George T. Gosling Sailed Here Back in '85 with Homer T. Stuart [Homer Hine Stuart, Jr.]
by George T. Gosling
First Published November 29, 1930
The lone settlers, Hubert Bessey and his brother, Willis Bessey, built the first steam launch on the St. Lucie river, following the design of one Frank Allen, an eccentric man of wealth who had taken up some land across the river from the Bessey homestead.
The river at that time was overgrown with manatee grass which, while a pasture for a herd of sea cows, was a menace to navigation, even to centerboard sailboats which occasionally brought a trader like Walter Kitching or a hunter like Alligator Smith up the river.
With the advent of Albert Stypmann, with his wife and daughter (who later on became Mrs. De Steuben) who had homestead adjoining Homer T. Stuart's [Homer Hine Stuart, Jr.] peninsula on the North Fork, also came his brother, Ernest Stypmann, then Otto Stypmann, then a relative by the name of Haase [August Has] who was drowned in the St. Lucie. I came down with Mr. Stuart in 1885.
There was no place for us to go, excepting by sailboat, as there were no roads at all anywhere in that section of the country. The manatee grass on our trips twice monthly to the post office of Waveland on the Indian river, particularly in bad weather, was a constant source of annoyance and even danger.
The Gardner brothers, well educated fellows from Baltimore, had the mail franchise from Fort Pierce to Jupiter by sloop. If they missed connections with the boat coming down from Titusville, which was the last approach to any kind of railway, we frequently did not get our mail for three weeks at a time, which necessitated many more trips to Waveland.
Mr. Allen insisted upon building the steam launch. When this was completed in itself the crankiest animal of its kind when launched, it was a very glutton for hardwood fuel. Stuart and myself, as privileged guests upon her cruises, were most of the time on shore cutting hardwood for its boiler or in the water clearing manatee grass from the propeller.
Hubert Bessey, who then became Captain Bessey by right of steering this noble craft, but who to me has always been the sage of our river, suggested the idea of opening Gilbert's Bar. He argued as later on proved to be correct that once the ocean waters had access to the Indian and St. Lucie Rivers, they would quickly kill the menacing grass.
The few of us who became convinced by Bessey, welcomed his lead to cut an opening across the land strip opposite Sewall's Point, the cut to be fifteen feet wide and about that deep. When this should be accomplished, the wash from the St. Lucie River would then widen this strip and open up a large inlet. So, toward Christmas in 1885, we gathered up our axes, brush hooks and shovels for the work.
As near as I remember, there assembled for the work the following: Hubert and Willis Bessey, with Allen, from a place beginning to be known as Potsdam post office; the Gardner brothers, the mail carrier squatting opposite Jensen post office. Also, Mr. Jensen, who gave his name to the place and later built a hotel thee, gave up his work as a boatman on the river for the purpose, With him came the keeper of the House of Refuge, not far away from Gilbert's Bar. Stuart and myself arrived in the first Bessey-Built cat boat, the "Wild goose," from what was later known as Goslingville post office and when the Florida East Coast Railway sent its trains through that place it was called Stuart.
I make mention of this because so few of the present generation know that the present town of Stuart was slated to be located on the north side of the river. In fact, station and docks of Stuart were originally at Goslingville, so called after Gosling had acquired the property of Homer T.Stuart [Homer Hine Stuart, Jr.] universally known as Jack Stuart, the uncle of Carroll Dunscombe.
It was a motley crowd of youngsters which assembled under the leadership of Captain Bessey. This gentleman, a graduate of Oberlin College, had familiarized himself thoroughly with the topography of the strip of land which we started to cut through on the Indian River.
Out of the boats, into the jungle of mangroves and mud we went and mowed the mangroves down with our bush hooks. Day after day, in mud and sand, we worked vigorously, nourished on sowbelly and grits, until we were almost ready to open the last barrier which, when cut through, would bring the then brackish water of the St. Lucie and Indian Rivers to the salt of the ocean. The nucleus for an inlet eventually was ready and, once opened, the high wash coming down from the St. Lucie would do the rest to make the approach navigable.
Christmas was but a couple of days from us when a vision of beauty appeared on the embankment of our canal. Miss Lucy Richards, now Mrs. LeTourneau invited the entire gang to spend Christmas at her hospitable home.
How well do I remember how I crouched low under the embankment, ashamed to be seen, dirty and unshaven as I was. My duck trousers had split besides, down from my knees, adding to my embarrassment. Braver though not less filthy men, were not slow to accept the hearty invitation, but the sage Mr. Bessey warned against leaving the work unfinished at this critical time. The St. Lucie River was running strong for a successful opening. However, who could blame the hungry, youthful group of adventurers after their hard work.
We quickly overruled the leader, with visions of refreshments and pineapple wine, and even dancing on the floor of the captain's new packing houses. Who could have resisted the prettiest girl on the river. Hardly had the lady disappeared when shovels were thrown down. Somebody had a piece of soap. In the water went all of us, with what rags we had for they surely needed cleaning more than our bodies. Bessey pulled some rope through my ambitious duck overalls to make me at least decent, if not presentable. No time was lost, everybody busying themselves cutting black mangrove wood for the boiler of Allen's trustworthy launch. Careful now! Four to starboard and four to port, lest the boat capsize. Thus we started for our glorious outing.
Few youths every enjoyed the entertainment at Eden more, but fate saw fit to punish us for so much hilarity. Mrs. Haney would attribute it to the wine some of us consumed in too large quantities.
While we were enjoying ourselves at the Richards home a fierce southeaster sprang up. By the time we returned to our inlet our great ditch was sanded up from the river to the ocean and our work of weeks was completely demolished. Furthermore, the sands no longer dammed by the fence of mangroves we had cut through had piled up some 100 feet into the Indian River.
All we had accomplished was a clear view open from river to ocean over a broad, high path which afterward was, I am told, successfully opened by means of a dredge. Such a thing as a dredge on our rivers was not known in our days; besides, it would have been no use to us if we had it, as we may have had about $25 altogether between us.
The sage of the river had been right. We had failed to heed his advice. Had we completed our work when we should have done so, the lonely settlers would have been relieved much sooner of the obnoxious grass in their river.