Events calendar | Newsletters  
LEGACY OF THE CALOOSAHATCHEE

Charles Edgar Foster & Rae Ann Wessel

The features of the Caloosahatchee basin we know today were formed by Pliocene and Pleistocene sediments deposited by fluctuating sea levels over one million years ago. As sea levels receded, a mainland emerged with a series of lakes connected by wet prairies in a shallow valley which stretched between an inland sea and a gulf. From a tiny lake in the center of the valley a waterfall fed a tortuously crooked river which flowed to the gulf.

Archaeological records indicate that first humans inhabited this region over ten thousand years ago. The lush flora and fauna of the valley provided an ample supply of food, clothing and shelter for the original inhabitants.

The earliest written accounts of this region were supplied by the Spanish explorers who arrived in the early 1500's. They named the inhabitants the Calusa and the Mayaimi; the waterway, River of the Calusa; the inland sea the Mayaimi Lagoon -Big Water; and the peninsula, Florida for the variety of flora found here. Many of their names remain in use today.

The Seminole, who were southeastern Creek Indians, fled to this area from Alabama and Georgia in the mid-1700's. Like the Spanish, the Seminole left a legacy of many place names. The Mayaimi Lagoon became Lake Okeechobee, and the river became the Caloosahatchee. The name Florida survived.

After the Civil War in the 1860's, homestead opportunities attracted many southerners and squatters to Florida. Settlements were built as far south as the Caloosahatchee.

Twenty years later in 1881, Florida Governor William Bloxham persuaded Philadelphia toolmaker and developer, Hamilton Disston, to purchase four million acres of South Florida at twenty five cents per acre for development. The one million dollars the state received from the purchase was used to clear title for the sale of state land.

The historic Caloosahatchee basin with seasonal wet prairies which provided a connection between the lakes in the valley flowing to the Gulf of Mexico.

Capt. R.E. Rose's ROSALIE. Headquarters for Disston's construction crews on Lake Flirt, early 1880's...

Hamilton Disston's first project in southwest Florida was to drain the land around Lake Okeechobee. He enlisted the expertise of cattlemen Jacob Summerlin and Capt. Francis Asbury Hendry to survey a route east from Lake Flirt through wetlands connecting Lakes Lettuce, Bonnett and Hicpochee. At the eastern end of Lake Hicpochee the route followed an existing Paleo or Mayaimi Indian canal to Lake Okeechobee.

In September 1881, Hamilton Disston brought a dredge into downtown Ft. Myers to begin dredging a 48 ft. canal from Ft. Thompson (11/4 miles east of LaBelle) to Lake Okeechobee. The first step in the dredging was to dynamite a natural waterfall between Lake Flirt and the Caloosahatchee.

Despite these drainage efforts the powerful hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 caused significant flooding and loss of life at Moore Haven and Clewiston. Demand for relief from the repeated flooding reached Washington in the midst of an economic depression. The Army Corps of Engineers worked with the Flood Control District, now known as the South Florida Water Management District, to improve the regions flood control.

After the 1928 hurricane President Hoover, an engineer by training, visited the area to view the devastation and recommended assistance to prevent future flooding. In 1930, Congress appropriated money to construct the Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

The winding Caloosahatchee being transformed by dredges into a straight deep channel...

As part of the 1930 flood control project, the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee were dredged and channelized creating the Cross-State Ship Channel. This channel, now known as the Okeechobee Waterway or C-43 Canal, links the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

The 1930's dredging of the Caloosahatchee straightened and deepened the channel without disrupting existing bridge crossings. The dredging included construction of a series of canals, locks and pumping stations designed to remove excess water from surrounding lands.

In the mid-1950's the channel created in the previous dredging was enlarged to a width of 250 feet and a depth of 8 feet. Bridge crossings were either replaced or relocated.

Construction of the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam, originally known as the Olga Lock, began in 1962, approximately twenty five miles upstream from the Gulf near Olga. The main purpose of the dam was to assure a fresh water supply for much of Lee County and to prevent salt water intrusion into upstream aquifers.

The dredging and construction of canals, locks and pumping stations created the world's single most sophisticated plumbing system. The system which was built specifically to redirect the natural flow of water, has radically changed the historic sheet flow patterns of the southern peninsula and Everglades region.

Changes in the Caloosahatchee over the past 100 years were promoted to suit the immediate priorities and needs of Florida's expanding population.

The challenge for us today is to develop a vision for the future which balances human needs while protecting and promoting the resources and natural beauty of the whole system for future generations.

Today's channelized Caloosahatchee with three lock and dam structures located in Olga, Lee County (WP Franklin), Ortona and Moore Haven, Glades County.

Special thanks to artist Carol Newcomb-Jones for her hand drawn artwork of the Caloosahatchee.

Roll on Caloosahatchee" a song by Mike Jurgensen (www.mikejurgensen.com)

CRCA "Riverwatch" is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the Caloosahatchee River and its watershed, through education and promotion of responsible use and enjoyment by all people.
Contact us
239-245-9954
riverwatch@caloosahatchee.org
Address
P.O. Box 2199
LaBelle, FL 33935
Membership Data and Governance Documents
Copyright © 2015 Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association, Inc.

Web Page Design, Software, and News Postings
Copyright © 2015 Southern DataStream, Inc. All rights reserved.

CRCA "Riverwatch" is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the Caloosahatchee River and its watershed, through education and promotion of responsible use and enjoyment by all people.



Contact us
239-245-9954
riverwatch@caloosahatchee.org



Address
P.O. Box 2199
LaBelle, FL 33935

Membership Data and Governance Documents
Copyright © 2015 Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association, Inc.


Web Page Design, Software, and News Postings
Copyright © 2015 Southern DataStream, Inc. All rights reserved.