964, Florida State Road Department.” Page 216 was marked:

“The old original bridge across the St Lucie River had been built by E.P. Maule in 1917 with a twelve-foot-wide roadway swing span across the navigation channel. We moved that swing span of barges down the St Lucie Canal and down Lake Okeechobee to Torry Island. Should you cross from the mainland over the canal onto Torry Island today, you would cross on the old swing span of th abridge that originally went across the St Lucie River.”

“Wow that’s cool mom. Like you always say, we’re all connected.”

“Your father and I visited not too long ago. The Corbin family has been manning the bridge for generations. It’s a fascinating story that you should know about.”

A short history is explained here:

“The story of the bridge’s origins flow smoothly from Corbin… The 1928 hurricane that ravaged the Glades set in motion the chain of events that would bring the bridge to Belle Glade. The storm destroyed the original dike that surrounded the lake. To build the replacement dike, the federal government spooned out a canal, separating Torry Island from Belle Glade, and used the dirt for the dike. The new canal, called the Okeechobee Waterway, needed a bridge. In 1938, state contractors built the Point Chosen Bridge, replacing a pontoon bridge with a swing bridge that was built in 1916 and relocated from the St. Lucie River near Stuart. The bridge consisted of the movable portion and wooden trestles on each end.” Associated Press article, 2009.

The Corbin family has manned the swing span for many generations. Photo of a photo shared by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
The Corbin family has manned the swing span for many generations. Photo of a photo shared by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.

“Very interesting. Do you have any pictures of your and dad’s field trip ?”

My mother disappeared and was back within minutes:

....
….Torry Island, Belle Glade, Lake Okeechobee.
.....
…..the bridge at Torry Island
...
…plaque
....
….Bridge at Torry Island with swing span
I took this of your dad with Lake Okeechobee behind him but it was not taken at Torry Island. The Lake just blended with the sky." Sandra Thurlow
I took this of your dad with Lake Okeechobee behind him but it was not taken at Torry Island. The Lake just blended with the sky.” Sandra Thurlow

“Thanks mom”…..as I read more about it, I learned that the bridge’s name, “Point Chosen Bridge,” was chosen because there used to be town named  “Chosen” located there. Chosen was one of the original towns along the shores of Lake Okeechobee. It was destroyed in the 1928 hurricane. So the bridge swing span from Stuart was chosen to rest at Chosen. Wow. An intertwined history  indeed….

Chosen:(https://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/chosen)
Ghost Town (https://www.ghosttowns.com/states/fl/chosen.html)

Florida Trails to Turnpikes, 1964.
Florida Trails to Turnpikes, 1964.
Transcription via Sandra Thurlow from Florida Trails and Turnpikes 1964 about the St Lucie swing span being moved to Torry Island.
Transcription via Sandra Thurlow from Florida Trails and Turnpikes 1964 about the St Lucie swing span being moved to Torry Island.
Article, undated via Sandra Thurlow.
Article, undated via Sandra Thurlow.

Associated Press article on the Point Chosen Bridge at Torry Island and the Corbin family who has worked the bridge since 1938 : (https://www.tbo.com/lifestyle/states-oldest-swing-drawbridge-spans-history-72863)

City of Belle Glade (https://www.bellegladegov.com)

Belle Glade: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_Glade,_Florida)

Historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow:(https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/08/06/the-contributions-of-the-history-lady-sandra-henderson-thurlow-st-lucie-riverindian-river-lagoon/)

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

About Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch:

Although born at Travis Air Base, California, Jacqui considers herself a native of Stuart, Florida, having moved there at eight months old. Her father’s family, originally from Syracuse, New York, has lived in Stuart since 1952. Her mother is a 5th generation Floridian from Gainesville. Jacqui is a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Jacqui is journalism graduate of the University of Florida, and an education master’s graduate of the University of West Florida. She went on to teach English and German and later after a serious accident of breaking her neck, started selling real estate. Later, she ran for public office having served on the Town of Sewall’s Point Commission since 2008, and is former mayor. During this time she saw the opportunity to help showcase the work of a locally formed river group, the River Kidz, and this has been her passion ever. She incorporates youth/river education  into her political work for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Jacqui is the treasurer/secretary of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council; has chaired the Florida League of Cities Environmental and Energy Committee; was chair, and a six year member of the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments; is an alternate for the Water Resources Advisory Commission for the South Florida Water Management District; and is a board member for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, in St Lucie County.  She also serves as a board member (ex-officio) for the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund, and is head administrator for her beloved River Kidz, now a division of the Rivers Coalition.

Jacqui’s reach involves not only local, but state and federal government. In 2013,  she served on Senator Joe Negron’s panel for the Select Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee. In 2014, she actively supported the elections of both Senator Joe Negron and Congressman Patrick Murphy who have both been strong supporters of  Indian River Lagoon issues. In 2015, she is part of the Florida League Cities Treasure Coast Advocacy team to influence and educate Tallahassee. Jacqui received the Everglades Coalition’s 2015 “John V. Kabler Award” for “Grassroots Activism” working to organize and educate the public about Everglades restoration. Most recently she has been recruited as a fellow by the University of Florida/IFAS’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute Class XV. The institute focuses on teaching leaders how to facilitate collaborative decision making in difficult situations.  Jacqui is running for Martin County Commissioner District 1, 2016.

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